Otaru, Japan is a cozy harbor town that offers something for everyone while you’re stopped on an Asia cruise. Expansion of the port enabled the city to grow, and the canal area has been restored into a center for travelers and locals alike to shop, eat, and enjoy the city. Take a romantic stroll along the canal at sunset and enjoy the museums and shops along the way.
This laidback Japanese town will charm you every step of the way. Take a half-day tour of Otaru’s signature Herring Mansions, which symbolize how fishermen came into wealth when the herring industry boomed in the 20th century. You can admire an ornate mansion fishermen built, or walk through a museum dedicated to one of the most popular sights in Otaru. Sample the famous Nikka whisky at a distillery in Yoichi. There’s plenty to fill your time on a cruise to Otaru, Japan, whether that’s exploring the city on foot or sampling its signature cuisines like Hokkaido wheat ramen.
The revitalized Otaru Canal is arguably the heart and soul of the city, where shops and restaurants have exploded onto the scene. Whether you’re strolling the canal admiring the views, eating lunch at one of the waterfront cafes, or shopping at the glassblowing boutiques or clothing shops, the Otaru Canal district is one of the best ways to experience the Otaru spirit on foot.
Shoppers rejoice when they hit Sakaimachi Street in Otaru, which is the definitive shopping area in town. There’s even a Music Box Museum that makes for a unique afternoon excursion. Try out a glass-making workshop during your time on Sakaimachi Street, too, where you’ll witness the making of local glassworks.
Touring the Herring Mansions is another popular Otaru experience. They were built when the herring industry in Otaru skyrocketed in the 19th and early 20th centuries. History buffs will be fascinated by the history of these preserved mansions and the industry’s major effect on the economy of Otaru. Tour these elaborate villas for a glimpse at what life was like for wealthy fishermen in the area.
No trip to Otaru would be complete without a distillery tour, where you’ll learn how Nikka whisky is made at the Yoichi Distillery. The distillery opened in 1934 and has been supplying the area’s famous whisky ever since. You can take a self-guided tour or simply skip to the tastings, if that’s more your style. There’s a museum dedicated to the history of Nikka whisky as well as shops and a restaurant for an immersive afternoon excursion.
One of Otaru’s lasting cultural traditions is the Snow Light Path Festival. Held every February, the festival honors the winter season in Otaru. It usually coincides with the Sapporo Snow Festival, making it a popular activity for families who travel from one winter festival to the next. It’s a great time to visit the city, where you’ll be immersed in romantic, twinkling lights and decorated snowmen throughout the city.
If you’re craving some more nature and time outdoors during your cruise to Otaru, Japan, head to Kowloon Park, where you’ll be surrounded by rose gardens, ornate fountains, and walking trails that will give you a break from city life.
Neighboring Sapporo is just a 45-minute car ride from Otaru, making it an ideal day trip for travelers to pass through and see attractions like the famous Sapporo Clock Tower and the Sapporo Beer Museum. Mt. Moiwa is perfect for hiking and skiing during the winter, and if you have time, you can rest at the mountain resort.
An abundance of restaurants and cafes exist along Otaru Canal and the main downtown area. Otaru itself is known for its whisky distilleries and bustling local brewery scene. Beer fans and foodies will find plenty of no-frills, unpretentious places to eat and drink while stopped on an Otaru, Japan cruise. Fresh seafood bowls and ramen made with local Hokkaido wheat are must-try dishes, too. Luckily, Otaru’s restaurant scene offers an accessible, small-town feel, whether you’re enjoying fresh sea urchin, crab, or local sushi.
Otaru acted as an important fishing and trading hub during the late 19th century, and it contributed greatly to the modernization and industrialization of the prefecture. The warehouses and fishing buildings were later converted into interesting office buildings once the fishing trade tapered off in the 20th century. Today, Otaru is a relaxed harbor town whose canal remains an integral part of daily life.
The Otaru bus terminal is a 15-minute walk from the Otaru cruise port for travelers who want to hop on a bus into the city. The city of Otaru once was a smaller harbor town and has grown considerably to accommodate the bustling cruise industry in Otaru. Plus, the cruise port is centrally located to shopping, attractions, and the heart of downtown.
It’s relatively easy to get around in this small town, whether by using the bus system or on foot. Many travelers rent bicycles to see Otaru on two wheels. Tourist buses are also common in Otaru and can take you to Yoichi in less than 30 minutes. Most cruise passengers stay close to the Otaru port, enjoying the Otaru Canal or shopping along Sakaimachi Street.
Sakaimachi Street is the main shopping drag in Otaru, where you can browse for souvenirs like signature Otaru glassware, or make a quick stop in the kitschy Music Box Museum. Glass workshops are commonly held in various buildings on the square. Plus, there are plenty of romantic cafes, storefronts, and restaurants for travelers to enjoy lunch or afternoon tea. For those on an Otaru, Japan cruise, tourist buses stop on a route to Sakaimachi Street, making it easy to hop on or hop off at different attractions around town.
Japan’s official currency is the yen. Tipping isn’t common practice in Japan, so don’t worry about tipping when you’re dealing with taxi drivers or your server. There’s typically a service charge already included in your bill, so you don’t have to tip additionally. Tipping your tour guide if you take a specialized excursion is polite, but it’s recommended you place any tip in an envelope rather than directly giving money to the recipient, which is preferred within Japanese culture. Carrying cash is recommended to cover essential purchases instead of relying on credit cards, which aren’t widely accepted in many areas of Japan.