Otaru: Herring and Glassware; Keeping Alive Otaru's Tradition *RERUN
The city of Otaru, on the Sea of Japan coast of Hokkaido Prefecture, was founded about 150 years ago and grew rapidly as the main port for shipping coal from mines in the region. It also became the primary fishing port for the massive herring catch. The fish were used as fertilizer by farms growing cotton. For this reason, demand was strong and herring fetched a high price. Many people made their way to Otaru hoping to prosper from the herring business, and the city's population grew rapidly. In response to this economic boom in Otaru, as many as 25 banks opened branches in the city and it became Hokkaido's financial and trading center. On this episode of Journeys in Japan, Isis Berns explores the city of Otaru, delving into its history of fishing and glass-making, to discover the proud vestiges of its past prosperity.

Otaru Museum Annex

Housed in a former warehouse, the exhibits in this museum show the history of the local herring fisheries, and how the city of Otaru developed.

Old Aoyama Villa

This magnificent structure was built by the Aoyama family, whose huge wealth was derived from herring fishing. Lavishly decorated and filled with artworks, the villa has been designated as a national tangible cultural asset.

Asahara Glass studio

This glass studio was established in 1900 by the great-grandfather of the present owner, Asahara Saiichiro. The studio makes a wide range of glass items, including traditional glass balls and fishing floats. Visitors can try their hand at glass-making if they reserve in advance.


From Shin-Chitose Airport, there is a rapid train service that takes about 90 minutes to reach Otaru.