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Visiting Hokkaido in Winter: Best Things to Do in Winter, Weather & What to Pack

Visiting Hokkaido in Winter: Best Things to Do in Winter, Weather & What to Pack

Last updated: 25 November 2020

Hokkaido and winter go hand in hand as Japan’s northernmost prefecture turns from the colorful koyo to a winter wonderland. From December to February, as the deep snowfalls cover the land in a blanket of snow, the temperatures drop well below freezing seeing a change in scenery and atmosphere.

It’s hard to know what to bring to prepare yourself with the meters of snow and freezing temperatures. Luckily, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to prepare for your next trip to Hokkaido in winter!

Table of Contents
  1. What's winter like in Hokkaido (December to February)?
  2. Hokkaido winter temperatures and snowfall
  3. What to pack for Hokkaido in winter?
  4. What is there to do in Hokkaido in winter?
  5. When should you visit Hokkaido in winter?

What's winter like in Hokkaido (December to February)?

Winter in Sapporo at Odori Park (Photo: PIXTA)
Winter in Sapporo at Odori Park (Photo: PIXTA)

The average monthly temperature is below freezing
The winter in Hokkaido is considerably longer than in other parts of Japan. From December to February, the average temperature drops below freezing.

The southern city of Hakodate is warmer (still below freezing) compared to more central areas such as Sapporo. In more mountainous areas such as Niseko, Furano, and Asahikawa, it gets even colder! No matter where you go in Hokkaido, it will no doubt be cold, so be prepared.

Snowfall starts in October in the mountains and in December in the cities
In many of the mountains, snow falls as early as October. In fact, in 2022, Mount Kurodake in Kamikawa saw the first snowfall in Hokkaido on October 5!

However, in Sapporo, snow falls typically around mid to late November. Then from late January to February, the heaviest snowfall falls throughout Hokkaido. In downtown Sapporo, you can find snowfall heavier than in some mountainous regions, making it one of the snowiest cities in Japan!

In February 2022, Sapporo saw a record-breaking (since 1999) 60 cm snowfall in just 24 hours. There will be days with gently falling snow to blizzard-like but also days with cobalt blue clear skies making for some stunning scenery!

Experience the festive and warm atmosphere!
There is something special about snowfall in Hokkaido. Within the cities, there is an unexplainable warmth that comes from the meters of snow. The city streets become illuminated in the pearl-white snow as people prepare for the festive period filled with friends and loved ones.

Along with the numerous events, shop sales, and winter activities, there is a more excitable atmosphere. In the countryside, there is a sense of tranquility as a blanket of snow covers much of the scenery.

The breathtaking views (not just because of the cold!) coupled with the falling snow are so special to Hokkaido.

Hokkaido winter temperatures and snowfall

*Information from Japan Meteorological Agency website. Averages are for years 2012-2021.
*Information from Japan Meteorological Agency website. Averages are for years 2012-2021.

Above, we have listed the average mean temperature levels and snowfall depth in key areas around Hokkaido.

As mentioned previously, the first snow in Sapporo falls in November, and the heaviest snowfalls occur from late January to early February, when the Sapporo Snow Festival is held. There’s even more snow in the mountain areas.

The locals say that it snows somewhere in Hokkaido every day during winter. But in some cities, such as Sapporo and Asahikawa, there are sunny days in winter without any snowfall. Sometimes you’ll even have the rare phenomenon of snow falling out of a bright sky!

What to pack for Hokkaido in winter?

Winter Wear (Image: PIXTA)
Winter Wear (Image: PIXTA)

If it is your first time visiting Hokkaido in winter, it is difficult to know what to pack. These are our recommendations but don’t worry if you are under-equipped, you can find everything you need when you arrive.

Hokkaido winter packing list
  • Shoes: Shoes are probably one of the most important items to consider during your trip to Hokkaido in the winter. During heavy snowfall, the ground is easy to walk on the powdery snow. However, on the roads and when the snow starts to become ice, it is extremely slippery and dangerous. Make sure to bring nonslip, waterproof boots, to battle any condition!
  • Outer Wear: We recommend getting a high-quality overcoat with a hood, that way you don’t have to worry about your head and ears getting cold! Alternatively, a light jacket with a warm fleece or sweater inside is still sufficient! A ski jacket is also convenient for when you hit the slopes or want to roam the city streets.
  • Lower Wear: Trousers-wise, jeans are perfectly fine, however, we recommend getting some thermal leggings as under protection. This is a must during January and February and especially if you are visiting more mountainous regions where the temperature is even colder. Similarly, don’t forget to pack some thermal socks, not just regular socks. And pack a lot of them. You’ll thank us later!
  • Innerwear: As we mentioned above, thermal is your best friend. If you do not have or do not want to buy any thermal wear, pair long sleeve t-shirts with a light sweater or fleece as well as a high-quality jacket.
  • Accessories: A good sturdy umbrella will be necessary if your jacket does not have a hood. In addition, a scarf and gloves are a must to cover yourself from the strong winter winds. Earmuffs are also handy but not essential, depending on the other gear you bring. You can also buy some hokkairo (hand warmers) (approximately 30 yen per warmer) from any convenience store if it gets too cold!

What is there to do in Hokkaido in winter?

There is a range of fun things to do in winter in Hokkaido!

Enjoy the powder snow

The snow sees the much-anticipated skiing and snowboard season spring to life as thousands flock to the slopes to get a piece of Hokkaido’s powder snow. The plethora of mountains, some of the finest powder snow and world-class ski resorts means that you are spoilt for choice. Not just skiing and snowboarding but many other activities, such as winter trekking, sledding, and ice skating, are all fun activities to do with friends and family. These can all be enjoyed from as early as December till February and even into March and April

See some spectacular snow scenery

As the landscape transforms into a winter wonderland, many of the popular sightseeing spots take on a new look. In addition, there are some special areas that are only accessible during the winter! Drift Ice cruises, an ice village built on the frozen Lake Shikaribetsu and many winter illuminations are just a few examples of the many places you must visit during your winter visit to Hokkaido!

Celebrate winter at various festivals

Along with the snowfall sees the start of the festive period. Christmas, New Year and the all-important Sapporo Snow Festival all take place within weeks of each other, attracting people from across Japan and the world. Whether it is visiting the winter illuminations in Odori Park, or the giant Christmas Tree in Sapporo Factory, there is always something to do.

Enjoy the winter food

Hokkaido is home to some of the finest foods in all of Japan. From seafood to delicious vegetables, you can find a place to satisfy whatever craving you might have. What better way to warm up in the freezing weather than with some local ramen? If you are looking for something more seasonal, don’t forget to try some of the famous horsehair crabs.

When should you visit Hokkaido in winter?

Winter in Biei (Photo: PIXTA)
Winter in Biei (Photo: PIXTA)

The best time to visit - Late January to February
We recommend visiting from late January to February if you are looking for the best snow. Hokkaido sees its heaviest snowfall during this period making it perfect for those that want to ski or snowboard. It’s also fantastic for nature lovers who want to see some snowy scenery. During early February, there is also the Sapporo Song Festival, which is one of Hokkaido’s most anticipated events of the year!

For a more festive feel - December
Who doesn’t love Christmas? The numerous illuminations, snowfall, and Christmas songs will definitely help you get into the Christmas mood. We love visiting Hokkaido in December because you will definitely get a white Christmas!

Like the snow, don’t like the cold? - After February
If you are a bit worried about the freezing temperature and heavy snowfall, maybe late February onwards is for you! The slightly warmer temperatures still see some snowfall, which is enough to enjoy the winter scenery and some spring skiing!

Written by:

Andy Cheng

Andy Cheng

Andy is a chef and culinary journalist with over 7 years in Japan, extensively exploring its regional dishes. A University of Nottingham graduate, he trained in five Japanese restaurants before transitioning to freelance work. He contributes to over 10 global clients, including Marriot Bonvoy and the Hokkaido Tourism Board, and assists in translation and promoting inbound tourism with local governments.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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