One of the best things to do in winter when you’re in Hokkaido is to visit Otaru during the Snow Light Path Event or the Yuki Akari No Michi Matsuri (雪灯り野の道祭り). This is usually held in the first few weeks of February and in conjunction with the winter festivals all over the island.
This is probably one of my favorite events when it gets cold. I think it’s also one of the most beautiful sights you’ll see in the winter.
Basically, at night, lamps made from ice are lined along the famous Otaru Canal. There are also other bigger structures on display, but the main theme is candle lights.
When it’s dark, the sight is magnificent. You look out into the twinkling lights and you are greeted by the warmth of the candle fire. Even though it’s so cold outside, you feel lit by the glow of the fire. I love it.
The main event is at the canal, of course. Start at the tourist information area on the Asakusa Bridge. This is where you can take the overview photo of the canal. From there, follow the crowds as you go down toward the north area. Again, the whole path is lit by candle light so it will be dark. Watch your footing as it can get slippery.
I also recommend going slowly so you see everything.
Then again, that’s if you can withstand the cold. Since Otaru is a port town, it’s very close to the sea, so the windchill factor is higher than if you’re in Sapporo. Make sure you are really bundled up if you’re planning on being outdoors in the middle of winter.
There are other places where the lights and lamps are displayed. If you’re coming into Otaru via train, start at the station area. There are lots of lamps set up to welcome everyone. A few minutes walk down, you’ll come to the former Temiya Line area of the festival. Here, many structures are built out of snow and ice. It also gets interactive as you pass through ice bridges or large walls of lamps.
The artwork changes every year, but I’m always impressed at how beautiful they are.
These lights are made by volunteers. They get prepared by freezing buckets of ice and then putting some artistic accents on them. It’s all ice and snow. I think the artistry and the creativity in some of them are amazing. The lights are also well maintained against the snow that continues to fall in Hokkaido. They try to keep the lights on as much as they can.
The Yuki Akari No Michi Festival is very popular among tourists, so it gets quite crowded. It attracts lots of visitors from all over Japan as well as the rest of the world. Like I said, because this event is held at the same time as the Snow Festival in Sapporo, this becomes another stop for travelers who are attending this main event.
For next year, the dates have already been decided: February 9 to 16. I hope you can make it and see the event. It’s very beautiful.