By Chris Barnes
Every year in February, coinciding with the Sapporo Snow Festival, there is another beautiful festival of snow lamps and lights held in Otaru, a small harbour town about half an hour by train from Sapporo, Hokkaido. This festival, known as the Otaru Yuki Akari no Michi or Snow Light Path, runs for around 10 consecutive days at the two main festival areas of the town: the Unga Kaijo and the Temiyasen Kaijo. Though both these spots are located within a 15-minute walk of the train station and can be enjoyed at a stretch, the Unga Kaijo area is the more famous of the two, as it is located along the town's iconic Otaru Canal (Otaru Unga). During the festival many lovely snow lamps and sculptures are built to decorate these locations, which get beautifully lit up everyday from 17:00 to 21:00. Additionally, many lantern displays are put in front of shops and residences, further enhancing the festival spirit.
This February, on our maiden trip to Sapporo, we planned to check out this extravaganza of lights the very first day. Though Otaru and this festival can be easily done in a few hours on a day trip from Sapporo, we decided to stay the night and enjoy the event at ease. By the time we reached Otaru around 5pm the town was already clad in the lazy slumber of a wintery dusk. We checked in at our hotel, the Grand Park Otaru, which is quite conveniently accessible through the shopping complex adjoining the Otaru Chikko station. The hotel itself was splendid in decor and ambience. Though we found it a bit far (about 30 mins walk) from the festival site, we were glad to find the bus stop right in front of the hotel and in a short while were onboard the direct bus for the Unga Kaijo festival location near the canal side.
On alighting, it was like the whole city had come alive with a beautiful dream. As we approached the canal side, the view was surreal. The whole canal was lit up with many gleaming candles afloat in small buoys, and the entire stretch of about 300 meters was lined by the old-fashioned tall gas lamps on one side and the snow-dripping warehouses on the other. To add to that mesmerizing charm, it was a beautiful full moonlit night. People gathered in flocks to take pictures trying to capture this scintillating evening from every angle. We too spent quite some time improving our photography skills, enjoying the lights and the reflections on the water. Following the masses, we then strolled towards the passage lining the canal. Rows of snow lamps and sculptures lined the entire white corridor. The snow lamps holding the glistening candles kind of added warmth and coziness in the freezing cold of -6 degrees Celsius, and the hundreds of small heart-shaped sculptures had many love stories to tell.
The whole atmosphere was just so dreamy and romantic, laid back and cozy on a freezing winter night, we wished it would never end...if not for the numbing fingers and toes that forced us to head back to the warmth and comfort of some really awesome food at the lavish buffet dinner at the hotel.
So friends, don’t miss out on this winter dream if you ever happen to travel to Sapporo in the festival month of February.
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