Ports & Excursions

Otaru, Japan

In 1880, the first railroad line on the island of Hokkaido connected Sapporo, the prefectural capital, with the important port city of Otaru. Indeed, for most of the 19th and much of the 20th centuries, Otaru outshone Sapporo in importance. The city was home to a thriving herring fleet. Ships regularly plied the waters between the port and the then Japanese island of Sakhalin. Coal was mined in the hills, and Otaru even won a reputation for producing fine music boxes. It was the island's industrial heart. Closure of coal mine in Hokkaido and downturn in demand of coal initiated a long decline that lasted into the 1950s. But Otaru survived - and has thrived. Japanese travelers discovered the city, drawn to its winter sports, its fine sushi, and its historic architecture. Otaru seemed like a portrait frozen in time. Today, international travelers have flocked to experience Otaru's charms - including the scenic beauty of Hokkaido's rugged west coast and its nearby national parks.

The vast wealth accumulated by Otaru's herring tycoons is displayed at their so-called "Herring Mansions." One, the Nishin Goten, built in 1897, amply illustrates the state of 19th century society: the sumptuous ground floor housed the family while as many as 120 workers lived in squalor upstairs.

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  • Former Aoyama Villa Former Aoyama Villa

    The finest of all "Herring Mansions" is the Former Aoyama Villa, built in 1924 with a dining room that seats 200 guests.

  • Otaru Canal Otaru Canal

    Otaru Canal is lined with restored stone warehouses that are home to restaurants and shops.

  • Yoichi Nikka Whisky Brewery Yoichi Nikka Whisky Brewery

    Founded in 1934, the distillery crafts a smokey malt whiskey using ultra traditional Scottish methods of distillation.

  • Sapporo Sapporo

    The capital of Hokkiado was host city for the 1972 Winter Games. The heart of Sapporo is mile-long Odori Park.

  • Jyozankei Hot Springs Jyozankei Hot Springs

    The hot springs had been known by Ainu people through ages and a monk first found an inn in 1866. A spa and health resorts soon followed.

  • Ishihara Yujiro Museum Ishihara Yujiro Museum

    The museum celebrates the life of Japan's great movie idol of the '50s and early '60s, a figure who combined aspects of James Dean, Elvis Presley and Marlon Brando.

  • Cape Kamui Cape Kamui

    A rope-lined path travels to Cape Kamui Lighthouse for dramatic views of the Hokkaido coast.

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