Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido is a land filled with fairy-tale wilderness in winter, with the snow producing some of the most gorgeous landscapes! Here, we will feature some of the most popular spots where you can witness winter wonders, such as animals, sightseeing trains, and boats that can only be enjoyed during the cold months.
- Table of Contents
- 1. Retro Steam Locomotive SL Fuyu-no-Shitsugen Train
- 2. Hot-Tubbing Monkeys at Hakodate City Tropical Botanical Garden
- 3. Goryokaku Park: A star-shaped structure that emerges at night
- 4. Enjoy spectacular views and hot springs at Noboribetsu Jigokudani and Noboribetsu Onsen
- 5. Lake Shikaribetsu Igloo Village: A village in Lake Shakribetsu that only appears in winter
- 6. The Otaru Canal amidst gas lamps
- 7. Ningle Terrace: Shop while sightseeing at Furano
- 8. Garinko: A boat for Hokkaido drift ice sightseeing
- 9. Penguin Walk: A popular event at Asahiyama Zoo
- 10. Hokkaido's Famous Jewelry Ice
1. Retro Steam Locomotive SL Fuyu-no-Shitsugen Train
The SL Fuyu-no-Shitsugen Train is a sightseeing train that pierces through the Kushiro Marsh, a designated national park. It operates for a limited time from January to February every year and has become part of Kushiro's tradition.
The scene as it blows smoke and barrels through the snow on the railroad tracks is a sight to behold. The boarding time is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes one way between Kushiro Station and Shibecha Station.
Beer, coffee, snacks, steam locomotive pudding, original goods, and more are also sold on the train.
During winter, leaves fall from the trees, providing an unobstructed view. From inside the train, you will have more chances to see Japanese cranes, a special monument that lives in Kushiro Marsh. Featured in the 1000-yen bill, the Japanese crane is a familiar existence in Japanese people's lives and seeing one in the wild might make for a valuable experience.
*Information is as of October 16, 2020 and may still change.
・Date of operation: January 23, 24, 30, 31, February 5 to 14, 19 to 23, 27, 28
・Departure and arrival time: Kushiro to Shibecha (11:05 am to 12:35 am), Shibecha to Kushiro (2:00 pm to 3:42) ・Stops: Higashi-Kushiro Station, Kushiro-Shitsugen Station, Toro Station, Kayanuma Station
・Fare: Between Kushiro Station and Shibecha Station: All reserved seats/one way 2,130 yen (ticket 1,290 yen + reserved seat ticket 840 yen) *Half price for children
・TEL: 011-222-7111 (JR Hokkaido Directory Assistance Center)
Measures against Covid-19
All customers are required to wear masks. The train is regularly disinfected. The interior is ventilated (the doors between the deck and passenger rooms are open).
2. Hot-Tubbing Monkeys at Hakodate City Tropical Botanical Garden
Located in Hakodate City's hot spring district, the Tropical Botanical Garden features around 300 tropical plants species. It is easily accessible as it is a two-minute walk from the Nettai Shokubutsuen-mae bus stop. This botanical garden is well-known for its Hot-Tubbing Monkeys. From December to early May, a hot spring fills the pool inside the monkey enclosure.
The northern limit of Japanese macaques is actually in Aomori Prefecture. To survive the harsh cold climate, the monkeys in Hakodate began to bathe in hot springs. The warm monkeys all look comfortable, and onlookers also feel relaxed just by looking at them!
Measures against Covid-19
Mask-wearing, hand washing, and hand disinfection are required of all customers. People who have cold symptoms should refrain from visiting the garden. The facility is regularly disinfected. Toilets and rest areas are thoroughly disinfected and well-ventilated. Social distancing is strictly observed.
Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden函館市熱帯植物園
- Address 3-1-15, Yunokawa-cho, Hakodate City, Hokkaido, 042-0932, Japan
- Phone Number 0138-57-7833
Open: April to October: 9:30 am to 6:00 pm, November to March: 9:30 am to 4:30 pm
Hot-Tubbing Monkeys: December 1, 2020 to May 5, 2021 (Estimated period: December 1 until the last day of the Golden Week holidays in spring)
Closed: December 29 to January 1
Admission: General: 300 yen, elementary and middle school students: 100 yen
3. Goryokaku Park: A star-shaped structure that emerges at night
Boasting cherry blossoms and autumn leaves all year round, Goryokaku Park is a staple when on a sightseeing spree in Hakodate. In winter, the water in the moat freezes, and snow accumulates on it, turning the entire park white.
For a limited time, tourists will be able to see the Goryokaku no Yume wherein the park is lit up at night. Lights adorn the moat from sunset to 8:00 pm, emphasizing the star shape of Goryokaku.
We recommend going up the Goryokaku Tower to enjoy the view from above. Here, you can watch how Goryokaku's charm transforms as the night approaches. The park is a 10-minute walk from the Goryokaku Park entrance bus stop.
Goryokaku no Yume (2020-2021) Information
・Open: November 29, 2020 to February 28, 2021
・Lights on: Sunset to 8:00 pm
・Goryokaku Park walk: Open until 6:00 pm; Free
・Goryokaku Tower view: Open (park hours) until 7:00 pm; Adults: 900 yen, middle and high school students: 680 yen, elementary school students: 450 yen (group discount available)
・Inquiries about Goryokaku no Yume: 0138-51-4785 (Goryokaku no Yume Executive Committee)
4. Enjoy spectacular views and hot springs at Noboribetsu Jigokudani and Noboribetsu Onsen
As Noboribetsu's iconic tourist destination, Noboribetsu Jigokudani is an explosion crater formed through the eruptions of a volcano. The steam rising from a plethora of springs and fumaroles and the bubbling and boiling hot water looks like a scene in hell. The hot spring that wells from the source of Jigokudani is supplied to inns and hotels in Noboribetsu Onsen.
After watching the pure white steam rise in the cold of winter, warm up your body's core by thoroughly bathing in a hot spring at the hot spring district. Jigokudani is a 10-minute walk from the Noboribetsu Onsen bus stop.
5. Lake Shikaribetsu Igloo Village: A village in Lake Shakribetsu that only appears in winter
Lake Shikaribetsu is the highest lake in Hokkaido. It takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes by local bus from JR Obihiro Station to Lake Shikaribetsu. Every winter, an event called Lake Shikaribetsu Kotan is held on a frozen lake for about 60 days. "Kotan" means "village" in the Ainu language. At the venue, edifices made of ice such as igloos are built to form a village.
At Kotan, you can drink at their ice bar, bathe in their open-air bath on ice, and ride snowmobiles, among other activities. You can also experience making drinking glass out of ice. Experience the world of ice only at Lake Shikaribetsu during winter!
Measures against Covid-19
Mask-wearing, handwashing and disinfection are strictly implemented. Body temperature is checked. Number of visitors is limited. Number of people in open-air baths on ice is limited.
* Apart from this, various infection countermeasures are being considered.
- Address Kitaurimaku, Kato Gun Shikaoi Cho, Hokkaido, 081-0344, Japan
- Phone Number 0156-69-8181
Open: January 30, 2021 to March 21
Entrance fee: Charges may apply
6. The Otaru Canal amidst gas lamps
The Otaru Canal is a popular tourist destination lined with stone warehouses and historic buildings. As night approaches, the gas lamps are lit, and the lights on the warehouses are turned on, transforming the scenery into a nostalgic landscape.
In winter, the roofs of warehouses and the walkway are covered in snow, which exudes a romantic atmosphere. If you plan on strolling along the canal and enjoying the scenery, be sure to wear adequate clothing. If you want to take a photo of the Otaru Canal, we recommend that you take it from Asakusabashi Park, which is around 15 minutes on foot from Otaru Station.
Otaru Canal Lights
・Otaru Canal walkway (gas lamps): Sunset to 12:00 am (June to August: 6:00 pm to 12:00 am)
・North canal walkway (gas lamps): Turns on and off with optical sensors (June to August: 6:00 pm to 4:00 am)
・In front of Canal Plaza (gas lamps): Sunset to 12:00 am
・Canal warehouses lights: Sunset to 11:30 pm
7. Ningle Terrace: Shop while sightseeing at Furano
Ningle Terrace is located within the premises of the New Furano Prince Hotel in Furano City. A two-minute walk from the hotel lies an area lined with 15 log houses inside a forest. This area is called the Ningle Terrace.
The log houses exhibit and sell handmade products, so you can enjoy shopping. At night, the log house and sidewalks are lit up. The white snow illuminated by the warm light creates a fantastic atmosphere. We also recommend this place for dates.
Measures against Covid-19
All stores are equipped with disinfectant dispensers. All staff are required to wear masks, disinfectant dispensers are always available, and regular handwashing and gargling practices are observed. All stores regularly ventilated.
Nakagoryo, Furano, Hokkaido, 076-8511
Furano Station （Nemuro Main Line / Furano Line）
Vacancy search, reservation
from 22,514JPY 1room, 2adults
Check with our partner site as the latest rates, rate details, and guest room requirements may vary.
- Address Nakagoryo, Furano, Hokkaido, 076-8511
8. Garinko: A boat for Hokkaido drift ice sightseeing
Garinko is a boat for sightseeing drift ice in the Sea of Okhotsk. An Archimedes' screw is attached to its bow to break drift ice and move forward. You can see the screw working from the window in front of the ship, so be sure to take a peek.
You will surely enjoy the experience as the boat crushes drift ice one after another. During the day, you can enjoy the view of the wide expanse of drift ice. However, the view during the sunrise and sunset trips is also exceptional. On these trips, you can enjoy the breathtaking scenery as the colors of the sunrise and sunset dyes the drift ice.
Also, Garinko III IMERU is a new ship that will start operations from this season. The inside of the ship is wider than the Garinko II, allowing for more passengers. It is also a notch above in terms of speed, which would increase your chances of seeing drift ice.
-Garinko III IMERU: January 9 to March 31, 2021
-Garinko II: January 21 to March 15, 2021
-Garinko III IMERU: (with drift ice) adult (middle school students and older): 3,500 yen, elementary school students: 1,750 yen, (without drift ice) adult (middle school students and older): 3,000 yen, elementary school students: 1,500 yen ※Either trip is free for infants
-Garinko III IMERU: Approx. 1 hour
-Garinko II: Approx. 1 hour 30 minutes
-Garinko III IMERU: 170 people (usually 235 people)
-Garinko II: 140 people (usually 195 people)
*All trips depart with 10 or more people
*As a COVID-19 countermeasure, the number of passengers has been reduced (the numbers inside the parentheses are the normal capacity)
Measures against Covid-19
Temperature is checked before boarding. Alcohol dispensers are installed for hand disinfection. Number of passengers has been reduced. The ship's interior is ventilated.
Okhotsk Garinko Tower Co., Ltd.オホーツク・ガリンコタワー株式会社
- Address 1, Marine Park, Monbetsu City, Hokkaido, 094-0031
- Phone Number 0158-24-8000
Hours: 8:30a.m. to 5:00p.m.
9. Penguin Walk: A popular event at Asahiyama Zoo
The Penguin Walk is an annual winter event at Asahiyama Zoo in Asahikawa City. Penguin naturally walk long distances in a group to the sea in search of food, and this event is held to help the penguins get sustained exercise.
In addition to the cute king penguins walking, you can sometimes see them crawl on their bellies to propel their bodies forward. This event allows you to marvel at the sight and charm of penguins that move differently when in water.
However, please note that the event may be suspended, or the course may be changed depending on the weather and snow conditions.
Measures against Covid-19
Mask must be worn inside the museum. People experiencing fever or cold symptoms should refrain from visiting the zoo. Visitors are asked to disinfect hand upon entry. People must maintain a certain distance from other visitors, and visitors are advised to stop walking when crowded. The facility is ventilated. Handrails are disinfected every 1 to 2 hours. Rubbing alcohol dispensers are installed in various places. Acrylic barriers are installed in rest areas. Rental umbrellas and wheelchairs (usually not available during winter) are disinfected after use. Disinfectant sprays are available for the toilet seat. Indoor trash cans have been moved outdoors. All indoor events have been canceled.
*Please check the website for the list of event.
10. Hokkaido's Famous Jewelry Ice
"Jewelry Ice" is the transparent ice found on the Otsu Coast in Toyokoro. It has become a popular spot for pictures because of the beauty of its "jewels" as it shines in the sunlight.
Unlike drift ice, jewelry ice is transparent and its brilliance changes depending on the time of the day. The best time to see it is from mid-January to early March, depending on the weather.
The average lowest temperature in Toyokoro during this period is -15 ℃, so before enjoying the scenery, be sure to protect yourself from the cold. There is no public transport to the Otsu Coast, but you can book a tour or take a taxi or rental car. It is an hour away by car from JR Obihiro Station.
- Address Otsu Beach, Nakagawa Gun Toyokoro Cho Motomachi Chisaki, Hokkaido, 089-5461, Japan
TEL: 015-578-7202 (Toyokoro Town Tourism Association)
Text by: Minna no Kotobasha
* The information in this article is as of November 2020.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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