In this 12th installment of the multipart series on my favourite Japanese moorage ports, I introduce three ports in western Hokkaido.
As mentioned in my previous installment, Hokkaido has a unique history and culture, quite different from the rest of Japan. I therefore encourage my cruising clients to take the time to explore the island and not just consider it as a provisioning and clear-out spot prior to heading to Alaska.
For those wanting to go around Hokkaido, a clockwise circumnavigation is preferred given prevailing winds and currents. And for those who are heading to Alaska, I generally recommend taking the western/northern route via Wakkanai rather than the more common southern/eastern route via Kushiro. In both cases, cruisers will have a chance to explore western Hokkaido, which I think is the island’s best cruising area because of weather, scenery, and the friendliness of the people.
I generally don’t include marinas in this Favourite Ports series, because information about them is readily available elsewhere, but I make an exception for Otaru Marina.
Otaru Marina is the best marina in Hokkaido and one of the best in Japan. They can accommodate boats up to about 150’, have excellent repair services, and can haul out boats up to about 70’/40 tons, so it’s a great place to get one’s boat ready before heading to Alaska. And, with a large supermarket a 10-minute walk away, it’s also convenient for provisioning. And for those doing a Hokkaido circumnavigation, it’s the last place to relax and enjoy some urban comforts until reaching Hakodate to the far southeast. (43°11'10.6"N, 141°01'31.8"E)
One can also leave one’s boat in Otaru while exploring inland Hokkaido, leaving from nearby Otaru Station. It’s only 45 minutes by train to Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital and a lovely, interesting city, and from there one can take trains to all parts of the island.
Otaru itself is a popular sightseeing destination for both Japanese and foreign tourists. In the first half of the 20th century, Otaru was a bustling, wealthy town, its economy built on the herring-fishing and coal-mining industries. It was also Hokkaido’s financial center and a major trading center for goods going to/from mainland Japan, Russia, Korea, and China. Today, vestiges of its prosperous past are evident everywhere, notably the delightful canal district and the many restored historic buildings.
Although most cruisers visit Hokkaido in the summer, the island offers excellent, world-class skiing. Of course, that means bitter cold and LOTS of snow, but keen skiers can make Otaru Marina their winter home, as an Australian couple did a few years ago.
Otaru also has a well-deserved reputation for excellent food and drink. It’s especially known for its seafood, notably sushi and shrimp, deep-fried whole chicken, and chow mein (brought in with the China trade). To accompany the food, one can imbibe locally made Pilsner-style Otaru Beer (and the products of several other microbreweries), Nikka Whisky, and surprisingly good red, white, and dessert wines.
The marina has water and power on all docks and a fuel dock, as well as showers, a coin laundry, and a café (summer only). Reservations can be made by calling 0134-22-1311 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About 50NMs to the north of Otaru is Mashike. Cruisers are advised to stay well offshore to avoid several large aquaculture areas.
The main reason for including Mashike in this series is that it is home to Kunimare, Japan’s northernmost sake brewery. As a big fan of sake of all types, I had long wanted to visit Kunimare, and I wasn’t disappointed – their sake is excellent. And the tasting room, in a classic brewery building, is lovely.
Although I went to Mashike for the sake, I lingered longer than planned because of the friendly people and relaxing ambience. I can’t really put my finger on specifically why it’s a “favourite,” but as the years pass it remains a vivid highlight in my dusty memory bank.
Moorage can be found in the fishing port. Basically, one just has to enter and find an empty place on the wall. I moored at the spot marked by the red dot (43°51'17.4"N, 141°31'46.3"E), but other cruisers have moored where the orange dot is. The blue dot indicates a small marina – they don’t encourage visitors but they can usually accommodate a visiting boat up to about 40’ (best to have a Japanese friend call to make the arrangements).
There are several shops and restaurants near the harbour, including a couple of excellent sushi restaurants. About a 15-minute bicycle ride out of town is a small hotel with a hot-spring bath open to visitors.
Another 40NMs north is Teuri Island. Again, be careful to avoid several aquaculture areas, especially just after leaving Mashike and then again when approaching Teuri.
Teuri’s claim to fame is that it is one of the country’s largest seabird sanctuaries, attracting ornithologists from Japan and around the world. Although I’m not especially interested in birds, I nevertheless enjoyed my time there very much. I rented a bicycle to explore the island, being especially impressed by the ruggedly wild west coast. And I got to know several of the islanders. All in all, it’s a great place to relax and soak in the island atmosphere.
With a year-round population of only 300, there’s not much in the way of shops or restaurants (except for a couple of coffee shops open in the summer). If you plan in advance, though, it is sometimes possible to arrange to have dinner at one of the island’s guest houses.
Moorage can be found in the south side of the fishing port, as marked by the red dot (44°26'17.7"N, 141°19'45.6"E). Depending on the forecast winds, moor either on the inside of the breakwater or on the north-facing wall.