Otaru is one of Hokkaido’s leading tourist destinations. Once a prosperous economic center, the city retains the character of those days in its large buildings, warehouses and canals. As a developed port city and an excellent fishing ground, there are also numerous markets selling fresh seafood throughout the city. Here are one local writer’s top ten recommendations for enjoying Otaru.

1. Otaru Canal's “secret” North Canal

Otaru Canal, symbolic of Otaru tourism

Otaru Canal is a highly popular spot for tourists. When it “finished its role as a canal,” plans were made to fill the waterway. However, in the 1980s, after a long controversy, some of the land was reclaimed and roads, walking paths, and townscapes were constructed, creating the canal’s well-known present-day appearance.

Night view of the North Canal and the illuminated ski slopes

At Asakusabashi Gaien, the park that’s one of Otaru’s main tourist sites, many people stop to take souvenir photos or ride rickshaws. If you want a quieter view of the canal, head north. The 40m section commonly known as the “North Canal,” still has the feeling of days past, when the canal was still in use. Warehouses now hold fashionable restaurants, creating a calm atmosphere. From December to March, Otaru’s ski slopes are illuminated adding to the special night view. Be sure to stop by the “secret” North Canal.

Otaru Canal
Minatomachi, Otaru-shi, Hokkaido Otaru canal

2. Enjoy Otaru Maritime Cruise

The area around Otaru has a beautiful coastline, and some scenery can only be seen from the water. When the weather is nice, Otamoi Tours offers a scenic view of the seaside cliffs. There are four tour courses, ranging from the 90-minute “A Course” to the 40-minute “D Course,” offering flexibility according to your schedule and budget. In addition to sightseeing boats, Hokkaido’s only “yakatabune” (dinner cruise boats) traverse the bay. Both types of cruises operate from late April to mid-October, but be sure to check the official websites when planning your trip for important information.

Otaru Maritime Cruise
4-4, Minatomachi, Otaru Shi, Hokkaido, 047-0007, Japan
Hours: 9:00 – 17:00 (April – October), sightseeing vessels in operation seven days a week
Fee: Depends on the tour course

3. Fun shows at the Otaru Aquarium

The Otaru Aquarium has a variety of shows and animal exhibitions including the aquatic stadium’s dolphin jumping and sea lion shows and the walrus aquarium where 1 ton males splash water around. The penguin show is the highlight, with laughter-inducing birds “too free to follow the zookeeper’s instructions.” The outdoor sea park utilizes a natural cove and when the surf is strong, wild sea lions and harbor seals evacuate the coast, but the show animals are cared for within the aquarium.

Otaru Aquarium
3-303, Shukutsu, Otaru-shi, Hokkaido

4. Otaru Sushiya Dori: Where sushi restaurants line the street

Otaru has excellent fishing and approximately 200m from the Otaru Canal is an area full of long-established restaurants called “Otaru Sushiya Dori” (Otaru Sushi Restaurant Street). So…

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