Japan Talk

An atmospheric port town once known as the Wall Street of the North

The little port town of Otaru had its heyday as one of Japan’s chief financial centers during the Meiji and Taisho eras (1868-1926), and was called the Wall Street of the North. Although no longer a financial powerhouse, it has evolved into a city with a lot of old-world charm.

Artisans create beautiful handcrafted glass and musical boxes here, the scenery inspires romance, and the ocean produces great seafood. There are also onsen in the area, and sporting possibilities in all seasons.

Don’t Miss

  • The rickshaw rides from the station to the port
  • The beautiful canal lit up at night with candles
  • The craft shops and studios for handmade gifts

How to Get There

Otaru is easiest to reach via train or bus from Sapporo Station and New Chitose Airport.

From Chitose Airport, Otaru is a little over an hour away on the JR Chitose-Hakodate Line rapid train. From Sapporo Station, it’s a 30 to 35 minute rapid train ride to Otaru. The bus from Sapporo takes about an hour and 10 minutes, and about two hours from New Chitose Airport.

Quick Facts

The indigenous Ainu people founded Otaru

In July 1899, Otaru officially opened for trading with America and the United Kingdom

You can make your own music box and glass products

Step back in time

The many impressive buildings in the town date back to when Otaru was the Wall Street of the North. Many of the buildings along the canal from a century ago have been repurposed as shops, glasswork studios, coffee houses and restaurants. These old warehouses of brick and stone look great in the evening, as oil lamps are lit and placed on the cobbled streets.

See everything from up high, find places to play and relax

In Otaru, also known as the town of hills, the highest vantage point is the top of Mt. Tengu which offer panoramic views of Ishikari Bay, the Shakotan Peninsula and Otaru. The mountain towers over the city and also becomes a popular ski resort in winter. Take the ropeway car to Tenguyama Shrine to get the best view. The cliffs at Omotai also attract many visitors, especially in summer.

If you’re looking for hot spring accommodation, nearby Asarigawa Onsen has plenty of riverside hotels and B&Bs. You can enjoy golf and tennis, autumn leaves in the fall and skiing in winter.

Have a romantic night out

Looking for somewhere special to take your partner? Otaru Canal, a fun tourist spot right near most of the warehouse shops and portside restaurants, is considered a special power spot for couples. They also float beautiful lights and lanterns down the canal during festivals.

Eat great sushi and other seafood cuisine

The ocean is at your door. Large ships bring in the freshest fish daily to market, which means you can get some of the best seafood in Japan here. Be sure to check out the fantastic sushi shops near the port.

Follow the glow

During the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival, which runs for 10 days in February, the canal is lit with lanterns, and the town is decorated with illuminated snow sculptures. This is more of a spiritual event than a big commercial festival. You can make your own lantern if you like.

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