Day-Trip from Sapporo: Quaint Port-Town of Otaru + Sapporo At Night


I am so excited to take you around Hokkaido's quaint harbor town of Otaru. ❤


A little back story, when my sister Cea and I decided to go on a Hokkaido trip, we wanted a chill and laidback itinerary. We wanted to relax and have a real vacation, not my usual halabira travel (hehe). We were thinking of snow and a quaint little house where we can stay, but come our travel dates--we realized that we're still early for winter! 

I still stayed true to our travel mission of going for the slow-paced route, starting off with booking tour buses for day-trips in Hokkaido. I know, nakaka TITA na talaga haha! I have received several messages on how difficult transportation is on this part of Japan, one even said that they often resorted to TAXIS because no choice! There were no other means at that time. So to avoid getting lost, wasting a day, or even wasting money, I checked Klook travel app for Hokkaido day-trips and found two that suits our taste. 

On our second day in Hokkaido, we booked for the Otaru Bay Story Tour. It costs Php 2498 which is already inclusive of the transportation to and from Sapporo-Otaru, and the buffet lunch. You can choose from two pick-up points: Sapporo Station Bus Terminal or Otaru Station Bus Terminal (if you're already there). Luckily, our hotel is just walking distance to the Sapporo meet-up point.

Tip: Look for Klook promo codes and discount vouchers so you can save more on your tours! I worked for Klook a few months ago (where I gave a talk) and got Php 1000 vouchers so Cea and I only paid Php 1498 each for this tour! Sulit!


MEET-UP POINT: Sapporo Station Bus Terminal (ESTA Building 2F)

When you book a tour via Klook, you will always get an email confirmation with instructions and schedule, including the time and place of your meet-up. You can view everything either on this email, or even on your account in the app under BOOKINGS. 

According to our ticket, we're supposed to be in Sapporo Station Bus Terminal (ESTA Building 2F) by 8:55am. Cea and I were there about 15 minutes in advance to be sure. We sat for a while and can't seem to pin-point our tour group, so after a while Cea said I have to at least ask the lady by the nearest bus ticket counter.

Not included in the email and app is this, you have to exchange your Klook e-ticket at the lone counter for CHUO BUS located in the Sapporo Station Bus Terminal (ESTA Building 2F). They will check your name and hand over an actual ticket. I think they also sell tour tickets there in case you weren't able to book via Klook.



We sat again and just people watched, not daring to leave the vicinity. After a while, a person with a placard will go in the middle to announce the name of a tour. She will then gather everyone, check the tickets and your names in her clipboard, before leading the whole group down to the bus terminal.

To make sure you're on the right tour, check and double check with every person who makes an announcement HAHA. Mas okay na makulit kesa magkamali or maiwan!




This tour bus does not have any assigned seats, but the next ones we had meron na so double check nalang din. They also require passengers to wear the seatbelts at all times, and they weren't strict naman with food and drinks so lagi kaming may baon ni Cea lalo na water. 

We were also provided with headsets for English translation of the information announced by our tour guide in front. If you turn the dial where you plug the headset next to your seat, they also have translations for Chinese and Korean. When it comes to meet up time for every activity, our guide has a white board that she flashes before our bus stops and while we're heading down. I always set my phone's alarm 5 minutes before the time we have to be back on the bus para hindi kami maiwan.


ABOUT OTARU

Travel time from Sapporo to Otaru is about 45 minutes. When you DIY this, it's only about 1 hour by train so hindi naman nalalayo.

It was a short ride, but Cea was still able to take a nap. I decided to plug my headset to listen to the narrations.

Otaru is a small port city in Hokkaido, northwest of Sapporo on Ishikari Bay. A long time ago, Otaru served as a major trade and fishing port of Japan. They were very abundant in herring and salmon, thus their economy thrived and people of Otaru became very rich! But one day, the herring catches decreased and the city suffered immensely.

By 19th century after World War 2, new businesses such as fisheries, farms, and coal minings sprouted here and there thus the city recovered from the crisis. In 1972, when the Winter Olympics was held in Hokkaido, Otaru became very popular to the tourists for its old town charm. They also offer more than the sights, but also delicious confectionery and salmon, and handicrafts like their glassworks, music boxes, and of course sake distilleries.



Former Hokkaido Bank (now a wine and cheese place!)

Our quick first stop was in a wine and cheese place called Otaru Bine. Cea and I tried the fresh wine they are offering in tiny cups, and they are so so good! You can buy a bottle or two after choosing from over 100 kinds of wine, but with no pressures.

What's notable about this place is that it is inside an old stone building, a former bank built in 1912. Connected to the wine shop is a cafe where you can dine and try their wine with western dishes. If only we had more than 20 minutes to spare I would have ordered or even brought home some of their cheeses!






Otaru Bay Canal

Our second stop was in one of the places I was looking forward to prior the trip, just about 7 minutes away from Otaru Bine. When I saw pictures of the Otaru Canal online, the place gives off this storybook vibe as if I am inside a fairytale! It also reminds me a little bit of Prague.







True enough, seeing the canal IRL did not disappoint. We were there during autumn when leaves sprawling across warehouse walls were in reds and yellows, but it also has a different vibe when covered with snow!





A little history, the Otaru Canal was the center of the city's busy port during the 20th century. It became obsolete when it was replaced by modern dock facilities which can accommodate larger vessels. But instead of destroying the canal, citizens developed the area into the tourist attraction that it is now. Old warehouses were converted to museums, cafes, restaurants, and stores. You will still see the signs and designs of the olden times, lending character to the whole place!





Some of the activities that you can do while you're here include a ferry tour (for a fee), a stroll by the canal where you can chance upon artists selling sketches, and of course--dine in and try their local delicacies!

Cea and I decided to just hangout in one of the benches overviewing the canal, and eat our kombini snacks. Of course, we also took lots of scenic photos and selfies! 😁 It was a good sunny day, but air was cool so being outdoors was just so refreshing!





Buffet Lunch at Grand Park Otaru

Finally, lunch! To some, this was the highlight of this tour, haha! We head to Grand Park Otaru, a hotel in the vicinity, for their restaurant's buffet. They have white plastic trays with dividers serving as their plates, which remind me so much of my high school cafeteria. They offer a mix of Western, Japanese, and Chinese dishes, and everything's actually good! My favorite though is their cheese fondue section where I drizzled my bowl of broccoli with lots of cheese. YUM! Yun palang solb nako! 😋


Saw a double rainbow while we were enjoying lunch. What a treat!

Tanaka Shuzo Brewery Kikko Gura

For a little Sake 101, the group went to Tanaka Shuzo Brewery Kikko Gura--makers of this popular Japanese beverage since 1899. We had a tour of the place which shows sake's art and history, how sake was made, and how much grains of rice were used to create the booze!

By the end of the tour, Cea and I tried as much sake as we can, didn't know they come in different variants! They offered shot glasses of different sake flavors to all the guests, and you can also buy bottles to take home. It was also my first time to taste a non-alcoholic sake!






  




Sakaimachi Street 

I also enjoyed the semi last stop of this tour, which is Otaru's Sakaimachi Street. Our guide gave us enough time to just go around the area, but according to our itinerary, here are some stuff that you must visit while you're here: Kitaichi Glass, Otaru Music Box Museum, and Kitakaro (a pastries shop!).

Walking around Sakaimachi Street felt like Christmas! Haha! People give off a more relaxed and happy vibe as they walk in and out of the stores. We entered several shops just to see what's inside.






You'll also see LeTAO everywhere! This brand was actually born here in Otaru.

This looks like a church, but it's also a LeTAO store:

We entered this building located at the far end of the street, which fortunately turned out to be the Otaru Music Box Museum! Again, it felt like Christmas inside with the wooden interiors from walls to floors to its ceiling, and shiny ornaments decorating the whole place. Of course, I cannot imagine this place quiet as people were buzzing over the intricate music boxes, and every time one was opened, different music fills the air!









I think it's the first time ever that I've been to one place with so much music boxes! The atmosphere is magical, but also borderline creepy haha! There are about 25,000 music boxes in this building, from smallest to the largest, from basic to the most interesting and unusual ones like plushies that also has music when you turn a knob hidden on its back! Everything's out of your childhood Christmas dreams!

They also have a create your own music box section where you can choose the design of your box, and the music you want it to play. Their selection is so wide, I saw modern songs on the list. I was really tempted to make one, but price is about Php 2500.



"There are five songs for each color"

These are the wind-up plushies! Ang cute!





This is the create your own music box section:


Lastly, Cea and I dedicate our last minutes in Sakaimachi Street to eat! We went inside this LeTAO store for their ice cream, but we weren't even in the counter yet ang dami ng free taste! 



Our fromage soft served ice cream, aka CHEESE ice cream:


I also saw a store selling melons by the slice. Medyo mahal sya, but someone also recommended that I should try this so push! It's so juicy!! Wish I can buy more or take home some, haha! A slice costs 350 Yen or Php 161.


Glass Studio in Otaru

There is a last activity in the itinerary but we weren't able to go to it na because of the weather. Mt. Tengu Ropeway was supposed to give us a view of the city, but we're all good. We went inside the Glass Studio in Otaru instead, but it was just a quick stop before we finally go back to Sapporo and end the tour.





Back in the City: Sapporo at Night

We're back in Sapporo at about 5:30pm, and it was already pitch black outside. It also felt colder because of the strong winds, but we welcome the walk after almost a day inside a bus. Since it's still early, Cea and I decided to walk from Odori Park to Susukino, while making quick stops in stores we found interesting. We spotted a GU, an ABC Mart, and a Don Quijote along the way. 




I love Japan's city lights at night. Had to stop in this intersection to enjoy this view! Unlike Shibuya or Shinjuku, there were lesser crowd here in Sapporo. I am amused by it, but I actually love it too!


People were also taking photos so hindi nakakahiya hahaha:


Cea and I ended up in MOS Burger for dinner, a Japan fast food chain. I ordered a vegetarian burger na medyo funny lang--the veggie patty is held by rolls of lettuce instead of bread! Diet? Haha! Taste wise it's just okay, but that night I bought so much kombini snacks again and munched away in our hotel room hehehe.



Side Note: What are your thoughts in joining tour buses or guided tours? 

I have come to appreciate this kind of traveling after years of DIY-ing my way from city to city. I love learning through a local guide vs Google, and the convenience of just hopping in a bus and not risk getting lost interpreting train tracks and bus numbers. I also have the luxury to catch up on sleep especially when bus rides are about 2 to 3 hours long. Hindi ako kailangang all-time alert level 100, hehehe.

It has it's downside though, of course, and the common factor why people don't prefer these kind of tours is that it is very time constrained. We have to follow a strict schedule, so over-staying in a place you wanted to explore more is out of the picture. Although this also means we get to go to more places in just a day--just like for this Otaru Bay Story Tour

Tours can also be a bit more expensive compared to DIY itineraries where you can just choose where you want to go or where you want to eat. Meals are usually buffet kaya siguro medyo mahal din siya, but as a vegetarian I find this more convenient. Also, being herded with a group can be a turn off to some, although I am not pressured and bothered naman by it.

Overall, I still look for the sense of adventure that comes with navigating places on my own. LALO NA when I am solo traveling, iba ang immersion when you commute. But when people rely on me like my sister or my family, or when it's a new place like Hokkaido, I'll make sure to dedicate a day or two with a tour bus--aka my time to relax and enjoy as well! Hehe.



Comments

  1. I love the wine and cheese :) at ang cheese ice cream hihi ang cute din po ng melon nila :D Btw, ang ganda po ng mga photos. I super love it as well as your outfit po :)

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