Kitaichi Glass Otaru (Hokkaido, Japan)
Other than the desserts and music boxes, you can also find beautiful glassware in Otaru. Kitaichi Glass (“Kitaichi”) with a century-long history is the most famous and oldest place in Otaru to discover this glassy treasure. Kitaichi is the pioneer of Otaru glass when it began in 1901 with the manufacturing of kerosene oil lamps before electricity and then later produced glass buoys for Otaru’s booming herring fishery during the Meiji and Taisho eras.
You can find some of Kitaichi’s shops, workshop and classes around within walking distance along Sakaimachi Street. Use this map to locate them. Zoom in at this high resolution map.
Kitaichi Glass Sangokan (Emporium No.3) (北一硝子三号館)
Among all its shops, Kitaichi Glass Sangokan (literally the third house 三号馆)(“Sangokan”) best represents Kitaichi Glass, you can probably consider it to be the headquarters. Sangokan is housed in a stone warehouse with timber frames that was built in 1891 when Otaru was a prospering commercial seaport.
You can find a variety of glassware at Sangokan: dinnerware (plates, bowls, cups, etc), vases, accessories, decorations, stained glass lamps… there are easily thousands of high quality products made by skilled craftsman on display. Needless to say, prices are generally on the high side, even though I heard of Singaporeans flying to Otaru annually to get their glassware.
Sangokan has three floors — YO, WA and COUNTRY. At YO, you’ll find Western inspired products. At WA, there are traditional Japanese styled products. Lastly at COUNTRY, bring home homely products based on Japan’s tradition.
I like the two sets of glassware shown in the following two photos. One is a set of coloured printed glasses and another is a set of sake pot and glasses. They look so much better in real life!
The set of glasses with printed trees is inspired by the four seasons, with only autumn of orange and winter of blue in my photo. I wanted to take a photo of the complete set, but no photos were actually allowed. I loved them so much that I couldn’t help but sneak a photo. If I didn’t remember wrongly, these designs were limited for a period, and they had new designs coming up.
- 8:45 am – 6:00 pm
- 7-26 SakaiMachi Otaru, Hokkaido, 047-0027 (北一硝子三号館)(In the same building as Kitaichi Hall)
30 mins walk from JR Otaru; 10 mins walk from JR Minami Otaru
Hungry after shopping? In the same building as Sangokan, Kitaichi Hall (“Hall”) is a café with a warm and romantic ambience for you to sit in and relax. 167 oil lamps softly illuminate the whole Hall as they stand on the tables, hang along the walls and up in the ceiling chandeliers.
If you are there early when the Hall opens at 8:45am, you get to see the staff light up the lamps and lift the chandeliers up into their places. Do note that these lamps emit a peculiar and nostalgic smell from the oil burning. Before lifting the chandeliers up, tourists are allowed to come near the chandeliers and see them close up. The chandeliers will sway side to side as they are lifted slowly up a distance. :)
After the lighting ceremony, enjoy a cup of coffee or have your breakfast. Or if you are crazy enough, or have an appetite sizable enough, or a travel group big enough, try their desserts in plus size!
Their jumbo cream puff is about 15 cm in diameter! If that’s not enough for you, they serve a 6-flavoured soft ice cream layering one above another. And if that’s not enough, there’s a 12-layered soft serve during the winter season! But based on online reviews, you better save your stomach for better cream puff and ice cream around Otaru.
Photo Taken in Sangokan
- 8:45am – 6:00 pm
- 7-26 SakaiMachi Otaru, Hokkaido, 047-0027 (In the same building as Sangokan)
Kitaichi Venetian Art Museum
Kitaichi Venetian Art Museum showcases the lifestyle and culture of Venice with its imported art pieces from Venice. There are approximately 3000 pieces of glass art and traditional furniture for you to admire. This museum was opened in 1988 and now has a costume photo studio on the 2nd floor and a cafe on the top floor (5th floor). Get to enjoy Italian beer and the ocean view of Otaru at its cafe. You can access the cafe without having to pay the museum entrance fee of ¥700.
- Entrance: ¥700 (S$8.80)
- Museum: 8:45 am – 6:00 pm
Cafe: 9:30 am – 5:00 pm (last order 4:30 pm)
- 5-27 Sakaimachi, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0027
Kitaichi Glass Studio
After seeing so many beautiful glass pieces, are you curious about how they were being made? Want to see highly skilled glass craftsmen at work?
At Kitaichi Glass Sakaimachi Studio, you can observe the glass making processes – glassblowing and lampworking. Glassblowing inflates molten glass into a bubble with a blowpipe while lampworking uses a torch or lamp to melt the glass and then tools and hands to shape the molten glass.
- Hot Work: 9:30 am – 4:30 pm, except Tuesday
Lamp Work: 9:30 am – 5:30pm, except Thursday
- 6-7 Sakaimachi Otaru, Hokkaido 〒 047-0027 (北一硝子 見学硝子工房)
Kitaichi Glass Outlet
If you can’t afford the branded goods in Sangokan, there’s always an outlet store! The products sold here are discounted for reasons such as to clear stock for out of season products, for products of cancelled productions (because they’re improving on the design and reproducing based on customer feedback) and for products that did not meet the inspection criteria of fine precision and quality.
Other than glassware, there’s also a range of Japanese alcohol you can get, from the affordable to the expensive ones. As in Japanese style, most of the bottles come in pretty packaging! I was contemplating whether to buy a bottle of plum wine, but decided against carrying a glass bottle to Tokyo in our 2nd leg. Regretted it!
- 8:45 am – 6:00 pm
- 6-11 Sakaimachi Otaru, Hokkaido, 047-0027
Glass Making Experience (Kitaichi Hanazono)
Other than making a music box, here’s another hands on experience! Experience glass making with Kitaichi Glass, such as making a blown-glass piece with a blowpipe or a small ornament from rods in a flame.
Sandblast is a technique of engraving glasses by a jet of sand using compressed air. See website for the photos of the sandblast process and products.
- Duration: 1.5 hr (timing: 10:30 am – 4:30 pm)
- Selection: From limited glass selection; max 3 design sheets
- Cost: ¥900 (experience fee), ¥1,350+ (for product)
- Recommended for those who don’t have much time.
- Duration: 2 hours (timing: 10:30 am – 4:30 pm)
- Selection: Any glass with smooth surface in the shop; unlimited design sheet; any lettering
- Cost: ¥1,300 (experience fee), ¥1,350+ (for product)
- Recommended for those who want to have a highly original glass design.
Dragonfly ball arrangement experience
See website for the photos of the products made from the following courses.
“Mobile Strap” course (ストラップコース)
- ¥200 (experience fee); additional ¥770 (for product)
- ~15 minutes
“Hair Rubber Band” course (ヘアゴムコース)
- ¥100 (experience fee); additional ¥370 (for product)
- ~10 minutes
“Necklace Pendant” course (ペンダントコース)
- ¥100 (experience fee); additional ¥730 (for product)
- ~10 minutes
You can make reservations for the above courses with Kitaichi Hanazono store by phone (0134) -33-1991, by fax (0134) -29-0691 or by email email@example.com.
Let them know your desired date and time, the number of people, the course name (“raku-raku”, “okonomi”, ペンダントコース, etc) and your name. They will confirm your reservation on the spot or the next day.
Shop Info (Hanazono Store):
- 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
- 1-6-10 Hanazono Otaru, Hokkaido
Have fun among the glassware! :) If you are looking for more places to go in Otaru, wait for our upcoming post: “Things to Do in Otaru“.