Most people regard Otaru (小樽) as a day trip destination from Sapporo but it's nice to take your time here, as there's plenty to see and do, including an excursion to the nearby Kiroro ski resort.
We stayed three days at the Grand Park Otaru: it meant being right on top of the massive Wing Bay Otaru mall, which has everything from a supermarket to a cinema (we caught Star Wars: The Force Awakens there when it premiered!). If it's raining or you're snowed in, there's plenty of options to keep you entertained.
From Grand Park Otaru, the town centre is just a five-minute taxi ride away.
Here's what we managed to see:
The romantic canal is probably what Otaru is most famous for. To think this place almost got landfilled in the 1980s but got saved by a citizen's movement to preserve it as a landmark.
Otaru is a seaport and the canal was integral to the port activities in the earlier half of the 20th century. Smaller boats helped deliver cargo from larger boats to the warehouses along the canal. Later it became obsolete, so it was going to be landfilled but citizens intervened.
The warehouses are now museums and restaurants. Otaru Canal is also the site of the Snow Light Path Festival.
It's interesting that they are now testing the use of crushed scallop shells as anti-skid material instead of burnt sand which makes the sand dark and dirty.
The canal makes for a nice stroll in the daytime. The old fashioned gas lamps lend a romantic air; they must look lovely at night too.
Do you want to build a snowman?
Sakaimachi Street (境町通り)
From Otaru Canal, you can walk to Sakaimachi Street nearby. There are lots of seafood restaurants, cafes, boutiques and souvenir shops here.
This used to be a prominent merchant street in the 1800s and 1900s. Lots of traders built Western style buildings as offices which have been preserved to this day.
While the Western buildings are quaint and impressive, I personally prefer traditional Japanese architecture (also first photo).
Don't forget to step into a LeTAO shop (they have several different themed boutiques) for some desserts. They are particularly famous for the Double Fromage cheesecake (also available at the airport), but I really liked their cheese biscuits.
Kitakaro and RokkateiThese are two of the most famous pastry shops in Otaru, and are located side by side in Sakaimachi Street.
We saw crows everywhere in Hokkaido, even at Sakaimachi Street, and they are huge. This one is outside Kitakaro, the place where they sell the famous baumkuchen.
We took a break next door at Rokkatei (六花亭): the allure of a cream puff with free coffee at 90yen was difficult to resist, especially in the cold winter.
Granted it was just a small puff, but it was more tasty than the Beard Papa we had the night before. It's a small cafe upstairs with limited seating, but they do sell a lot more confections downstairs at the main shop.
Kitaichi GlassAlong Sakaimachi Street, you'll also find one of Otaru's biggest tourist attractions - its glass craft. Otaru is known as "Town of Glass" for its refined hand blown glassware.
Kitaichi Glass is an established name in the trade, and aside from its many wares, it has a much talked about cafe - Kitaichi Hall - which features 167 original oil glass lamps for illumination.
The timbre Kitaichi Hall completely brings you to another world from the snowy outdoors. The only thing is, you'll have to bear with the smell of kerosene.
These make great souvenirs. There are some hands-on workshops too, if you're so inclined.
Nearby you'll find the Museum of Venetian Art, also opened by Kitaichi Glass.
Music Box Museum
At the end of Sakaimachi Street, near the five-forked "Fairy Tale Crossing", you'll find a cluster of buildings that collectively make up the Music Box Museum. This one is the most famous building - it has the steam clock (gifted by Vancouver) at its entrance.
Inside is a huge shop selling music boxes of all kinds.
You have the old fashioned gilded ones to the modern cutesy ones.
The rotating sushi ones are cute. But still too expensive for me.
Right next to the Music Box Museum, you will find a building named Yume no Oto (Sound of Dreams?) which is bursting with licensed merchandise of popular characters like Rilakkuma and Moomin.
On the second floor is Hokkaido's largest collection of Studio Ghibli merchandise. All kinds of Ghibli characters, and of course, customisable music boxes playing the soundtrack or theme songs.
Here's Ponyo in a bucket!
There's lots of cute things to see but the place is actually quite small and the items are pricey.
On the next street, we chanced upon the Kamaei Kamaboko shop selling fish paste products of all kinds. It tastes quite different from our fishcake - sweeter, softer and yet more dense.
Lots of freezer products for takeaway too.
There's still more we didn't get to explore - the Sankaku fish market just left of the Otaru JR Station, Mount Tengu, and the Otaru Aquarium (a taxi driver recommended it).
Next time, we will walk down from Otaru Station to the canal, and take in the many sights and try out the eateries along the way.
Many thanks to Grand Park Otaru for hosting us