Otaru

Otaru nets its wealth in tourists these days, but the canal where barges used to land the catch of the day is still the center of action for thousands of domestic and Asian visitors reeled in by images of a romantic weekend retreat. Visitors from countries with 19th-century stone buildings of their own may be less impressed by the tourist strip along the canal, but rent a bike or walk away from the main drag and you can explore quaint neighborhoods and interesting buildings. Otaru also makes a good base for touring around Hokkaido by car. The tourist office or your hotel can help you make reservations.

The Otaru Snow Lantern Festival (whose odd official English name is "Otaru Snow Light Path") happens around the second week of February, when thousands of snow lanterns light up the canal area and old buildings. It is a quieter concurrent alternative to the blockbuster Sapporo Snow Festival.

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