Otaru Canal

小樽運河(Otaru Canal)

5 Minato-machi


The Otaru Canal is a popular tourist attraction for its romantic walkway along the canal which is lined by ivy-covered warehouses that have been renovated into quaint shops and atmospheric restaurants.

1.15km in length and 40m in width, the canal was completed in 1923 after 9 years of construction and was initially used as a waterway for barges carrying coal or marine products to pass through.

After piers were built at Otaru Port and ships unloaded their goods directly onto trucks, the canal fell into disuse, and the town considered filling up the canal and building a road over it. However, the citizens objected to this and wanted to preserve the canal. After a ten-year debate, the city finally agreed to preserve the canal as it is. Now, taking a cruise along the canal is a popular tourist activity and the canal is a popular attraction especially during winter for its postcard perfect scenery of white-capped warehouses and romantic street lights. The Music Boz Museum near the canal is also worth stopping by for a plethora of music boxes in various shapes, sizes and coming in the latest tunes as well!

Caroline Hutchinson

Otaru Canal was completed in 1923. It once played a significant role in transferring cargo from the dock to the many stone warehouses lining the channel. After new piers allowed for more direct unloading, the canal fell into disuse. In the 1980's a rescue project prevented bulldozing the site and instead restored the area. Now you can visit and enjoy museums, shops and restaurants.

Because the canal was featured in numerous Japanese dramas, the area is now a romantic destination for couples. The busiest stretch is the short section near Chuo-dori street (about ten minutes' walk from JR Otaru station). There you can take a rickshaw tour, buy souvenirs from local artists, or take a river cruise (40 minutes, 1,500 yen in the daytime and 1,800 yen at night).

If you have time, stroll further down the canal towards the Railway Museum, to get a sense of what the canal looked like before its renovation. Plenty of restaurants, cafes, and even a beer hall and brewery are nearby.

I visited during summer, but for ten days during winter the canal is the main site of the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival (Otaru Yuki Akari no Michi). The canal is then lit up and small snow statues decorate the town. Usually at the same time as the Sapporo Snow Festival, you could do both in one trip (book well in advance, though).


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