Japan, Hokkaido, Otaru-shi, Otaru Canal at Night. (Photo by: JTB/UIG via Getty Images)

UIG via Getty Images

Otaru Canal

Top choice in Otaru

Historic Otaru canal is lined with warehouses from the late 19th and early 20th centuries when this port city served as the financial centre of Hokkaidō and a bustling center of trade with Russia and China. This was a time when traditional Japanese architecture was infused with Western-style building techniques, leading to some intriguing architectural styles being on display.

Most of the canal-lined spots have been restored and now house museums and cafes. Unfortunately the canal itself is half-buried by a major thoroughfare, despite the best lobbying efforts of local preservationists. Still, a stroll along the canal's banks is a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon, particularly in February when twinkling lanterns line the river as part of the town's Snow Light Path Festival. 

Otaru canal cruise

The view of the canal is even prettier from the vantage point on the water. Cruises depart from Chūō-bashi and last 40 minutes; though recommended, no advance booking is necessary.

Hotels close to Otaru canal

Otaru is an easy day trip from Sapporo, though it also works as a convenient stopover on the way to Niseko. There are plenty of places to stay here, the best (and priciest) of which have rooms overlooking the bay.

For proximity to the canal, you can't beat Hotel Nord Otaru or Hotel Sonia, both located right on the canal bank. For those on a budget, the excellent Otarunai Backpackers' Hostel Morinoki is around a 15-minute walk from the canal side. 



Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Otaru attractions

1. Otaru General Museum

0.12 MILES

This annexe of the Otaru Museum, known as the Ungakan (運河館), is housed in a restored warehouse dating from 1893 near the canal. It does a good job of…

2. Bank of Japan Otaru Museum

0.18 MILES

The former Otaru branch of the venerable Bank of Japan (日本銀行), completed in 1912 and designed by the same architect who did Tokyo Station, has been so…

3. Nichigin-dōri

0.21 MILES

Once known as the 'Wall Street of the North', Nichigin-dōri is lined with elegant buildings that speak to Otaru's past life as a prominent financial…

4. Otaru Music Box Museum

0.68 MILES

This museum has clearly, uh, struck a chord: there are now five of them in town, with over 25,000 music boxes on display. Actually everything is for sale…

5. Nishin Goten

2.74 MILES

One of Otaru's must-see spots, this old herring house, once at the sea's edge, has been moved to a gorgeous bluff and has a number of artefacts and photos…

6. Ōkura-yama Ski Jump Stadium

17.81 MILES

This ski-jump slope was built on the side of Ōkura-yama for the Sapporo 1972 Winter Games. At 133.6m it's just slightly shorter than Sapporo TV Tower,…

7. Iwato Kannon-dō

17.95 MILES

This small temple fronts a 120m-long cave that has 33 statues of Kannon, the Buddhist deity of compassion, and is dedicated to road workers who lost their…

8. Hokkaidō-jingū

18.38 MILES

Dating back to 1869, this is one of the oldest shrines in Hokkaidō and is known for its spectacular cherry and plum blossoms in spring. It's inside…