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Ranked Hokkaido's Nicest Place to Visit

Otaru is a port town on Ishikari Bay, located on the west coast of Hokkaido bordered by the Sea of Japan. It is a renowned tourist destination and in recent years has become popular among travelers from overseas. According to a survey conducted by Hokkaido Prefecture, foreign visitors to Hokkaido in fiscal 2007 ranked Otaru as their favorite spot on the island.


The Otaru Canal.

Nostalgic Warmth
Otaru is a romantic city, and its history is abundant with influence from foreign lands. It flourished as a commercial port town and was the center of economic activity in Hokkaido; so much so, in fact, that it once was known as the "Wall Street of the North." A great number of banks, warehouses, and other historical buildings erected during the prosperous Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) eras remain standing to this day.

The Otaru Canal, a symbol of the city, was completed in 1923. Formerly it was the primary means of distributing goods; now it is a tourist attraction with a promenade and gaslights. Buildings like the massive stonewalled warehouses that line the banks of the canal create a nostalgic atmosphere, conveying the feeling that the entire city belongs to another time.

Glasswork shops and one of Japan's largest music box stores are some of the other points serving to make the city a popular tourist attraction. Otaru differs from more traditionally Japanese cities like the former capitals of Kyoto and Nara; its blend of Japanese and Western influences produce an ambience of warmth and nostalgia.

Otaru is blessed with natural coastline and mountain wilderness, enabling visitors to bathe in the ocean in summer and go skiing in winter. For these reasons, as well as its proximity to Sapporo, Hokkaido's largest city, Otaru draws visitors all year round. Another attraction is the enchanting Otaru Snow Gleaming festival held every year in February, featuring snow structures embedded with candles that cast a warm glow over the city's streets at nightfall.


Delicious sushi in Otaru. ©Masazushi

Sushi Town
But perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of Otaru is its abundant seafood. Famous above all for its delicious sushi, with over such 130 restaurants, Otaru has acquired the nickname "Sushi Town." The city even has a "sushi street" lined with restaurants, some of which offer freshly caught delicacies at low prices impossible to find in larger cities. Many locally renowned sushi shops are tucked away out of sight, so visitors can enjoy searching for them as they stroll through the city.


A lavender field in Furano.


The natural splendor of Shiretoko.

In addition to sushi, there are a number of other kinds of restaurants to round out the visitor's gourmet tour. There are trendy establishments offering a variety of fresh seafood, izakaya (Japanese-style pubs) where one can gorge on the bounty of the sea, and an arcade full of restaurants built into an old warehouse where patrons can enjoy a view of the canal with their meal.

According to Otaru City, 44,500 foreign visitors stayed in Otaru in 2007, an increase of 3.3% over the previous year. This increase is attributed to the growing number of visitors from South Korea and Hong Kong, suggesting that Otaru's popularity among tourists from other Asian countries is on the rise.

Hokkaido is blessed with magnificent natural surroundings, and one can enjoy splendid scenery and delicious food not just in Otaru, but in all the prefecture's sightseeing localities. There are the famous Furano lavender farms that fill one's entire field of view; the world-renowned ski resorts of Niseko; Toyako, the picturesque site of this year's G8 summit; and the Shiretoko Peninsula, part of which has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, among other destinations too numerous to count. No matter how many times one visits Hokkaido, there is always something new awaiting discovery. (October 2008)

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