About an hour north of Saporro is Otaru, which has its own winter-inspired festival during the Sapporo Snow Festival. Known for its restored canal along the sea, Otaru decorates the canal and a special street in the city with lanterns made of snow and ice. With a good pair of snow boots and a warm scarf, I ventured forth to the northern shore to see what Otaru had to offer.
Otaru Canal and Otaru Beer Warehouse
First, the canal is rather short: You can walk from one end to the other in about 15 minutes at a medium pace. There is a park at the end of the canal walking path, but when we arrived, it was buried under snow. They do offer boat rides up and down the canal for about 1500 yen (~15 USD) but we decided to pass.
The canals do have lights along the path, but only for a small section of the walking path, which was a bit disappointing. My impression was that the whole canal would be lit up with hundreds of tiny candles but that was not the case at all. There weren’t even that many people checking out the canal lights the Saturday we were there.
We had arrived at 10 AM, which was a mistake. There really isn’t that much to do in Otaru if you want to hang around the canal area. You could venture further north to the aquarium or visit one of the stained glass museums, but otherwise, you’re prospects a bit slim. We ended up spending the afternoon tasting beers at the Otaru Beer Warehouse, which I highly recommend visiting. You can get 500 ml of beer for about 700 yen, while a full liter of beer only costs about 1200 yen, which is wildly inexpensive compared to most beer gardens or craft brewers you’ll find in Tokyo or even Hokkaido.
Otaru Snow Light Path
We found the street with a great deal of the snow and ice lantern setups during the day and strolled down to scope out the area. We didn’t know it was the main area at the time, but it should be noted that this street is super narrow and fills up very quickly. This area is vastly more popular than the actual canal itself and it’s where you’ll find most of the tourist crowds. There, you can find ice figures and ice panels with leaves, berries, twigs, and plants frozen inside of them to give off this beautiful luminescent glow when they are lit up at night.
To sum up, you don’t really need a full day to see everything the light festival has to offer. Get there maybe an hour or two before sunset, enjoy a nice meal, walk along the canals, and then when it’s dark enough, you can squeeze your way through the crowds and enjoy the snow and ice lanterns that adorn the city.