One of the activities we had planned when we were roaming about in Sapporo, was to spend a day visiting the seaside town of Otaru. It’s just short train ride away from the city centre of Sapporo. You can get yourself there by rapid train in about 30 minutes, or about 45 minutes on the regular trains. Not too far away for a mini excursion, plus you get to see a quieter side of a Japanese town that was once a bustling port city with beautiful canals running through the area.
To get yourself to Otaru, head on over to Sapporo station and get yourself tickets on the JR trains, heading to Otaru station riding on the Hakodate line. Tickets costs about 540 yen per way (as of April 2018), but just plot your directions on google maps, and you should get a precise cost of the train ride and its many schedules running for the day. Japanese trains runs right on the dot, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time before lining up at the right platform. To return back to Sapporo from Otaru after you’re done exploring, just reverse the directions on google maps and find your preferred train time. For a quick day trip costing about a little over a 1000 yen on tickets alone, seems pretty reasonable.
I was on a mission to fly my drone around Otaru, but the closest safe fly zone was about 3 stations away from Otaru’s main station. So my next stop from Sapporo station would be Asari station. After the quick 25 minute train ride, we arrived at one of the cutest stations I have ever come across, it was so small and quaint it felt like I was in someone’s backyard, and they had an honour system requiring you to self tap your Suica card before you exit the station.
After exiting the station, I decided to set up my drone after finding a good take off spot, but the temperature was so cold that my electronics were kinda wonky. Leave it to -10 celsius to render my drone useless. I decided not to risk taking off, incase the drone malfunctions midair and falls into the sea. Oh well, thank goodness my regular camera was tough enough to withstand the cold and functioned normally.
After about 10 minutes being outside, the cold started to get to us, and we rushed into the little wooden hut of the station to seek shelter and wait for the next incoming train to Otaru. Since it was such a tiny station, most of the rapid trains doesn’t make a stop here, and our wait manifested into a mini photo shoot of the surroundings, which was quite fun, minus my freezing hands each time I had to set up the tripod.
We had planned a few things to do when we got ourselves to Otaru, but I really wanted to check out the Suitengu shinto shrine that apparently had dramatic views of the coast once you get to the top of it. It’s located between Otaru station and Otaru Minami station, so I decided to walk from Otaru station itself just to get our bearings right and we get to see parts of the town as we go hunt for the shrine through the blistering cold. It was a very slow walk as we tried finding the shrine on google maps, the icy roads were slippery as hell.
My phone then started acting a little wonky again, I blame the cold weather, so we decided to just follow a little old lady in front of us up the slope. She looked like she might be heading to a temple.
From what was supposed to be a quick 15-20 minute walk from Otaru station as indicated on google maps, it took us almost 40 minutes trying to find the temple. After we lost sight of the granny, I tried searching for it again on my phone and managed to locate it. We were the only people on the hill that the shrine was located at, I just wished it wasn’t so cold as once again, all my gadgets started malfunctioning, and my iPhone even shut down on me a couple of times. The view was gorgeous though! The reviews on google and tripadvisor weren’t kidding when they mentioned we’d get to see ‘dramatic’ views of Otaru. Worth suffering through the cold to get up there. I’d just wish there was a cafe up here, so we could take in the views without freezing to death.
Next stop was to walk along the canals of Otaru and just wander around the area and catch the museum if it was still open, since we spent so much time getting to the shrine. After about 5 minutes, the weather turned on us. The skies went dark and we were caught in a crazy mini like blizzard, it snowed heavily and even roads became extra slippery. My phone, camera, power bank died on me. I couldn’t even look for directions while trying to stay warm. I decided it was time to give up heading to the canals and just head in the next cafe or convenient store to seek refuge and wait out the heavy snow.
After about 10 minutes, we came across a cafe called Garden Cafe & Bar. We were greeted so warmly when we entered to escape from the mini blizzard, and although she didn’t speak english, she quickly ushered us to sit down, and within moments she started dragging her heater and placing it next to our table and turning it on full blast. She handed us hot cups of water to keep us warm while we order. The only thing warmer than the heater was her hospitality she showed us despite the language barrier.
We decided to split a soup curry and order a coffee each while we wait out the storm. The food was oh so delicious. I bet if the weather was better this place would have been packed instead of just the two of us inside.
When we got up to pay and make a move, she gave us heat packs and placed them in our jackets to keep us warm. She shoved a few extra in my hands as well to take along with us. Seriously, she was superbly kind to us, and we were so grateful. The snow outside was brutal. If you’re ever around in the area, do drop by and pay her a visit, the soup curry is absolutely divine. This is their Facebook page.
So when we left we realised it was too late to visit any of the other attractions, since we were trapped in the cafe waiting out the snow storm we just decided to take a stroll and visit the canals before heading back home. So people, head on over earlier to Otaru in case of any unforeseen mishaps that might delay you during winter. After a short 10 minute walk, we were at the beautiful canals ! All lit up at night, but unfortunately, after admiring it for about 5 minutes, the snow storm was back.
At the risk of freezing to death at the canals, we started to seek shelter again at the nearest stop/store, and it just so happened to be an ice cream store. At a Hokkaido milk soft serve no less. At least they had heaters in the little hut, and we decided to split an ice cream while we wait for the crazy storm to subside.
So yes, our trip to Otaru was filled with mini blizzards & malfunctioning electronics. We also got to eat amazing food, and encounter first hand the warm hospitality of the Japanese people when we were in need. Wasn’t the perfect day trip, but memorable nonetheless. Gotta plan another trip back to Otaru to see the sights properly again next time, with better weather hopefully. If the ice cream and soup curry was that delicious, I bet the other foods we missed out on in Otaru could potentially be life changing. Now, to get on the JR train back to Sapporo city for a much-needed hot bowl of ramen.