Surface area: 243,83 Km2
Area code: 0134
Otaru is in the subprefecture of Shiribeshi in Hokkaido (Japan).
Located to the north west of Sapporo it is just 25 minutes by car and for this reason, the population has recently grown exponentially because of its closeness to the city.
The town’s name was originally derived from the Ainu language. “Otarunai” means “the river that runs through the sand.”
The first document that attests to the presence of a village is from a traveller in the 16th century who came from Honshu.
A port was established here in 1871 and rapidly flourished, particularly during the period when the Japanese controlled the south of the Island of Sahalin after the Russian-Japanese War.
Otaru became a recognised base for the fishermen who were fishing to the north and at the same time, it became a prominent centre of commerce for the coal trade with Russia.
The city really began to grow after the construction of the first railway line in Hokkaido which connected it to Sapporo.
However, in the 1950’s both the fishing and the coal industries decreased and with them, the city itself declined.
As with Yokohama, the beauty of the buildings dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the well-preserved head-quarters of shipping and commercial companies and the canal area have turned the city into a popular tourist destination.
The city’s symbol is a canal.
Transformed into a walkway that is lit by gas lamps, there are beautifully preserved western style buildings from the early 20th century on the canal banks.
It is also possible to take a boat trip along the canal on a motor-boat which is a different and relaxing way to see the city’s historic centre.
Also typical are the traditional houses belonging to the herring fishermen who lived in the city.
Something else that is worth visiting is the Railway Museum which shows the development of the railway through history and has a wide range of exhibits of various makes.
Another local tradition is that of glass making and there are exhibitions and souvenir shops to visit (amongst which is an exhibition about Murano glass).
Just outside the Railway Museum is a steam powered clock that was donated by the city of Vancouver.
Every quarter hour, it gives a whistle and a louder one on the hour which is accompanied by an emission of steam.
There is a typical traditional festival that is held in February when the canal and other streets in the city are illuminated by snow-filled lanterns which makes for a very pretty spectacle.