We decided to spend our first full day in Hokkaido leaving the sprawling city of Sapporo for a day trip to the smaller towns of Yoichi and Otaru. It felt a bit odd at the time, not exploring Sapporo, but it also made sense to not split up our time in Sapporo so we could better learn the lay of the land.
Taking the train from Sapporo Station to Otaru is a 50 minute ride, and Yoichi is an additional 25 minutes on the same train. It’s a pleasant trip as the train eventually reaches the shore of Ishikari Bay and you can watch as the bay passes by.
Episode 3: https://youtu.be/Ih2YLf7v18Q
Yoichi is the home of the first Nikka Whiskey Distillery, which is now open to the public. You can explore the expansive grounds, learning about Whiskey distilling along the way. There is also a museum dedicated to the company and the founder, Masataka Taketsuru, right on the grounds. The founder has a very interesting story. After travelling to Scotland to learn the art of whiskey distilling he joined Kotobukiya, now called Santory, and helped establish the first whiskey distillery in Japan. A rift between Taketsuru and those running Kotobukiya caused him to leave and start his own distillery in Yoichi Hokkaido. It was a location he felt closely resembled the climate of Scotland and where he felt he could produce the highest quality Whiskey. All your exploring and learning is rewarded with a whiskey tasting.
Otaru was the main destination of our day trip. It has an interesting history as it played an important role in the development of Hokkaido in the 1800s. Back then it was a major trade and fishing port, and was so important to Hokkaido’s development that it was chosen as the terminal station of Hokkaido’s first railway linking the port town with Sapporo. There are remnants of its past still visible today, such as the famous canal lined with old warehouses since converted into shops and restaurants. There is also Sakaimachi Street where you’ll find the old headquarters of various trading and shipping companies. What’s unique about these buildings is that they were built in Western style architecture and offer an interesting juxtaposition with the rest of the buildings on the street. Otaru is known for glassware, music boxes and sake distilleries. The glassware industry was associated to the fishing industry in early days as the fishermen would use glass floats as part of their tackle. Going to Otaru and making glassware at one of the various shops seemed like a popular thing to do, so we gave it a shot! We now have two great souvenirs, a sake glass and a whiskey glass, to remember our trip by.
It was a fun, albeit long, day. We would recommend both towns, but keep in mind that Otaru could easily fill a full day. There were a few things we had to skip so we could fit both Yoichi and Otaru together. If you are visiting Sapporo we would suggest looking into both options and deciding what appeals. As we proved, both can be done in a day, with a few compromises.
There were several locations featured in this episode
- Yoichi Station – we almost missed our stop at Yoichi Station, but luckily Nicole noticed the various Nikka Whiskey advertisements at the last moment.
- Otaru Station – a decent sized station with a tourist information desk we recommend visiting. The girl working the desk when we visited was very helpful and informative and even made reservations for us at the glassware shop we visited.
- Nikka Whiskey Distillery – a very short walk from Yoichi Station the distillery is a fascinating way to spend 2-3 hours. Be forewarned that not all the exhibits are English friendly. There is a generous whiskey tasting included with admission at the end of the visit.
- Sushi Restaurant – the sushi restaurant we happened upon served very delicious food in a cool atmosphere, an old converted bank. The old vault still existed and guarded the washrooms!
- il Ponte (Glassblowing) – glasswork studio where we made sake and whiskey glasses. You get to see the process up close and personal, and do get a little hands on, but you are led rather closely. I think that is a real benefit, otherwise we would have made very odd looking glasses.
- Canal – the canal is billed as a must see sight of Otaru. It was more attractive at night than during the day. If you are lucky enough to visit Sapporo during the snow festival a visit to Otaru and it’s canal would be a must in the evening as they put on a beautiful snow lantern festival.
- Sakaimachi Street – interesting street lined with a mix of Japanese and Western style buildings giving a good juxtaposition of the two architectural styles. It was on this street where we had dinner and Nicole enjoyed the dish which terrified Mike.
- Kinotoya Bake – the cheese tart shop which pumps out tart after tart, filling that area of the train station with a mouthwatering smell of baked goods.
Thanks for watching/reading!