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Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan

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Otaru, Hokkaido

Otaru (小樽市 Otaru-shi?) is a city and port located in Shiribeshi, Hokkaidō, Japan, northwest of Sapporo. The city faces the Ishikari Bay, and it has long served as the main port of the bay. With its many historical buildings, Otaru is one of Japan's leading tourist destinations. Also, because it is located within a 25 minute-drive from Sapporo, the city recently has seen growth as a bedroom community.
As of 2008, the city has an estimated population of 137,693 and the density of 580.11 persons per km². The total area is 243.13 km². Although it is the largest city in Shiribeshi, it is not the capital of the subprefecture (that title goes to the more centrally-located Kutchan).


Otaru is a port town on the coast of the Sea of Japan in northern Shiribeshi subprefecture. At one time, a canal ran through the middle of the town, but now only a portion of it has been preserved. The southern portion of the city is characterized by the steep slopes of various mountains--notably Mount Tenguyama, a popular winter skiing location--and the altitude of the land sharply drops from the mountains to the seaside. The land available between the coast and mountains has been almost completely developed, and the developed part of the city on the mountain slopes is called Saka-no-machi, or "Hill town", including hills affectionately named Funamizaka (Boat-view Hill) and Jigokuzaka (Hell Hill).
Neighboring Cities and Towns
Yoichi District: Yoichi, Akaigawa
Sapporo (Teine-ku, Minami-ku), Ishikari


The city was an Ainu habitation, and the name "Otaru" is recognised as being of Ainu origin, possibly meaning "River running through the sandy beach". The very small remaining part of the Temiya Cave contains cave carvings from the Zoku-Joumon period of Ainu history, c. 400 A.D. Otaru was recognised as a village by the bakufu in 1865, and in 1880 the first railway line in Hokkaidō was opened with daily service between Otaru and Sapporo. Otaru was redesignated as a city on August 1, 1922.

Notable attractions

A canal runs through Otaru which is adorned with Victorian style street lamps. During the day it is a hive of activity, and buskers play on the boulevards that run alongside, although it comes into its own at night. Otaru certainly is one of the more picturesque Japanese cities, in a vicinity which is abundant in natural beauty - beautiful beaches are to be found nearby. At some beaches, such as Ranshima and Sunset Beach at Zenibako (on the way to Sapporo), the sea water is extremely clear. Otaru attracts a large number of native Japanese tourists as well as Russian visitors.

A famous attraction on the west side of the city is Nishin Goten (herring mansion). This is a large wooden building, built in 1897, that was once the house of a magnate of the herring fishing industry called Fukumatsu Tanaka. It was originally built at nearby Tomari village, but was moved to its present location in 1958. Visitors can clearly see the difference between the squalid conditions of the first floor sleeping quarters of 120 workers, and the ground floor luxury of the magnate’s rooms. Otaru is also well known for its beer, and Otaru Beer, adjacent to the canal, is a popular restaurant with a medieval theme. Otaru is also known for the freshness of its sushi. The town also has substantial shopping arcades and bazaars, but fewer than the nearby Hokkaidō capital of Sapporo in this respect.


In the summer the weather can be hot and balmy, but it snows in winter from about November to March, and drifts of two to three metres are not uncommon.

Mount Tengu

Otaru is an important port for Sapporo, and part of this hilly city is located on the lower slopes of Mount Tengu (Tenguyama). Mount Tengu is a good location for skiing and other winter sports. It is accessible via Otaru Tenguyama Ropeway.


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30 Mar '09 - Otaru

Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan

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