Exploring Otaru: A Guide to Local Customs and Festivals

Exploring Otaru: A Guide to Local Customs and Festivals

Exploring Otaru: A Guide to Local Customs and Festivals

Welcome to Otaru, a charming port city located on the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan. Known for its picturesque canals, historic buildings, and vibrant festivals, Otaru offers a unique cultural experience for visitors. In this travel guide, we will introduce you to some of Otaru's local customs and highlight the most popular festivals that take place throughout the year.

Local Customs

When visiting Otaru, it's important to be mindful of the local customs and etiquette. Here are a few key customs to keep in mind:

  • Shoes Off: Like many places in Japan, it's customary to take off your shoes when entering someone's home or certain establishments. Look out for shoe lockers or designated areas to store your shoes.
  • Bowing: Bowing is a common way of greeting and showing respect in Japan. It's polite to bow when meeting someone for the first time or expressing gratitude.
  • Mind the Silence: Otaru is known for its peaceful atmosphere, so it's important to keep noise levels to a minimum when in public spaces. Be considerate of others and avoid loud conversations or disturbances.
  • Public Bathing: Onsen (hot springs) and public bathing facilities are popular in Otaru. When using these facilities, make sure to cleanse yourself thoroughly before entering the baths. Tattoos are seen as taboo in some places, so it's best to cover them up if you have any.

Otaru Festivals

Otaru hosts a variety of festivals throughout the year, attracting both locals and tourists. These festivals showcase the city's rich cultural heritage and offer unique experiences. Here are some of the most popular festivals:

Snow Light Path Festival

The Snow Light Path Festival is a magical event that takes place in February. As the city gets covered in a blanket of snow, thousands of small snow lanterns light up the streets and canals. Visitors can stroll along the illuminated paths, admiring the beautiful snow sculptures and enjoying the warm glow of the lanterns.

Otaru Music Box Museum Festival

The Otaru Music Box Museum Festival is held in July and celebrates the city's renowned music box industry. During the festival, the streets come alive with live music performances, parades, and colorful decorations. Visitors can explore the museum's vast collection of music boxes and even create their own unique music box as a souvenir.

Otaru Canal Water Festival

The Otaru Canal Water Festival takes place in August and offers a fun-filled day for everyone. The festival features water-related activities such as boat races, water slides, and water gun battles. The highlight of the event is the spectacular fireworks display over the Otaru Canal, lighting up the night sky in a mesmerizing array of colors.

Otaru Snow Gleaming Festival

In November, the Otaru Snow Gleaming Festival brings a winter wonderland to the city. Large snow sculptures are created, showcasing intricate designs and craftsmanship. Visitors can marvel at the snow sculptures, participate in snow activities, and enjoy seasonal treats such as hot drinks and delicious street food.


Otaru offers a unique blend of historic charm, natural beauty, and vibrant festivals. By immersing yourself in the local customs and attending the city's festivals, you'll gain a deeper appreciation for Otaru's rich cultural heritage. So pack your bags, embrace the local customs, and get ready to make unforgettable memories in this picturesque port city!