Sapporo, the fifth largest city in Japan, is on Hokkaido, one of the main Japanese islands. Sapporo, being the capital of Hokkaido, is a good base for visiting other places. One of the popular daytrips from Sapporo is to Otaru, northwest of Sapporo.

It took me 30 minutes to get to Oraru on the rapid train. My transport card made it easy to hop on and off the train, without having to buy a ticket.

At the station, I picked up a town map.

Otaru was originally inhabited by the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido and some of the surrounding islands. It’s located on Ishikari Bay of the Sea of Japan (East Sea) and is the second most important seaport after Hakodate and the largest industrial and commercial city on the west coast of Hokkaido.

Originally, in the nineteenth century, the Japanese government established a trading port in Oraru. By the early 20th century, it was one of the richest cities in Japan. After the Second World War, its prosperity declined. More recently, it has rebounded to become a popular tourist destination, known for its well-preserved Meiji and Taisho era buildings, its canal, and its glassware.

My first stop was the Bank of Japan Oraru Museum. The museum building was designed by Kingo Tatsuno, a famous Japanese architect who also designed the Tokyo Station Marunouchi Building and the Bank of Japan head office in Tokyo. Built with new construction methods, the building is a two-story structure with a mortar rendering that gives it the appearance of stone even though it’s made of bricks with a steel frame. It has a classical European style with a Corinthian colonnade on the front facade. Tatsuno studied under British architect Josiah Conder.

Outside and inside the former bank’s building are reliefs of the Blakiston’s fish owl. This owl is one of the guardian deities of the Ainu and “the owl reliefs are said to have kept watch over the Otaru branch at night after the staff had gone home”.

Inside, the building you first see marble in the area around the lobby. The ceiling of the banking hall was impressive at the time. There are no pillars because the roof is supported by steel frames.

There were several exhibits, providing a history of the branch and the Bank of Japan. You’re allowed to walk into the original bank vault, now populated with damaged money (which is unsuitable for reuse) to give you an idea of what a billion yen looks like. An exhibit describes various security features used on the banknotes. One of the features is microprinted letters, which are visible with a magnifying glass but can’t be reproduced with a colour photocopier (they end up looking like lines).

On the way to the canal, I went through various, mostly deserted, shopping arcades. The backstreets were more interesting, letting me see the variety of architecture.

After walking around town, I reached the area with several glassware shops. Some of them had workshops that let you create your own pieces.

My final stop was the canal, where I had lunch (sandwiches and fruit) sitting on a bench. The canal itself is lined with Victorian-styled lampposts!

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