Otaru is a harbor city, half an hour northwest of Sapporo by train. Its beautiful canal area and interesting Herring Mansion make Otaru a pleasant one day trip from Sapporo, or a nice stop en route to or from the Shakotan Peninsula.
Sapporo’s Yuki Matsuri – Snow Matsuri — may get all of the international press, and rightly so because of its incredible colossal snow sculptures that dwarf visitors, but neighboring Otaru has a snow festival of its own that, while small and humble, shines or rather gleams in its own right. In the daytime, Sapporo’s Yuki Matsuri far outshines Otaru’s festival, but at night Otaru puts up some fierce competition in the romantic department. At night Otaru glows from the thousands of candles placed in simple snow structures spread throughout the town, lending it a graceful, magical-like quality.
Otaru Canal (Otaru Unga) used to be a central part of the city's busy harbor in the first half of the 20th century, when large vessels had to be unloaded by smaller ships, which then transported the goods to warehouses along the canal.The canal became obsolete, when modern dock facilities allowed for direct unloading of larger vessels. Thanks to a citizens' movement, however, a part of the canal was beautifully restored in the 1980s instead of being landfilled, while the warehouses were transformed into shops, cafes, museums and restaurants.The canal makes for a pleasant scroll during the day, when various artists present their works to the passing tourists, and it is very romantic in the evening, when the gas lamps are lit.The Otaru Canal is a 5-10 minute walk straight down the main road from Otaru Station.
The herring fishing industry has played a major role in the history of Otaru and Hokkaido until herring stocks dramatically declined in the 1950s. During the heydays, large "herring mansions" (nishin goten) were built by wealthy fishermen to process the herring and as a residence for themselves and their employees. Otaru's Nishin Goten was relocated to its present location in 1958 and is one of the few remaining herring mansions. Originally constructed in 1897, it now exhibits workers' tools and costumes in its spacious interior.Open: April to November; 9:00-17:00 Admission: 200 Yen
When the herring fishing industry declined in the 1950s, the local Otaru craftsman of glass buoys diverted their business to produce refined glassware, as the demand for glass buoys plunged. For the past fifty years the craftsman have refined their skills. The result today are numerous glass shops, which now carter mainly to souvenir hungry tourists. The most popular glassware attraction in Otaru is the Kitaichi Glass Shops. In these glass shops Otaru’s most famous glass makers “Otaru Unga Kogeikan” displays his masterpieces. Tourists are welcome and even encouraged to create their own glass cups in a workshop. Other popular attractions include "The Glass Ship" shop located in a impressive former warehouse and the Kitaichi Venetian Art Museum, displaying glass art from Venice.
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