Yuki Akari no Michi - Otaru's Snow and Light Path Festival 小樽雪あかりの路
The Candle Festival, a resplendent event
For twenty years, in the heart of winter, the small port town of Otaru to the west of Sapporo has adorned itself with its most beautiful finery (traditional lanterns, candles, illuminated ice sculptures) for its festival of the path of light and of snow. What would you say to joining the 500,000 visitors who take part each year in this enchantment of light?
What is the Otaru Yuki Akari no Michi Festival?
Since 1999, the city of Otaru has hosted a splendid celebration of Hokkaido's winter beauty and nature : the Yuki Akari no Michi Festival; literally the festival of the path of light and snow.
Thus, at the beginning of February, thousands of lanterns, candles and illuminated ice sculptures sublimate the small town, creating at the same time a soothing and romantic atmosphere. According to the organizers, the beauty of this event would be able to make you forget the little hassles of everyday life. It is true that it is very difficult not to marvel at the magical spectacle of twinkling lights in the dark night.
The festival is also an opportunity to bring together and involve the local population. Thus each year, more than 2,000 volunteers work in a community spirit to ensure the smooth running of the festivities; especially by monitoring and relighting the candles extinguished by the wind.
- Read also: Top 7 snow festivals in Japan
Where to see the most beautiful illuminations of the festival
If the festival invests all the city center (the main arteries, the frontages of the shops and even the frontages of the houses), it concentrates more particularly around the tourist attractions of Otaru like the canal of Otaru and the old line of Temiyasen Railway.
The Otaru Canal Area or Unga Kaijô (運河会場)
The canal zone is undoubtedly the most popular in Yuki Akari no Michi!
Built in 1923 for the transport of goods, the Otaru Canal initially covered a distance of 1,140 meters . Half filled in after the Second World War, it is now a pleasant place to walk with retro charm . The old large brick and local stone warehouses have in fact been preserved and transformed into restaurants. These old buildings on the edge of the water lit by pretty gas lamps attract many tourists all year round in search of the picturesque.
For the festival, small hollow glass balls containing a candle are placed on the water. These glass globes called ukidama originally had a different purpose. The latter were indeed used by fishermen as floats to keep fishing nets on the surface. Designed in an Otaru glass factory around 1900 to replace the pieces of wood or bamboo used until then, this specificity of Otaru then spread throughout the archipelago. Although ukidama are no longer used for fishing today, the city continues to honor this local product during the festival. Thus for ten days, these lights flicker with the waves, offering a particularly romantic setting.
The Temiyasen area or Temiyasen Kaijô (手宮線会場)
Another essential area of these winter festivities is that of the old Temiyasen railway line.
Halfway between Otaru Station and the canal, a small section of the Temiyasen Line, Japan's third-oldest railway line has been preserved by the city. Inaugurated in 1880, this line which linked Temiya to Honorai operated until 1985.
During the festival, lanterns, ice sculptures and food stalls punctuate the 500 meters of the old railway line. The highlight of this area is a snow tunnel that you can walk through. It is even possible to take a small souvenir photo. However, you will have to be patient and wait in line for a while to cross this extremely coveted tunnel.
Another site deserves your visit. A little less frequented because outside the city, the summit of Mount Tengu , also illuminated for the occasion, offers an exceptional view of the city resplendent with light.
- Read also: The best Onsen in Hokkaido
How to get to Otaru?
The train is the best way to reach Otaru. The festival draining 500,000 visitors in 10 days , we advise you not to take the road to avoid traffic jams and parking problems.
Otaru can be reached in about 30 minutes from JR Sapporo station (journey: 640 yen or €5.35).
How to access the different areas of the festival?
Access on foot
The main festival areas, Unga Kaijo and Temiyasen Kaijo areas are only a few minutes walk from Otaru Station.
To reach the Temiyasen Kaijo area: when exiting the station, go straight and cross the intersection. Take the Chuo dori on which you will already encounter illuminations. The old railway line is about 400 meters from the station.
To get to the Otaru canal in the Unga Kaijo district, the route is strictly identical. You only need to continue the walk for another 200 meters to admire the lights on the surface of the canal.
Access by bus
In addition to the regular city buses, a tourist shuttle connects Otaru Station to the festival sites while also serving major hotels in the city. The latter also makes it easy to reach Mount Tengu located outside the city.
Shuttles generally run every 30 minutes around the city center and once an hour in more remote areas. Count 220 yen (€1.83) per trip and 750 yen (€6.25) for a day pass.
Practical tips for coping with the Hokkaido cold
We strongly advise you to wear warm clothes during your visit. At this time of year, temperatures remain freezing all day in Otaru. Moreover, you will not be able to count on the sun's rays to warm you up a bit; the festivities taking place exclusively at nightfall.
The one and only solution: cover up well to face the cold of Hokkaido! You will therefore need warm clothing, in particular technical clothing specially designed to withstand very low temperatures and the essential winter accessories (gloves, hat, neck warmer, woolen socks). The more cautious can also equip themselves with small heaters (kairo) which, once activated and placed in the clothes, deliver gentle warmth for hours.
For further :
- The most beautiful Japanese landscapes under the snow
- Top 7 Snow Festivals in Japan
- The best winter fireworks in Japan
- 5 Ways to Enjoy Kyoto in Winter
- 5 reasons to go to Japan in winter
- Where to go in the snow near Tokyo?
- Where to see the Snow Monsters of Japan?
- The best rotenburo in winter
Address, timetable & access
Timetable30 min by train from Sapporo. From Otaru Station, the festival sites are a 10-minute walk away.
AccessFrom February 8 to 16, 2020 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.