Otaru Snow Light Path Festival (Otaru Yuki Akari no Michi) is the iconic winter event in Otaru city that usually held during the harsh winter month of February. It has a special atmosphere which is quite distinctive than the legendary Sapporo Snow Festival has. Though, one thing is very similar between these two yearly winter festivals that both of these events are held at the same time making it possible for you to have a day trip to Otaru from Sapporo city. Please note that Sapporo snow festival lasts only for 7 days long whereas the Otaru snow light path festival is celebrated for 10 days.

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The Otaru Canal during the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival. Photo Credit: Jaylie Wong at Flickr.

This festival is not overshadowed by the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri. Maybe it was before but nowadays I could hardly say that. There are a number of tour operators that offer special tour packages featuring these festival sites together. Many people say it is less commercial as a result it gets less visitors or something like that. The main problem is the TIME; I have experienced that many people get to Sapporo only to see its snow matsuri in a hurry way and then leave the city. Thus how they skip the Otaru snow festival. By the way, I want every Sapporo visitors should take a dream visit to this site and experience the candlelit path in the snow.

Otaru – Wall Street of the North

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We LOVE Otaru. Photo Credit: Simply Stella at Flickr.

Otaru which sometimes refers as “Wall Street of the North” is a port city located in the western part of Hokkaido. It is a beautiful city with beautiful architecture and people. In fact the city has other nicknames such as The Town of Glass and The Town of Hills. If Statue of Liberty is the symbol of New York then Otaru’s symbol would be the Otaru canal. It is the most visited place of the city and gets a lot of tourists during the Otaru snow light path festival.

In the past, this city served as major fishing and trade port to the entire Hokkaido region. Things have changed over time that is why those old warehouses transformed into shops, restaurants, coffee houses and glassworks shops. Visitors could find some great souvenir shops and restaurants to eat some local delicacies such as Otaru Sushi, Sake, Ramen, Ankake yakisoba, Kamaboko fish cakes, Kushi-dango, Fried chicken and other sea foods.

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Cute Snow Sculpture in Otaru. Photo Credit: Simply Stella at Flickr.

As the city lies along Ishikari Bay it has the three finest beaches in Hokkaido, they are: Ishikari, Shioya and Otaru beaches. These beaches are sandy and shiny which get crowded in summer. Western style architectures could blow your mind with their unique style buildings which are rarely found other parts of Japan. Above all, I adore Otaru city for hosting one of the best winter festivals in Japan. The weather in February maybe freezing but it cannot freeze out my excitement that I receive from participating in the festival. Light and the snow are the main elements of this festival. The entire city gets light up and creates a winter wonderland to make your trip unique.

About the Festival

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Cute Owl Snow Sculptures are Lit Up! Photo Credit: mamako7070 at Flickr.

Ever wonder what a Japanese winter festival feels like? Every Japanese winter festival sounds like magical and romantic. The Otaru snow light path festival is no different than those of the festivals which are held throughout Japan during winter. In 2017, the festival will be held from February 3 to 12.

People remember the Sapporo Snow Festival because of its giant snow and crystal clear ice sculptures exhibition show while on the other hand, this festival is renowned for featuring shimmering lanterns, illumination, candle lights and small snow statues including cute snow sculptures. Every corner of Otaru city seems they have something to surprise you. In fact that’s the truth. You will be surprised as you continue your expedition till you reach to the edge of the site.

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Otaru Canal and Floating Candles. Photo Credit: mamako7070 at Flickr.

The festival is takes place in two different distinct locations, they are: Unga Kaijo and Temiyasen Kaijo. The first area sounds pretty majestic with those glittering lanterns alongside the canal. You would also experience an unforgettable moment of floating candles down on the freezing surface of the canal and could which surprisingly increase your heartbeat. That moment is kind of romantic, whimsical and poetic. When you decide to get to Temiyasen Kaijo area you may think that you are going to go to a pathway which leads you toward a paradise. A variety of snow lanterns are crafted well by the artists or so called volunteers and they are lit up with candles in evening time.

Local residents are keen to give you absolute beauty of this world class snow festival. Children and adults including foreign volunteers together make beautiful snow sculptures and lanterns across the city including the major areas of the festival. Many shop keepers and restaurant owners decorate their shops and restaurants with lights and making snow figures. Many street food stalls are placed in different corner of the festival sites from where you can buy famous local delicacies.

The Unga Kaijo

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Beautiful snow lanterns – Otaru canal area. Photo Credit: Jaylie Wong at Flickr.

There are two main official festival areas they are known as: Unga Kaijo, and Temiyasen Kaijo. This area is about a 10 minute walk straight down the main road from the JR Otaru Station. In the Unga Kaijo area, you will be seeing a lot of illuminated snow sculptures and lanterns along the entire Otaru canal area. Don’t think that you are in Venice but in Otaru! It is very much impressive than you could imagine right now seeing the photographs here in this article. It is bloody cold outside in Ortaru so is the canal area.

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The Unga Kaijo Area, Otaru Canal. Photo Credit: Jaylie Wong at Flickr.

Though, such freezing cold weather would seem to you fade away once you see the canal path light up with gas lamps, wavering lights of candles in the glass floats down the canal, small lanterns and illuminated snow sculptures.

Enjoy the atmosphere seeing the old warehouses along the canal and don’t forget to take photograph there since Otaru canal is seen to be one of the best photogenic spots in Japan. The old warehouse you find there now all turned to glassworks shops, coffee house, shopping malls and restaurants. These are also get lit up and decorated with cute snow sculpture in front of the warehouses. No doubt, this is the area that offers the best experience.

The Temiyasen Kaijo

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Snow Lanterns – Temiyasen Kaijo Area, Otaru. Photo Credit: mamako7070 at Flickr.

The Temiyasen Kaijo area is situated between the canal and the train station, stretching about half a kilometer along the tracks of the former Temiyasen railroad (once it was an important rail line of Hokkaido). The entire path is decorated with illuminated snow lanterns and sculptures. Along the path there are buildings which surround the festival area and protect you from cold breeze. It gets full of crowd during the weekend. People walk through the snow path and experience the real winter beauty of Japan. The lanterns which made of ice come in variety forms are lit up in the evening from 17:00 to 21:00.

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Colorful Traditional Japanese Paper Lanterns in Otaru City. Photo Credit: Marquisde at Flickr.

This year in 2015, I took a visit to the Temiyasen Kaijo area which was crowded with many foreign tourists. I was walking along the way in the snowy path and all of a sudden a visitor from United States had asked me where she could find some food stalls. I replied “come with me then, I would show you some”. She was with her husband, so both of them were happy and said “Thank you”. Please note that there are some food stalls to warm your body up having a bowl of delicious ramen. After walking few minutes through the lined snow lanterns we have found some food stalls there. They had invited me to have some ramen with them but I was deeply sorry that I could not make that because my friend from Otaru was waiting for me on the other side of the festival area. I had to move on right away saying “Sayonara” with a bow and smile.

What to Eat and Buy?

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A Yatai – Japanese Food Stall. Photo Credit: mamako7070 at Flickr.

It is a tradition for every visitor to have some famous local delicacies and buy souvenirs of a particular place. For example, if you go to Aomori prefecture you must have apples there since it produces a large volume of apples which have got reputation for its taste. Therefore, whenever I go to Otaru I have always got to go to its restaurants and yatai (food stalls) located around the city. They offer the city’s finest local delicacies such as Variety of Seafood, Otaru Sushi, Wine, Beer, Mochi, Sake, Beko-mochi, Ramen, Ankake yakisoba, Kamaboko fish cakes, and Kushi-dango. Among these, I personally think Otaru Sushi, Mochi, and Ramen are to die for. I never leave the city without eating them.

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You can buy this sort of cute gifts for others from the Souvenirs shops located in Otaru. Photo Credit: Simply Stella at Flickr.

As many warehouses of Otaru are now used as shops it is possible for you to find some awesome looking crafts and souvenirs. Otaru itself is renowned for producing variety of glass crafts. In fact you can find some popular glass factories there. I just revealed a part of it, you better be an explorer to find your favorites. I promise you that you would want to buy more things as you hunt for finding your favorite souvenirs.

Where to Stay?

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Winter in Otaru. Photo Credit: vanilla monkey at Flickr.

Do you want to stay a night in Otaru or would leave it? Apart from visiting the snow festival there are other things to do and see which can’t be done within 2 hours. So, if your intention is to explore something beyond this festival then I welcome you to stay at least a night in Otaru city. It offers world class hotels and ryokan (traditional japanese inns). I am going to feature some best hotels of Otaru where you could even find hot spring bath facility.

If you are searching for hotels located near Otaru canal and JR Otaru station then you can check out these hotels:

  1. Hotel Vibrant Otaru – Just a 1-minute walk from Otaru Canal
  2. Smile Hotel Otaru – Only a 3-minute walk from JR Otaru Station
  3. Hotel Sonia – A 3-minute walk from Otaru Sushi Street
  4. Otaru Furukawa – Less than a 15 minute walk from JR Otaru Station
  5. Authent Hotel Otaru – The hotel is a 5-minute walk from the Otaru Canal

Find the best hotels in Sapporo located nearby JR Sapporo Station:

  1. Sapporo Grand Hotel –  A 5-minute walk from JR Sapporo Station
  2. Sapporo Aspen Hotel – JR Sapporo station is located within a minute’s walk from the hotel
  3. Mitsui Garden Hotel Sapporo – A 7-minute walk from JR Sapporo station
  4. Royton Sapporo Hotel – A 5-minute drive from JR Sapporo Train Station
  5. Richmond Hotel Sapporo Ekimae – A 7-minute walk from JR Sapporo Station

How to Get There?

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Otaru Stroller’s Bus Near The Glass Shops. Photo Credit: Webb Chung at Flickr.

Access to Otaru from Sapporo is very easy. Just take a train from JR Sapporo Station to JR Otaru station and then walk about 8-10 minute to reach the festival area. Along the JR Hakodate main line there are several rapid and local trains’ services available from Sapporo to Otaru. They operate their punctual services hourly. Reaching to Otaru by a rapid train takes about 30-35 minutes while you may need at least 40-45 minutes ride by local trains.

From the JR Otaru Station you can get regular taxis which are readily available for you. Do you need a bus ride? In fact I don’t think you need a bus ride because main festival area is not located far enough from the station. However, there is a regular bus service along with Otaru Stroller’s Bus Service network connecting the major tourist destinations throughout the city.

There is a pass offered by JR Hokkaido called “Sapporo-Otaru Welcome Pass”. This is the pass which is offered to only foreign visitors. It allows you unlimited rides on JR Hokkaido trains between Sapporo and Otaru and on all subway lines in Sapporo for 1 day. The pass price is 1,700 JYP for a single passenger which has only a day validity period. Please find more info here:  Sapporo-Otaru Welcome Pass

Are you Coming or Going to Ignore?

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Cute Illuminated Snow Sculptures. Photo Credit: mamako7070 at Flickr.

Walking down the illuminated street at night is something I was always wanted to do in winter. It brings me a lot of joys than thinking myself that I am lucky to be there. I went to many winter festivals so far in my life. Some of those sites gave me a lifelong unforgettable experience and Otaru snow light path festival is one of them. Please dress warmer before exploring it. You can get some ideas on how to dress right during winter in Hokkaido.

To be honest with you, I believe you must get there before it ends. It is a short distance from Sapporo that takes only about a 30-40 minute train ride. I am not sure what would your opinion would be but I am sure you would be terribly happy. Wave goodbye to Otaru city and get back to Sapporo by train or taxi after having a memorable day trip to this wonderful city.

Copyright 2015 @ takkhis