Otaru is a lovely little town situated on Ishikari Bay of the Sea of Japan. It was an Ainu (native peoples of Hokkaido) settlement, and the name “Otaru” is recognized as being of Ainu origin, possibly meaning “River running through the sandy beach”. Otaru was recognized as a village by the bakufu (The shogun’s officials were collectively the bakufu) in 1865, and in 1880 the first railway line in Hokkaido was opened with daily service between Otaru and Sapporo.
An Imperial decree in July 1899 established Otaru as an open port for trading with the United States and the UK.
The city flourished with herring fishing and was once the center of the economy of Hokkaido.
Otaru once called “Northern Wall Street was also a central banking and financial center.
Otaru is a major station on the JR Hakodate Line, making it very easy to get to from Sapporo. There are at least five trains per hour, a one-way trip is ¥640 and the fastest train takes around 30 minutes.
The canal was completed in 1923 to aid in getting goods, via smaller boats, from the ships to the warehouses that line the canal. It is just a 10-minute walk from Otaru Station.
The area is also known for its glass blowing so the biggest things to do are shop at the tourist stores along Sakaimachi road and eat fresh fish. You can find fresh fish stores and chose your own or dine in one of the hundreds of restaurants serving fresh sushi. It is crab season in Japan, so fresh crab abounds in all of the restaurants.
You can also take boat rides on the canal, sadly the snow and winds were too heavy the day we were there and they were not running.
If you have the chance to visit in February, don’t miss the snow light festival.