From a City of International Business to a City of International Tourism
Otaru has a long and proud history as a town of international business. This rich cultural heritage lives on, charming the hearts of countless visitors.
The city of Otaru grew to become one of Japan’s most prominent port cities between the end of the 19th century and the middle part of the 20th century. Many of the historical buildings as well as the trademark Otaru canal were built at the height of Otaru’s trade dominance when the city moved markets as far away as London. Today, the charm of Otaru’s unique townscape, which features a mix of Japanese and Western style architecture, draws in many visitors from around the world.
The Otaru Canal – The City’s Most Visited Tourist Destination
A pleasant downhill stroll from Otaru Station leads visitors to the doorstep of the Otaru Canal, first completed in 1923.
The Otaru Canal was not built to carry water inland, but rather is simply a narrow waterway created between the shoreline and a land reclamation project in the harbor.
After the start of the 1960s, a plan was hatched to fill in the entire canal to create a road, but a preservationist movement soon spread throughout Japan which caused a change of plans.
In the end, half of the original canal was filled in to create a road, while the remaining half became the Otaru Canal in its current form.
Today, the canal has become Otaru’s most visited tourist destination, with the surrounding area calling home to many restaurants, souvenir shops and hotels with picturesque views.
Half of the original Otaru Canal was filled in to make way for a road. The north end of the canal—known as North Canal—retains the width of the original waterway
A City Alive with Stories
The city of Otaru flourished since ancient times alongside the herring catch. The Meiji Government placed its first office in charge of developing Hokkaido in Otaru, and as a result the city would grow into an important international trading port. At the height of its trade dominance, a number of major banks opened branches in the downtown core of the city, with the area often referred to as “Wall Street of the North”.
First completed in 1912, the Former Otaru Branch of the Bank of Japan is a renaissance style building that preserves the cornerstone of the city’s once proud status as “Wall Street of the North”. Today, the building leverages its historical atmosphere to function as a museum that highlights the history of the Bank of Japan and Japan’s financial system.
First built in 1906 in a European renaissance style with cutting edge stonework techniques at the time, the Former Nihon Yusen Co. building has been designated as an important cultural property by the government of Japan and was also used to film the movie Love Letter.
Completed in Showa 2 as the 6th generation Former Mitsui Bank Otaru Branch. It was built by Sone Chujo Architectural Firm, a representative figure of Japanese architecture. The bank building features Renaissance-style stately masonry on the exterior, corridors and a high ceiling with beautiful decorative plasterwork on the interior.
The Otaru Museum features the Canal Building and the Main Building, which was built on the railway yard of the original Hokkaido Railway. Exhibits include old steam locomotives and Japan’s oldest engine still in existence (designated an important cultural property). The Canal Building showcases a collection of 2,000 articles detailing the history and natural environment of Otaru.
Designated as a tangible cultural property by the government of Hokkaido, the interior of the stately Otaru Herring Mansion exhibits rare articles from the city’s past including fishing equipment, domestic utensils and photographs. (Closed during the winter season.)
The Temiya Cavern features ancient wall engravings completed nearly 1,600 years ago. Initially thought to be an ancient language until modern times, today theories indicate that these wall engravings are pictures of shaman and animals.