Everybody always heads to Hokkaido for the Sapporo Snow Festival in early February. What not many people realize is that the seaside town of Otaru, a short 45 minute train ride away, has an equally interesting winter event.
Otaru was once the center of Hokkaido’s herring industry, and the town’s former wealth is evident in the beautifully maintained canal district. Come early in the day to wander along the water, pop into the shops that sell blown glass and music boxes, and sip craft beers in the German-inspired brewery.
As the sun goes down, the lights go up. Candles are floated on the length of the canal, luminaries in snowy cases line the banks and snow sculptures and snowmen are constructed around town. There is also a section of disused railroad track that is also used for small-scale sculptures and luminaries.
Otaru will never outrank the Sapporo Snow Festival in terms of size, but it makes an excellent alternative to the busy city. This year, the festival in Otaru runs from February 7th-16th from 5pm-9pm.