Hokkaido is known around the world for its natural beauty, delicious food, and their four seasons. If you are perhaps planning on visiting Sapporo during winter or snowboarding in the nearby mountains of Hokkaido, there is one town you don’t want to miss during your stay: Otaru. The second thing I wanted to do while in Sapporo was visiting Otaru.
Otaru is a port-town in western Hokkaido, about 30 minutes by train from Sapporo. Interestingly, most of the city’s architecture is designed with a Western-style in mind, which is unusual compared to other architecture throughout Japan. However, while visiting Otaru, you won’t feel like you are in just another Japanese tourist town. Otaru is a city of hidden treasures that will make memories to last a lifetime. And through the centre of it all, lay the beautiful Otaru Canal a quiet, gentle body of water, mirroring the façades of the low rise buildings standing alongside it, delicately covered with snow. I could just sit by the canal on a cold stone bench for a moment of rest and think about how perfect this town seemed to be.
Otaru is a seaport and the canal was integral to the port activities in the earlier half of the 20th century. Smaller boats helped deliver cargo from larger boats to the warehouses along the canal. Later it became obsolete, so it was going to be landfilled but citizens intervened. The romantic canal is probably what Otaru is most famous for. To think this place almost got landfilled in the 1980s but got saved by a citizen's movement to preserve it as a landmark.
The Otaru canal is all about old world charm. Stone stairways, terraces, bridges and shops line up the old waterway. The streets are lined with old gaslights, though I suspect they may now be run on electricity at night. I visited in the morning and I think the nightlife here would be definitely amazing when lights on vegetation and illumination on old warehouses would convert this place into sheer magic.
With snow carpet by its sides, Victorian style street lamps and mountain view in a distance, Otaru Canal is a beautiful picturesque.
Another tourist attraction in Otaru is Sakaimachi Street, a preserved merchant district. Many of the houses have been turned into souvenir shops or restaurants.
Towns that are off the beaten path often make the best memories, and Otaru is no exception. It offers character and scenery that you can’t find anywhere else, and is definitely worth the side trip during your stay in Hokkaido.