HOME Hokkaido Hokkaido Otaru The Otaru Canal Cruise: Enjoy the Sea and Gorgeous Brick Buildings!
The Otaru Canal Cruise: Enjoy the Sea and Gorgeous Brick Buildings!

The Otaru Canal Cruise: Enjoy the Sea and Gorgeous Brick Buildings!

Date published: 20 July 2020
Last updated: 9 September 2020

In Japan, Otaru is also called "the museum without a roof." This is a fitting appellation as Otaru today is lined with many historical structures. The area around the Otaru Canal is especially recommended, as a popular photo spot in itself, with its collection of historical buildings making picture-perfect scenery from whatever angle you snap.

The Otaru Canal Cruise is a great way to enjoy this area. This is a 40-minute boat ride visiting many unique spots that can only be seen from a boat. During this time, the captain explains the history of Otaru and its historic structures. It's guaranteed to leave you with many beautiful memories.

Table of Contents
  1. What exactly is the Otaru Canal Cruise?
  2. Taking an Otaru Canal Cruise: Access
  3. How do you buy a ticket for the Otaru Canal Cruise?
  4. After that, it's on to the boat and setting off!
  5. Suitable apparel for the cruise and the weather
  6. When the weather doesn't cooperate
  7. Different scenery depending on the time of day and the season

What exactly is the Otaru Canal Cruise?

What exactly is the Otaru Canal Cruise?

It is a sightseeing activity that takes you by boat down the Otaru Canal and around the port to which it is connected. The Day Cruise provides good views of the buildings and their settings in the daytime. The lights from the buildings at night and 63 gas lamplights on the pathway running alongside the Otaru Canal, their lights flickering on its surface, create a romantic mood that can be enjoyed on a Night Cruise.

Night Cruise after the sun has gone down

Taking an Otaru Canal Cruise: Access

Taking an Otaru Canal Cruise: Access

● When going by public transportation
Take the train bound for Otaru on the JR Hakodate Main Line and get off at Otaru Station. After walking about 10 minutes from Otaru Station towards the port, you will arrive at Chuo Bridge from where the boat departs.

● When going by car
When going by car take National Route No. 5 going in the direction of Otaru. Turn right at the intersection in front of Otaru Station and head towards the canal. From Sapporo, take the Sasson Expressway (toll), get off at the Otaru IC, and continue on Route 17 toward the canal. Since there is no parking lot for the Otaru Canal Cruise, please use a nearby coin parking lot.

How do you buy a ticket for the Otaru Canal Cruise?

How do you buy a ticket for the Otaru Canal Cruise?

The first thing we have to do is buy a ticket. Tickets can be purchased at the Otaru Canal Chuo Bridge ticket office located on the Chuo Bridge of the Otaru Canal. Look at the timetable and buy a ticket for the desired departure time.

The boarding fee is 1,500 yen for adults and 500 yen for children for the Day Cruise, and 1,800 yen for adults and 500 yen for children for the Night Cruise. Brochures are available in Japanese, multilingual (English, Chinese (Simplified/Traditional)), and Korean.

Departure schedules are posted on a board in front of the ticket office. If seats are available, you can purchase a ticket and board that day. If you want to purchase a same-day ticket, be sure to purchase it 15 minutes before the departure time of each cruise. You can also check the service status for that day on the website.

As of July 2020, the number of departures has been reduced to one per hour as a coronavirus countermeasure, so there are fewer cruises than usual. If you want to make sure that you can board a cruise or want to take one at a specific time, be sure to make a reservation by phone or on the website.

Phone reservations can be made on the same day, but reservations on the website can be made up to 2 days before the boarding date. Best to make your reservations as early as possible.

Once you have bought a ticket, whether in advance or purchased on that day, you will need to be at the ticket office 15 minutes before the departure time of each cruise. If you are late, you may not be able to board the boat, so be sure to get there ahead of time.

The staff will check your ticket.
Then you will be given a life jacket to wear during the cruise. This is followed by a lecture regarding matters to be observed during the cruise.

After that, it's on to the boat and setting off!

After that, it's on to the boat and setting off!
The ship's fuel is eco-friendly biodiesel fuel except during winter.
The staff will give you a friendly send-off
During the cruise around the Otaru Canal the captain also serves as a guide

There are six vessels in total and boats Nos. 2, 3, 5, and 6 have been outfitted with a foreign language audio guide system so that you can listen to explanations in English, Chinese, and Korean. Earphones are provided at no additional cost.

The foreign language audio guide system is located under each seat

The boat passes under the bridge and moves forward. It's great fun and just like an adventure!

Once you set sail, and in no time at all, the aroma of the sea air becomes more pronounced. That's because the route the cruise takes on the canal also includes Otaru Port, which is connected to the channel.

Beyond that bridge is the open sea!
Otaru Port is relatively calm thanks to the breakwater. So it is smooth sailing, the boat hardly affected by the waves.

Otaru Port is a key shipping hub in Hokkaido. The port was extremely prosperous, especially during the Meiji and Taisho eras, when it was visited by many ships. As it continued to develop, the amount of cargo transported here also increased.

The Otaru Canal was built in 1923 to facilitate transportation in the area. The canal curves gently because it was built along the reclaimed coastline. That was a bit of background information the captain told us.

A point of interest on the cruise is seeing all the various types of ships berthed in Otaru Port. You can also get a close-up look at boats that you can't usually see, such as the Kamui surveillance boat used for cracking down on smugglers, and the Tateiwa Maru, a tugboat that pulls large ships.

Tateiwa Maru docked at Otaru Port
This white ship is the Kamui

After enjoying Otaru Port, we once again return to the canal. The next destination is an area called the North Canal.

The canal, which played an essential role in transporting cargo and was indispensable for the development of Otaru, lost that role as the times progressed. At one point, it was in danger of disappearing. Residents, however, rose in protest against a plan to fill in the canal and make it a road. As a result of negotiations, only half of the South Canal was filled in while the North Canal was preserved in its original state. The 40-meter width of the North Canal was maintained, and it is still possible to catch glimpses of the hashike (barges) that were used to transport cargo from the port.

Sailing on towards the North Canal!
In the past, there were many 600 barges. The remaining one will be dismantled around the end of August 2020 due to deterioration.

The Otaru Factory of Hokkai Seikan Co., Ltd., which manufactures food containers and beverage cans, is located on the North Canal. Built 90 years ago, it is still in operation today.

The logo of the four-leaf clover is a unique feature of the Otaru Factory of Hokkai Seikan Co., Ltd.
Former Shibusawa Warehouse

The two wings protruding from the front of the building, each having a large triangular roof, are part of the former Shibusawa warehouses built around 1892. The outside is made of stone while the inside is made of wood columns and beams, a style that is typical of buildings found along the North Canal. These days they have been repurposed as cafes and live houses, making them popular photo spots for tourists coming to Otaru.

Hokkai Seikan Co., Ltd., Warehouse No. 3

The No. 3 Warehouse of Hokkai Seikan Co., Ltd., located on the ocean-side, is a quaint building that was once used as a location for dramas and movies. It seems that quite a few visitors come specifically to see this.

While viewing this structure, the boat heads towards the South Canal. Along the way, you can see the former Otaru Warehouse, which is now used as the Otaru City General Museum Canal Museum. There is Shachihoko on this roof. It is said that this mythical creature blows water from its mouth to extinguish fires. The captain explained in detail why the roof is adorned with it. This is the sort of thing that makes this cruise so enjoyable.

Shachihoko adorning the roof of the former Otaru Warehouse. These can be seen on the tops of other buildings in this area, too.

If you go along the South Canal, you can see the open terrace of "Otaru Beer Otaru Warehouse No.1," which has a brewery and a beer hall in the stone warehouse. Often people enjoying beer wave to the boats as they cruise past. I look forward to enjoying a beer after the cruise and waving to the passing ships, too.

You should be sure to stop by and enjoy the authentic German beer here after your cruise!
In the fall, Otaru Canal Cruise and Otaru Beer cosponsor events, like live performances on the boats
This is the former Shinoda Warehouse. It was renovated in 1996 but kept its old coloring so as to fit in with the old landscape.

The final spot on the South Canal is Asakusa Bridge, which is also a photo spot. The view of the Otaru Canal from the Asakusa Bridge is quite famous. The view of the gently curving Otaru Canal and the warehouses built over 100 years ago is a grand sight to be sure. The view from the top of the bridge is nice, but the view from near the surface of the water is uniquely different. This is where the boat turns around to head back - and a great spot for taking a picture with Asakusa Bridge in the background.

Asakusa Bridge Gaien is always lively with people.
The cruise ends when you arrive back at the dock

Suitable apparel for the cruise and the weather

Suitable apparel for the cruise and the weather

The sun is pretty intense in the summer, so you need to take precautions regarding the heat. Use sunscreen because you are not able to use parasols on the cruise. If you wear a hat or cap, it's best to secure it with a strap or something.

It feels cooler on the water than on land because there usually is a good breeze. In winter you should wear a down coat and also take hand warmers to ward off the cold. The wind can be quite chilly in spring and autumn, so it's a good idea to take a coat with you. Also, be careful when boarding the boat because the dock moves, so we recommend wearing sneakers or sports shoes.

When the weather doesn't cooperate

When the weather doesn't cooperate

Generally, the cruises take place even when it drizzles or snows. For safety reasons, rain umbrellas and parasols cannot be used onboard, so raincoats are distributed free of charge if there is light rain. When the weather is lousy, such as when heavy rain, heavy snow, strong wind, high tide, and the like is expected, the course may be changed or suspended at the discretion of the captain, so if you are concerned about that, please check ahead of time.

Different scenery depending on the time of day and the season

The different views resulting from the change of seasons and time of day is a major attraction of the Otaru Canal Cruise. In spring, plants alongside the canal blossom, and in summer, the evening cruises are comfortably cool. In the fall, the leaves of the ivy clinging to the warehouses along the canal turn beautiful autumn colors. In winter, the city is covered in snow, and at night the snow and city lights create a magical landscape.

Otaru Canal in the snow
An autumn sunset

The views change dramatically depending on the time of day. The view is incredibly romantic in the evening! The time when the sun sets varies greatly depending on the season. A tablet terminal is installed at the ticket office, so you can see the pictures taken by the staff. Photos are also posted on Instagram, so you can refer to those photos to help you choose a cruise time. The photos were taken in all seasons and at various times, so they are helpful when planning your visit.

Postcards and original stickers are also sold at the counter. Be sure to enjoy this memorable cruise.

You can get a different view of this beautiful old section of Otaru from the canal than when walking along the path next to it. The warehouses feel very close. Another good point is that it can easily be visited on a day-trip. When you visit Otaru, don't forget to experience a cruise along the Otaru Canal.

  • Otaru Canal Cruise
    小樽運河クルーズ
    • Address 5-4 Minatomachi, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0007
    • Phone Number 0134-31-1733
    • Business hours: July 1, 2020 (Wednesday) to July 31, 2020 (Friday) Day Cruise (departure before sunset) 11:00 a.m. to 7:40 p.m. (final departure time 7:00 p.m.) Night Cruise (after sunset) Departure) 8:00-8:40 p.m. (Last departure time 8:00 p.m.) *The departure time and number of cruises may change after August 2020. For more information please check out the Official website.
      Price: Day Cruise Adult 1,500 yen (junior high school student or older) Child (elementary school student or younger) 500 yen Night Cruise Adult 1,800 yen (junior high school student or older) Child (elementary school student or younger) 500 yen
      Regular holiday: December 31, 2020 (Thursday) to January 1, 2021 (Friday)

Text by: Minna no Kotobasha
*The information in this article is as of July 2020.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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