If you are thinking about a winter trip to Japan, we highly recommend you include Hokkaido where you can have the best snow and winter experience!
Hokkaido is the northern end of Japan’s island and the largest prefecture in Japan. The capital city of Hokkaido is Sapporo, and it takes just less than 2 hours to fly from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. The Sapporo Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri ) Japan is the biggest and most well-known winter festival in Japan. Hokkaido island is quite large and offers magnificent nature and unique landscapes. Also the indigenous people of Hokkaido the “Ainu” add a fascinating and distinct culture to the island.
Today in this blog, I hope you will find more about Hokkaido and interesting things to do during the winter time.
Sapporo Snow Festival “Yuki Matsuri”
Sapporo Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri) began back in 1950, when local high school students created six snow sculptures in Odori Park. After that, the snow festival became known as a seasonal event held every winter by people in Sapporo. Today, it has become the biggest winter festival in Japan, and held every year for a week in early February.
The snow festival is usually staged on three different sites: Odori site, Susukino site and Tsu Dome site.
The Odori Park
The Odori Park is the main venue for the Sapporo ice Festival. The park runs right through the city of Sapporo. There are about 400 snow and ice sculptures at the festival, and you can see many different sizes of beautiful artwork made by snow and ice. The festival’s famous large snow building sculptures that measures more than 25m wide and 15m high are also exhibited there. An illumination and projection mapping show lights up the venue at night and creates the magical winter wonderland.
Apart from the snow and ice sculptures, there are musical and dance performances delivered from stages made of ice, lots of food stools – local and international food including warm beverage, and snow activities such as ice skating for families and kids.
The Susukino site
At the Susukino site, ice-carving exhibition/competition is held. Susukino is also known as one of the largest entertainment districts in Japan. During the festival season, you will find lots of beautiful ice sculptures lit up all the way along the middle of the street. There you can also find small bars made out of ice where you can try some hot mulled wine or cocktails.
* 2021 Sapporo Snow Festival was cancelled due to the Corona virus; however it will be held as an online event. You can find more about this online event here.
Winter Activities in Hokkaido
Hokkaido experiences huge amounts of snowfall during the winter especially from December to February. The quality of powder snow in Hokkaido is highly praised and attracts people from all over the world for its world famous skiing destination. For those who are not really into skiing or snowboarding, don’t think you have to miss out all the winter fun! Hokkaido offers variety of unique winter activities that you cannot experience in the mainland of Japan.
One of the experiences you can only have in Hokkaido is seeing drift ice aboard an icebreaker cruise in the Okhotsk Sea. In the town of Abashiri, you can board an icebreaker to experience first-hand the break the drift ice. You will take the most exciting winter voyage there.
The Kushiro wetlands are home to Japan’s beautiful red-crested white cranes (Tancho-zuru). Kushiro Shitsugen National Park is a huge wetlands area which was designated in 1987 to protect the dwindling population of red-crested cranes. You can visit the crane sanctuary to see these elegant birds ‘dancing’ in their natural environment and white snow.
There are still plenty of ways you can enjoy in the snow. Why not put Japanese snow shoes on and walk around the massive beautiful snowy land. You may like to go ice-fishing, take a ride across the frozen lake on a snowmobile, snow tubing or sledding. You can also simply enjoy playing snowball fights or making your own snowman.
Otaru is a small harbour city, about 40 minutes from Sapporo by train. The Otaru Snow Light Path Festival is usually held around the same time as the Sapporo Snow Festival. The city becomes decorated in lights, glittering lanterns and small snow statues for about a week. The light path on white snow creates the most romantic atmosphere. You can enjoy the view of warm yellow light path over the canal area on foot.
Food you must not miss in Hokkaido
Hokkaido is also well known for high quality fresh seafood, agricultural and dairy products, beer and whisky productions with its unique climate and large farmlands.
- Fresh seafood and Sushi – You can definitely tell the difference in quality and freshness!
- Miso Ramen – Ramen is very popular Japanese food and has many different flavours, but if you are in Sapporo, you must try Miso Ramen. It is a specialty of Sapporo.
- Dairy products – Milk, cheese, cakes and some sweets. Also, soft serve in Hokkaido is a must.
- Jingisukan – Grilled mutton dish made with a special nabe pot. It is a specialty Sapporo gourmet food.
- Beer, Wine and Whisky – World’s famous Sapporo beer and Nikka Whisky, worth visitng their factory.
Winter is special time of the year in Japan, being much quieter and full of traditional events and rituals. Snow against red gates of shrines and temples, or in the rural fields add serene feel to this densely populated country.
Our Snow Spectacular Tour of Japan has been designed to offer the best of winter in Japan! This small group tour of just 8 guests takes you on a unique 15-day journey through the heart of the Japanese Alps and to the remote wilderness of Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido. It includes the 2022 Sapporo Snow Festival. The tour reveals the spectacular beauty of Japan during winter-time through an amazing selection of experiences.
If you are interested more in food, why don’t you join our Food Tour of Hokkaido? This 13-day Food Tour is staged on an island of Hokkaido and offers you a gastronomic Japanese food adventure on Hokkaido. You will be exploring the regional specialities from ramen to premium wagyu beef, whisky to sake, traditional sweets to freshest seafood.