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In its heyday, Otaru was a flourishing port town that functioned as one of Hokkaido's economic centers. At that time, Otaru Canal was built to improve the efficiency of unloading boats arriving from the sea carrying goods for wholesale. An area from the beach out into the sea was reclaimed as land in Peculiar to this canal is its gentle curve, a design uncommon among the world's canals.
The Otaru Canal fell into disuse as goods distribution shifted from water to land. In , part of the canal beside the harbor road was partially filled in, and it shrank in width from 40 m to 20 m. The filled-in area was developed into a promenade, and the canal subsequently returned to the limelight as a tourist attraction. The North Canal, however, has retained its original width. Stone-walled warehouses and old factories stand side by side along the canal, and some of the buildings have been renovated into restaurants and shops.
Lining the promenade are 63 gaslights, bestowing a nostalgic atmosphere on the surroundings with soft lighting as the sun sets. Otaru Canal Cruise Enjoy Otaru Canal with a stroll along the promenade, or why not join a pleasure cruise along the waterway?
Cruises take about 40 minutes, offering views of the warehouses as the boat glides through the water and sneaks under low bridges. Boat captains double as cruise guides. Although the captain normally explains the sights in Japanese, some boats feature multilingual voice guide systems with messages in English, Chinese, and Korean. While you may be able to buy cruise tickets on the same day if there are vacancies, it's best to book in advance as there are many tourists in the summer months and during consecutive national holidays.
Be sure to buy tickets at the counter next to the Chuo Bridge at least 15 minutes before departure, as boarding starts 10 minutes before setting off. The night cruises after dark are also very popular, when the canal lights lend a certain romance to the waterside. When there is light rain, cruise operators lend out raincoats for free, though they may cancel cruises if there is strong wind or rain.