Sakaimachi in Otaru is a sightseeing district where most of the tourist who come to Otaru stop by. Glasswork shops such as Kitaichi Glass and sweets shops are along the street. Otaru Canal and Sushi Street is very close too. However, if you change the view slightly, Sakaimachi area is the place where you can feel history and culture of Otaru.
I walked around Sakaimachi on a day in midwinter with the local town guide.
Is it able to walk around if there is a snowstorm…!?
The weather on the day I went was not so good. In fact, the temperature was under -5 degrees celsius, wind was blowing, and snowstorm was hitting Otaru. It was the worst condition for town walking.
▲Merchant Crossing and Otaru Music Box Museum viewed from observation deck of LeTAO Head Store. Sky is all white!
However, tourists who come to Otaru cannot say “the weather is bad so let’s come back next week!”. Hokkaido Likers challenged if we can still enjoy the town walking in bad weather.
▲No matter how the weather is! Many tourists were walking across Merchant Crossing.
Walk around the town with the local guide
Mr. Kurashige from “Otaru Sightseeing Guide Club” walked around with me as a guide. He knows very well about sightseeing in Otaru, as he has several sightseeing certificates such as “Otaru Annainin” Master and Hokkaido Sightseeing Master. Of course, he is born and grew up in Otaru.
▲Mr. Kurashige from Otaru Sightseeing Guide Club. Thank you for guiding me on the freezing day!
First of all, he took me to a corner of Merchant Crossing.
“Here could be the origin of Otaru”
There was a stone monument where Mr. Kurashige pointed.
▲ Otarunai Unjo-ya ruin. It’s right next to the post office.
This unjo-ya is said to be built in the beginning of 1700’s. At first is was a transaction place for Ainus and Japanese, but then the building changed the role to public office. The job was finished in 1866 when it burned down.
Next I visited the historical structure, “Kyu-Kaiyoutei”, located apart from Sakaimachi and in the middle of Sanbongi Kyuzaka.
▲Mr. Kurashige took me to the front of the building in the storm and deep snow. It was written “魁陽亭” in Kanji when it was first built, but now it is written “海陽亭”.
The building was built in the end of 1800’s, and was the most famous Japanese style luxury restaurant in Otaru. You are still able to eat and look inside of this historical building today, but except winter.
▲The party after the historical meeting which decided the country border after the Russo-Japan War was held at this restaurant.
After looking at the Japanese traditional style building, walked the same street back to Merchant Street and walked down Sakaimachi Shopping Street.
Much more fun if you know the history and culture
In Sakaimachi, there are lots of shops where old stone built warehouses are reused. Of course, it is a fun point of walking around Otaru to see beautiful souvenirs and eating delicious food, but looking at these old buildings itself is a fun attraction as well.
You will realize the deep history and culture if you walk around with guides. If I was not with the guide, I will not pay attention, well, I’m sure that I will be too much tempted to beautiful goods and delicious looking sweets…
▲Buildings built of stone stands at the back of brick buildings. Bricks are from Ebetsu, soft stones are from Otaru or other places such as Sapporo and Noboribetsu.
Otaru opened the port very early comparing to other parts of Hokkaido. In 1800’s, Kitamae-fune, the ships which did commerce with the main island of Japan, were stopping by Otaru. Otaru flourished as the base of commerce with Hokkaido and the main island of japan. Early 1900’s was the time when Otaru flourished the most, and at that time, there were both warehouse and shops in Sakaimachi, it was the town of trade and fishing. Of course, it was not a sightseeing spot at all.
▲The famous sightseeing spot “Kitaichi Glass Sangokan”. This wooden frame and stone built building used to be the warehouse of fishermen’s boss. You will be overwhelmed by the historical atmosphere.
In the Middle of 1900’s, Karafuto (now Sakhalin) line ended, herring became unavailable, and delivering coal to Hokkaido ended. Warehouses and shops were no more needed. Then Kitaichi Glass started a glasswork store and reused the empty warehouse. As tourists started to come to Otaru, other empty warehouses and shops changed to glasswork stores and restaurants or cafes gradually, and Sakaimachi became the sightseeing district today, where millions of tourists visit every year.
▲This building was originally Kubo-shouten which sold goods in the early 1900’s, now used as a cafe.
Because I was with the guide, I heard an interesting story.
▲Used to be Iwanaga Clock Shop in the early 1900’s, now a music box shop. This building has an unique balcony.
“This balcony used to be the best advertisement media”
A media?? It did not make sense, but the story was like this;
In those days where there are no internet, nor tv or radio or speakers, this balcony in the middle of the shopping street was the most useful advertisement place. You could shout about your products or do some performance, sometimes actual products were put around the balcony as a display.
I realized there are reasons on how the town and buildings are built.
Something like this was there too;
▲The wall sticking out is called “Udatsu”. This building is stone built but frame is wood. When there was a fire, Udatsu acted as a fire belt to avoid the spread of the fire.
Starting from Merchant Crossing, the edge of Sakaimachi, the town walking ended at the bridge on “Okobachi River”, the opposite side of Sakaimachi. Taisho Glass Museum is located right next to the other side of the bridge. If you keep walking, you will enter the area where historical buildings such as Former Otaru Branch of Bank of Japan are located called “Wall Street in Hokkaido”.
▲Okobachi River. The water of this river flows to Otaru Canal. You will reach to Sushi street by turning around and walking along the river.
Get warm after walking outside! Let’s go to Otaku Historical Museum near Okobashi River.
▲Otaku Historical Museum located in the entrance of Otaru Shussemae square. Many documents related to the history of Otaru literature and commerce are displayed.
Otaku Sightseeing Guide Club showed me the handmade picture-story show. The story is about history and culture of Otaru. It was like a summary of today’s journey. About the details… come to see the show!
▲The picture is beautiful and story was interesting!
Sakaimachi in Otaru with lots of glass shops and sweets. Changing the view even a little bit makes you encounter the deepness of the city of Otaru. It is fun to know about history and culture adding to souvenir and food. Spring, summer, autumn is of course enjoyable but there were no problem with snow storm in midwinter! Don’t take too far but you don’t have to worry too much, there are lots of shops on the way to rest and get warm.