A Romantic Canal in Otaru

“Let’s not go to the Ski Resort? We can’t ski anyway, and there is already plenty of snow even everywhere here in Sapporo”.  I said to my wife, which she agreed happily. We both were still adjusting to the cold temperature here in Sapporo. We eventually decided to go to Mt. Moiwa ropeway.

Sapporo is a charming city with a population of about two million people. It sits at the foot of mountainous region of north Hokkaido such as Mount Teine, Maruyama, and Mount Moiwa. As the fifth-largest city in Japan, Sapporo is well designed with its grid-like city plan. People of Sapporo are well served by various modes of mass transportation like trains, subways and trams (they call it streetcar). Just like anywhere else in Japan, railways are the best mode of, transport including here in Sapporo.


Trams in Sapporo


“Do you bring our wallet?” My wife asked me as we were lining up to buy Mt. Moiwa ropeway ticket at the counter. “I don’t think so, I thought you were handling our money”.  We stepped out of the line and checked our bags. Nope, the wallet is at home. We both laughed and started making our way out of the Mt. Moiwa ropeway station and head back to our accommodation at Hiraigishi.

“Alright, after lunch, let’s head straight to Otaru. If the weather is nice, it would be perfect to see the canal. I hope it’s as beautiful as in the picture.” 

Otaru is located about 40 minutes by train from Sapporo on Hakodate line. Commuting there is easy, we just need to catch the train from Sapporo Station. There are several kinds of trains serving Sapporo to Otaru, the rapid train usually coming from Chitose airport, Semi-Rapid Train, and Local Train that stops at almost every station going to Otaru. We took the local train as we wanted to enjoy the ride and the view along the way.

Otaru was once the centre of Hokkaido, but in 1868, the Meiji government decided to move the capital to Sapporo as it considered Otaru to be unfit for defence and development. Given the plain flat land of Sapporo, this decision was reasonable. The train ride was beautiful! The weather was excellent too. Once the train left Hoshimi station, it ran along the coast from Zenibaku to Asari and all the way to Otaru. If you travel from Sapporo to Otaru, I think taking the local train would be a great decision to enjoy the view. The contrasting scenery of snow and the beach of Otaru bay (I don’t know the name of this beach) was serene.


View from the train near Asari



Otaru Station


Otaru Station was located up the hill, and the road was downhill heading towards the canal. The road was of course, slippery. We learned that if the snow is white and puffy, it is safe to walk on it. However, if the snow has hardened and turned to ice and translucent, it will be very slippery. It was sad to see some people slipped and fell down. We quickly put our cameras inside our bags for a better balance when walking.

Otaru Canal was completed in 1923. This was a major waterway that supported the development of the city. Large vessels were unloaded onto small boats that used this waterway to carry the goods. Old warehouses were still there along the canal. Currently, the canal is just a tourist attraction with a significant makeover back in the 1980s. The warehouses were converted into shops, restaurants and museums.

When we got there, it was still around 4 pm, and it started to get cold already.  It was – 4 degrees Celcius. I quickly took some pictures, and we went around the bridge to warm ourselves at the family mart with a cup coffee. We waited for the sun to set down and the gas lamps along the canal to lit up.

About 5 pm, the day had turned dark, and when we got back, the lamps were lit up. Not many people were around were walking along the canal, maybe because it was cold, but the view was magnificent. We went home feeling accomplished. The canal was indeed more beautiful than the picture we saw on the internet. Otaru was a comfortable reach from Sapporo, and it was indeed an afternoon well spent.

The famous Otaru Canal 



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