The Hokkaido port of Otaru is less than an hour by train from downtown Sapporo. Same neighborhood, different world.

Sapporo is big and growing. Otaru is small and shrinking. The future, no doubt, is with Sapporo. But the past is with Otaru. And the past, as all travelers in Japan know, is no small thing.

Hundred-year-old stone banks and warehouses are to Otaru what 1,000- year-old temples and shrines are to Kyoto. Step out of JR Otaru Station and walk south; you'll soon see (on your left) the former Otaru Branch of the Yasuda Bank. Spare it a glance, it's worth it. It's one of 71 "designated historic landmarks" scattered around town, each fronted by a purple explanatory sign (in no fewer than five languages: Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean and Russian — such is the international attention Otaru attracts).