Festivals of Japan: Otaru Snow Light Path Festival
By John Asano
Every year in February the streets of the romantic port town of Otaru are illuminated with the glow of candlelight for 10 days to coincide with the famous Sapporo Snow Festival. The Otaru Snow Light Path Festival, called the Otaru Yuki Akari no Michi (小樽雪あかりの路) in Japanese is a spectacular annual winter festival that first began in 1999 and attracts around 500,000 visitors every year.
Otaru is a port city steeped in a rich history located near Niseko on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. The picturesque Otaru Canal with its nostalgic old stone and brick warehouses and Victorian-style gas lamps is the main attraction of the festival, and is illuminated by soft flickering candle lit lanterns and small snow statues, creating an amazing winter atmosphere.
There are two main festival areas; the Otaru Canal Site and the Temiya Railway Line Site.
The Otaru Canal Site (Unga Kaijo) is the most famous of the two areas with its romantic setting and historic canal. The 300 meter long iconic Otaru Canal features handmade snow and ice art objects along its promenade along with candles in glass floats floating on the freezing surface of the canal.
The Temiya Railway Line Site (Temiyasen Kaijo) was home to one of Japan’s oldest railways, which helped in the rapid development of Hokkaido. The area between the canal and JR Otaru Station stretches for about 500 meters with the pathway along the discontinued rail line lined by lanterns and illuminated snow statues. It is a peaceful spot where you can admire the beautiful light and snow of the festival in silence and reflect.
There are many other parts of the city which are also illuminated in a myriad of snow candles. In fact, pretty much every nook and cranny of Otaru is illuminated in more than 100,000 private candles during the festival period changing the historic townscape of the city.
The Otaru Snow Light Path Festival is held around the same time as the nearby Sapporo Snow Festival (insert link), making it possible to see both festivals on the same trip to Hokkaido.
Location: Otaru City, Hokkaido Prefecture
When: February 5-14, 2016
Time: The sites are lit daily from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Otaru is easily accessible from Sapporo on the JR Hakodate Main Line. Take a rapid train from JR Sapporo Station to JR Otaru Station. The journey takes around 30 minutes and costs 640 yen. The festival sites are only a short walk from JR Otaru Station.