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Lovers of imported beer have likely tasted Sapporo, a crisp, light lager that was first brewed on the island of Hokkaido, in the beer’s namesake city, in 1876.
But although Sapporo, Japan, is known for its brews, Otaru — its buttoned-up neighbor to the northwest — boasts an equally fascinating, yet strikingly different, history.
Once the center of Hokkaido’s economy, this seaside town now offers a unique day trip option for visitors to Sapporo. So, when clients tire of sipping on suds, suggest they take a 45-minute drive to discover the highlights of Japan’s “Northern Wall Street.”
Otaru CanalA well-known symbol of the city, Asakusa Bridge (which overlooks Otaru Canal) is a good first stop for visitors to this port town. Here, clients will find one of four tourist information centers and a picturesque viewpoint that reveals the sharp contrast between Otaru’s urban infrastructure and its distant mountainous topography.
Once an ex-harbor facility, the canal now mainly serves as a tourist attraction; it’s a popular spot to take a canal cruise or snap some shots for Instagram. Around sunset, the stone warehouses lining the water light up, showering the canal in a luminous glow.
Old Mitsui Bank – Otaru BranchA component of the Otaru Art Base complex, which also includes two glass galleries and two art museums, Old Mitsui Bank sits among a string of former banks in the city’s Northern Wall Street area (once home to 25 active banks that operated between the late 19th and early 20th centuries). This Renaissance-style historical building pays homage to the city’s heyday, and visitors can tour the bank’s former vaults and safe corridor in addition to admiring its structural architecture, which was considered to be state-of-the-art at the time of the building’s construction.
Stained Glass MuseumAnother structure within the Otaru Art Base complex is the city’s Stained Glass Museum, which is located within a former soybean storage facility.
Once inside the canal-facing, multilevel warehouse, guests can marvel at the floor-to-ceiling stained-glass pieces that were formerly found in 19th- and 20th-century European churches. General admission is about $18 per person, and student rates are available.
Where to EatOtaru’s dining options are plentiful, and guests should carve out some time to have at least one authentic Japanese meal here. One noteworthy seafood restaurant in Otaru is Donburi-Chaya, where clients can order rice bowls that look more like works of art than plates of food.
They come brimming with fresh-caught tuna and salmon sashimi in addition to shrimp, albalone, crab, roe, barnacles, uni (sea urchin), seaweed, cooked egg and more, all sitting on a bed of rice. Come hungry, as portion sizes here run large.
The DetailsHokkaido Tourism Organization en.visit-hokkaido.jp