In 1899, the government designated Otaru as Japan’s northernmost international trading port. Its vibrant coastal economy was at the time known as Japan’s “Northern Wall Street.”
The Japanese government at the time wanted to strengthen its control over the entire island of Hokkaido and its waters to deter encroaching influence from the Russians. As part of the plan, Otaru was designated as the terminus of Hokkaido’s first railway line in 1880.
Its strategic location eventually led Otaru to become the financial and economic centre of Hokkaido, complete with banks, canals, and a vibrant coastal economy. In fact, Otaru was at the time known as the “Northern Wall Street.”
After World War II, Otaru’s fishing and coal industry was overshadowed by more plentiful regions. Its financial industry went along and relocated to Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital city.
This is why nearly all significant architectures in Otaru were built in the early twentieth century, the zenith of Otaru’s influence. Those buildings, like the old Bank of Japan Otaru branch, were heavily influenced by European construction techniques at the time. Most were built with steel and reinforced concrete featuring a blend of Neoclassical and Georgian architectural style.
The brick warehouses that lined the canal, too, have been transformed into shops, museums, and restaurants. They once served as storage for goods coming in and going out of Oatru’s port. Their location enables the barges to load cargoes efficiently. These warehouses, cobblestone sidewalks, and Victorian street lamps encapsulate the memory of Otaru’s golden era.
Sankaku Fish Market sits on a gentle slope beside the Otaru train station. It is a long stretch of stalls selling fresh seafood. This market is filled with friendly shopkeepers offering samples of raw seafood.
Sankaku Fish Market sits on a gentle slope beside the Otaru train station. It is a long stretch of stalls selling fresh seafood and local produce. This market is filled with colourful displays and friendly shopkeepers offering fresh samples.
In between the narrow stalls are tiny eateries that offer a wide range of seafood donburi. Some of them would even prepare the seafood visitors purchased in the market.
In winter, Otaru residents gather along the edges of the port to fish for herrings in its deep waters. These men in their Gore-Tex outfits paint a sensational picture of Otaru not seen on the postcards.
In winter, Otaru residents gather along the edges of the port to fish for herrings in its deep waters. They set up folding chairs on the snow and power portable heaters from cables connected to their cars. Beside them are cooler boxes for the baits and catch. What is especially interesting is the way they fish.
Their noise blends with the chatters of the fishermen and seagulls’ squawks. This continues into the night as the sun sets over Otaru’s coastal snowscape. Together with the lamps and cooler boxes, these men in their Gore-Tex outfits paint a sensational picture of Otaru not seen on the postcards.