In February, Otaru Bay's blue waters are stained white as if milk was spilled there. It's actually herring sperm, a sign of the countless herring that have come to spawn. In the past, huge schools of herring would force their way to the shore. Since they're caught in vast quantities all at once, herring fishing is something of a gamble. It was said that a lucky fisherman could earn enough to build a palace. Otaru was full of men who'd gotten rich quick. Perhaps because of this mass fishing, by 1950, barely any herring were being caught. Half a century has passed since then. After the turn of the millennium, herring began returning to the seas here. Each year, more and more herring are coming to Otaru.
Otaru used to only burst with activity during herring season. But in the second half of the 19th century, it turned into a major hub linking Hokkaido and the Japanese mainland. What brought about this change was coal mining. A coal railroad reaching the port was built, and Otaru became a hub for transporting coal from Hokkaido to all of Japan. Because the amount transported by boat had risen, an unexpected situation arose. There wasn't enough space in the port to moor all the ships. To solve the issue, a 1.3-kilometer-long canal was constructed along the coast. Thanks to the canal, Otaru became northern Japan's largest shipping city. The canal is the pride and spiritual home of the people of Otaru -- and the most popular tourist destination in the city.
Otaru Snow Light Path
The "Otaru Snow Light Path" event is held in February. The entire city is lit up by candles, creating a quiet, surreal evening. Over 10 days, nearly 500,000 people come to visit. It's also the time of year when Otaru Canal shines brightest.