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8 Fun Things to do in Hokkaido in Winter

8 Fun Things to do in Hokkaido in Winter

Date published: 10 December 2022

Hokkaido is known for many things, the food, the beautiful nature, the cool summers, and of course, its snowy winters. The capital of the northern prefecture, Sapporo, is one of the snowiest cities in the world - with an annual snowfall depth amounting to 331 centimeters in 2021!

Hokkaido turns into a true winter wonderland as snow falls all through December to March, and even sometimes into April and May! With all the snow sees a change in scenery, seasonal food from king crab to oysters, and of course the long-awaited skiing season.

These are our recommendations for what to do during your winter trip to Hokkaido.

Main image: PIXTA

Table of Contents
  1. Marvel at the winter scenery (November to March)
  2. Hit the slopes and enjoy the powder snow (December to March)
  3. Feast on some Hokkaido crab (December to February)
  4. Fish on a frozen lake for smelt (Late December to March)
  5. Enjoy a local ice festival in Sounkyou (Late January to mid-March)
  6. Visit or stay at an igloo village (Late January to mid-March)
  7. Enjoy Hokkaido’s most anticipated snow festival (February)
  8. Warm up in some hot springs (Any month!)

Marvel at the winter scenery (November to March)

Winter Scenery in Biei (Image: PIXTA)
Winter Scenery in Biei (Image: PIXTA)

Snow falls as early as October in some parts of Hokkaido, and from December, most of the northern prefecture turns into a winter wonderland. The landscape, topography, and scenery take on a new look as a blanket of snow descends on Hokkaido. The snow-capped mountains and Christmas-like trees against the winter sky are some of the most picturesque scenes of Japan’s winter and are synonymous with Hokkaido.

Famous spots such as Otaru Canal are illuminated with romantic lights taking on a different look from their summer counterpart. The rolling hills of Biei suddenly become a sea of white as the fields and farms get buried underneath the snow. Many of the lakes and rivers, such as Lake Shikotsuko and parts of Shirahige Falls, freeze over, creating a tranquil and beautiful scene of cobalt blue and pristine white. No matter where you go, you’ll truly be walking in a winter wonderland.

There are a variety of special winter tours and experiences you can book below! From a winter day trip to the famous Biei Blue Pond to snowshoeing, experiencing a fun winter in Hokkaido will leave you with warm memories.

Hit the slopes and enjoy the powder snow (December to March)

Skiing in Furano (Image: PIXTA)
Skiing in Furano (Image: PIXTA)

Winter sports and Hokkaido go hand in hand as people from all over Japan and the world flock here to enjoy their winter holidays.

What makes Hokkaido so special for winter sports is the deep powder snow that is easy on the legs and feels as if you’re floating on clouds. The cold and dry winds that form in Siberia absorb moisture over the Sea of Japan and, to the delight of all the powder lovers out there, fall across the plains of Hokkaido.

To accommodate all the snow, Hokkaido has some of the finest ski resorts in Japan. Niseko is the largest ski resort town in Hokkaido, located just 2 hours by car from Sapporo. Home to many locals as well as foreigners, people love to enjoy skiing and snowboarding down Mt. Annupuri with the beautiful views of Mt. Yotei in the background.

Sapporo itself also has several spots to ski and snowboard, with many offering spectacular views over the city. These are just two areas in the whole of Hokkaido, but there are so many other areas to explore, like around Furano and Biei.

If you are looking for some rental gear, check out the Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort experience. They will help you with all your rental gear as well as the right skis or snowboard just for you. You can enjoy the slopes of one of Sapporo’s best ski resorts at Sapporo Kokusai!

Feast on some Hokkaido crab (December to February)

Horsehair Crab meat and Kani Miso (Image: PIXTA)
Horsehair Crab meat and Kani Miso (Image: PIXTA)

One food that is synonymous with Hokkaido’s winter is crab. Whilst there are many varieties of crab, the most famous one in Hokkaido’s winter is the horsehair crab.

Known for its small and hair-like outer shell appearance, the meat has a strong sweet flavor. You can also enjoy other crab varieties, such as the impressive red king crab, which is known for having dense meat but is much lighter in flavor.

The Hidaka region sees some of the best horsehair crabs in December, and from January, Tokachi, Kushiro, and Soya regions become the primary crab fishing areas. Throughout many restaurants, izakayas, and fish markets across Hokkaido, you’ll be able to find horsehair crab. However, it is best to visit the above regions to get hold of some of the freshest and most delicious crab!

Simply boiled, you can enjoy the delicious sweetness of the crab. The shells can also be used to make some delicious crab miso soup to warm you up during the cold months. One of the most prized parts is the kani miso (the crab’s innards), known for its rich, complex, and umami-packed flavor. Visit local izakayas to experience different, delicious, and unique ways to enjoy crab!

Fish on a frozen lake for smelt (Late December to March)

Smelt Ice Fishing set up (Image: PIXTA)
Smelt Ice Fishing set up (Image: PIXTA)

The freezing temperatures throughout Hokkaido mean that many of the lakes and rivers freeze over. Spend your morning or afternoon in the crisp winter sun on the ice, fishing for smelt fish. Small holes are made through the ice down into the water, where you can fish for the delicious fish.

In most spots, tents and chairs are supplied, as well as fishing rods, so there is no need to bring any equipment. There are also fishing guides to help you perfect your fishing technique, and to top it off, you can even cook the smelt you catch, which is typically deep-fried as tempura!

Enjoy a local ice festival in Sounkyou (Late January to mid-March)

Sounkyou Ice Festival night illumination (Image: PIXTA)
Sounkyou Ice Festival night illumination (Image: PIXTA)

The Sounkyo Ice Waterfall Festival takes place along 10,000 square meters along the Ishikari River, hosting 30 ice sculptures, which glow blue during the day and are illuminated in the evening. Some of the surrounding waterfalls even freeze from the cold weather, attracting many ice climbers.

There are many events held throughout the festival such as Lucky Mochi Maki (Rice Cake Throwing) and Yuru-Kyarapikku (mascot characters competing in games) and even an Ice Waterfall Wedding! You can even enjoy ice caves and during the evening, there is also a fireworks display in the evening!

Visit or stay at an igloo village (Late January to mid-March)

Lake Shikaribetsu Kotan Igloos (Image: PIXTA)
Lake Shikaribetsu Kotan Igloos (Image: PIXTA)

Lake Shikaribetsu is the longest freezing lake in Japan, located at a height of 800m above sea level. The local festival, Shikaribetsuko Kotan, is a small man-made village built entirely from ice and snow that can be visited during the two months.

Throughout the village, numerous ice and snow-made attractions can be enjoyed, including an ice bar, an open-air hot spring, and a foot bath. There is even a concert hall, various igloos and lodges where you can stay overnight in February (reservations required)! In the evening, the lake and surrounding area fall silent, so you can enjoy the beautiful starry night sky!

Enjoy Hokkaido’s most anticipated snow festival (February)

Sapporo Snow Festival (Image: PIXTA)
Sapporo Snow Festival (Image: PIXTA)

The Sapporo Snow Festival is one of the most famous winter festivals held in Japan, which is held for one week every February. The festival started in 1950, which began with a few high school students who built some snow statues in Odori Park. Since then, it has grown and expanded, attracting over two million people every year. The festival is typically split into three different sites throughout Sapporo.

The main site is Odori Park, the origin of the festival, where you can find hundreds of snow sculptures, ranging from popular anime figures to impressive sculptures measuring tens of meters in width and height. Climb up Sapporo TV Tower for an illuminated view over the festival and Odori Park. You can also enjoy the ice rink under the TV Tower as well as many food stalls selling festive foods and drinks to warm you up.

The second site is Susukino, the entertainment district of Sapporo. Susukino is decorated with around 100 hundred ice sculptures that are lit up daily. Finally, the third site is Tsudome, which is more activity based. Large snow slides, snow rafting, and many other attractions for children make Tsudome a fantastic spot to enjoy Sapporo during the winter. (Unfortunately, in 2023, the Tsudome venue is canceled.)

Warm up in some hot springs (Any month!)

Jozankei Hot Spring Town (Image: PIXTA)
Jozankei Hot Spring Town (Image: PIXTA)

What better way to warm up in freezing cold weather than in a hot spring? Hokkaido is home to some of the best hot spring towns in Japan, such as Jozankei and Noboribetsu. Whilst many of the hot springs are indoors, it’s the outdoor ones that get us really excited. There is something special about bathing in a warm hot spring amongst the winter scenery and falling snow.

Jozankei is located just one hour away from Sapporo, whereas Noboribetsu is located a little further south, around two hours by car. However, both have fantastic hot spring facilities to accommodate your stay, from traditional ryokans to more modern western-style hotels. These are just two popular spots in Hokkaido that are famous for their hot springs, but there are so many other areas to explore!

Did you know it’s tradition to drink milk after your hot spring bath? You can enjoy some of Hokkaido’s delicious dairy as milk or even sweet and luxurious milk soft cream!

Written by:

Andy Cheng

Andy Cheng

Growing up with a Japanese mother, Andy has extensive knowledge of Japanese culture, life, and food. Originally from the UK, Andy started training to be a chef after graduating from university and moved to Japan to begin his culinary journey. Having studied under famous chefs Namae Shinobu and Akihiro Nagao, Andy aims to share his love for Japanese cuisine and culture with the rest of the world.

*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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