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Food, Fun, and Full of Charm! 10 Best Ways to Enjoy Spring in Hokkaido

Food, Fun, and Full of Charm! 10 Best Ways to Enjoy Spring in Hokkaido

Date published: 30 March 2021

Hokkaido is a place of limitless wonder throughout the year, but there are many activities you can only enjoy in spring. Here are ten moving experiences that can only be had in spring, so if you’re planning a spring trip to Hokkaido, be sure to add a few to your itinerary!

Table of Contents
  1. 1. Join the “Shiretoko Snow Wall Walk” held in Shiretoko, a World Heritage Site
  2. 2. Enjoy spring skiing and snowboarding
  3. 3. Experience intense rafting during spring in Hokkaido!
  4. 4. Spring is crab season! Enjoy the finest “after drift ice horsehair crab”
  5. 5. Taste the famous “spring sea urchin” of Erimo
  6. 6. Cheers with limited-edition spring sake!
  7. 7. LeTAO special spring-only sweets will make you feel at home
  8. 8. Enjoy cherry blossom viewing unique to Hokkaido in spring
  9. 9. Be impressed by the vast and beautiful Hokkaido flower fields!
  10. 10. Relax in a hot spring and enjoy the benefits of melting snow!

1. Join the “Shiretoko Snow Wall Walk” held in Shiretoko, a World Heritage Site

1. Join the “Shiretoko Snow Wall Walk” held in Shiretoko, a World Heritage Site
The annual event heralds the end of the harsh winter and the arrival of spring. (Image courtesy of Shiretoko Sharimachi Tourism Association)

In the midst of the untouched nature of the Shiretoko Peninsula, the “Shiretoko Snow Wall Walk” is held every April.

The event allows participants to walk along the “Shiretoko Crossing Road” (National Route 334), which is impassable due to snowfall from the beginning of November to April, for one day before the road re-opens exclusively for vehicle traffic.

The snow walls piled high on both sides of the road are a spectacular sight! In addition to walking between the walls, you can also get an up-close look at the impressive snow removal process.

Image courtesy of Shiretoko Sharimachi Tourism Association

There are two walking courses: One is the 6-kilometer round-trip “Utoro Course” that starts in the town of Utoro. With a view of the highest peak of the Shiretoko mountain range, Mt. Rausu, the route leads to Shiretoko Pass, which is located at about the midpoint of the Shiretoko Crossing Road.

The other course is the 8-kilometer round-trip “Rausu Course” that begins in the town of Rausu. It offers a view of the Nemuro Strait, and if the weather is clear, you may see Kunashiri Island across the strait.

To participate, phone reservations must be made with the Shiretoko Sharimachi Tourism Association for the Utoro course, or with the Shiretoko Rausumachi Tourism Association for the Rausu course. There is a reservation deadline, and checking the most up-to-date information around March is recommended.

(*The 2021 event has been cancelled.)

2. Enjoy spring skiing and snowboarding

2. Enjoy spring skiing and snowboarding
ben bryant / Shutterstock.com

Spring in Japan generally lasts from March to May. The weather is warm with plum and cherry blossoms in full bloom, but in Hokkaido, you can still go skiing and snowboarding!

Spring skiing has a special charm – in March and April, when the cold weather subsides, you can glide down the slopes feeling the pleasant sunshine and the spring breeze. Spring skiing also has an economic bonus.

At many ski resorts, lift ticket prices are discounted after April, so you can ski and snowboard at a great price.

Hokkaido ski resorts where you can enjoy spring skiing
・Hoshino Resorts Tomamu Ski Resort: Open until April 4, 2021 (Sun.)
Rusutsu Resort: Open until April 4, 2021 (Sun.)
・Kiroro Resort: Open until May 5, 2021 (Wed.)
Niseko Annupuri Kokusai Ski Area: Open until May 5, 2021 (Wed.)
Niseko Mountain Resort Grand Hirafu: Open until May 5, 2021 (Wed.)
Sapporo Teine: Open until May 5, 2021 (Wed.)
Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort: 2021 Spring Season is from April 1 (Thurs.) to the end of the season.

* The business hours may change depending on the weather conditions. Please check resort websites for details.

3. Experience intense rafting during spring in Hokkaido!

3. Experience intense rafting during spring in Hokkaido!
Sample image. Phuketian.S / Shutterstock.com

Whitewater rafting is an exciting way to spend time with friends and family. Rafting season lasts from spring through autumn, but spring rafting in Hokkaido provides an exceptionally thrilling experience! As Hokkaido’s heavy winter snows melt, rivers increase in volume and flow much faster. In narrow rivers, torrents develop, giving rafters the high-speed excitement they crave!

Rafting tour companies supply the necessary equipment, so participating is easy and convenient. Spring rafting takes place from mid-April to late May, depending on the tour company.

Hokkaido spring rafting tours
Niseko: NAC, scheduled to start April 10, 2021
Niseko: Hanazono Niseko, scheduled to start April 29, 2021
Furano: Sportopia Furano, scheduled to start April 29, 2021
Furano: Guideline Outdoor Club, scheduled to start April 29, 2021 (*Due to river conditions, participants ages 10 and over only until May 10, 2021)
・Tokachi: TAC (Tokachi Adventure Club), scheduled to start in late April

*Start dates subject to change. Please check tour company websites for details.

4. Spring is crab season! Enjoy the finest “after drift ice horsehair crab”

4. Spring is crab season! Enjoy the finest “after drift ice horsehair crab”

When it comes to Hokkaido seafood, crab is often the first thing that comes to mind. Snow crab and king crab are popular with tourists, but for locals, the main attraction is horsehair crab. The tender meat and the richly flavored tomalley are exceptional!

It is available year-round because the season varies by catch area.

Horsehair crabs caught in the Sea of Okhotsk are in season in spring, and are said to rank highest in terms of meat volume and taste.

This is attributed to the natural “drift ice” phenomenon unique to the Sea of Okhotsk. Abundant nutrients contained in drift ice dissolve into the sea, helping plankton grow and become a source of nutrition for the crabs, helping them to become a fine catch.

Because the landing season is from March to April when the drift ice disappears, this delicacy is known as “after drift ice horsehair crab.”

5. Taste the famous “spring sea urchin” of Erimo

5. Taste the famous “spring sea urchin” of Erimo
Image courtesy of Erimo Fisheries Cooperative

Sea urchin is another trademark taste of the sea in Hokkaido. Erimo Town, located in southern Hokkaido, is one of the top sea urchin-producing areas.

Sea urchins feed on kelp, and their flavor differs depending on the type of kelp they eat.

Erimo is the production center of Japan’s leading “Hidaka kombu” luxury brand kelp. Pre-spawning sea urchins grown on Hidaka kelp have an exceptional taste.

The sea urchins that are harvested are mainly Ezobafun sea urchins, locally known as “ganze.” (Image courtesy of Erimo Fisheries Cooperative)

Along the coast of the Hidaka area, including Erimo, the peak season for catching sea urchins is from late winter to early spring.

Urchins caught during that time are called “spring sea urchins” and have an unforgettably rich, melt-in-your-mouth flavor and texture. In addition to being eaten raw, baked sea urchin or added to soup are also recommended.

At the “Erimo Uni Festival,” held annually in late April, you can enjoy fresh, high-quality spring sea urchin. There will be no live local events in 2021, but the “Sea Urchin Festival” will be held via online shops. For more information, check out the Erimo Fisheries Cooperative website (in Japanese).

6. Cheers with limited-edition spring sake!

6. Cheers with limited-edition spring sake!
Image courtesy of Takasagoshuzo Co., Ltd.

Blessed with fresh water from the Daisetsu Mountains, Asahikawa has been actively brewing sake since ancient times.

One of the representative sake breweries is Takasagoshuzo, whose popular “Kokushi Musou” series of sake is characterized by its dry, refreshing taste.

Kokushi Musou’s dry flavor has a strong following among fans, but in order to suit different tastes, Takasagoshuzo developed its spring-only “Junmai Sake Kokushi Musou Haru Urara,” which is sweeter.

Image courtesy of Sapporo Breweries Ltd.

Sake isn’t the only limited-edition alcohol available in spring. Japan’s leading Sapporo Brewery sells Hokkaido-exclusive, spring-only “Sapporo Classic Spring Kaoru” beer every year.

Its refreshing scent and taste are achieved by using fragrant Hokkaido hops, and heralds the arrival of spring in Hokkaido. (Scheduled to be released in limited quantities from April 6, 2021.)

7. LeTAO special spring-only sweets will make you feel at home

Hokkaido, a major producer of milk and dairy products and azuki beans, has a wide variety of both Japanese and Western sweets.

The long-sold “Double Fromage” cheesecake from Otaru’s famous LeTAO confectionery, owes its popularity to its snowy-soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture and rich cheese and milk flavor.

Image courtesy of KCC Co., Ltd.

The springtime exclusive “Hokkaido Strawberry Double” is a refreshing moderately sweet seasonal variation of the Double Fromage that features tart Hokkaido strawberries specially selected by the chef.

The cheese and strawberries go together perfectly and the sponge crumble topping is a spring-inspired pink that gives the cake a gorgeous appearance.

The Hokkaido Strawberry Double is sold in stores or at the official online shop from mid-January to mid-March every year. In 2021, it will be on sale in stores throughout March, but the official online shop plans to sell it until early May.
(*Due to its popularity, it may be out of stock and sales will end as soon supplies run out.)

8. Enjoy cherry blossom viewing unique to Hokkaido in spring

8. Enjoy cherry blossom viewing unique to Hokkaido in spring

Sakura symbolizes the arrival of spring in Japan. The progressive blooming cherry blossoms from south to north is called the “cherry blossom front,” and people living in Hokkaido, where the flowers blossom last, eagerly await their arrival each year.

The earliest cherry blossoms bloom in Hokkaido’s relatively warm southern areas, with early-blooming Yoshino and Ezoyama cherry trees in bloom around the end of April.

The final destination of the cherry blossom front is Nemuro in Eastern Hokkaido where the Chishima-zakura variety, said to be the slowest to bloom in Japan, will be in full bloom in mid-May.

The cherry blossom relay lasts for about half a month, and some aficionados will travel far for a glimpse of sought-after cherry blossoms, including many varieties that can only be seen in Hokkaido. Southern Hokkaido’s Matsumae boasts 250 kinds and is called “the town of cherry blossoms.”

Historic Goryokaku Park in Hakodate, a major city in southern Hokkaido, is one of Japan’s most famous cherry blossom viewing spots.

When you look down on the park from the nearby Goryokaku Tower when the blossoms are in full bloom, the star-shaped moat ringed in pink is a striking sight.

9. Be impressed by the vast and beautiful Hokkaido flower fields!

9. Be impressed by the vast and beautiful Hokkaido flower fields!

There are many spots across Hokkaido where you can enjoy flowers. Tulips, Grape hyacinth, and pansies are in full bloom in May at the Shikisai-no-oka flower fields in Biei.

The contrast and collaboration of the snowcapped Daisetsuzan mountains and the flower field is a spectacular springtime scene unique to the northern climate.

At “Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park” in Ozora, hillside Shibazakura (moss phlox) bloom from May to early June. The moss phlox, which started with a handful of plants planted by flower-loving farmers in 1977, has now grown into a vast 10-hectare field of flowers. Your heart will soar at this magnificent sight as it fills your entire field of vision!

There are also urban areas where you can appreciate the spring flowers. Cherry blossoms, tulips, and azaleas are in full bloom in Sapporo’s central Odori Park, which is crowded with onlookers during May’s peak bloom.

10. Relax in a hot spring and enjoy the benefits of melting snow!

10. Relax in a hot spring and enjoy the benefits of melting snow!
Lake Shikotsu

Hokkaido is home to “secret” hot springs whose depths change depending on the season. One such spring is located at Marukoma Onsen on the shores of Lake Shikotsu. A long-established hot spring inn founded in 1915, it is a member of the “Japan Secret Hot Spring Protection Association.”

The natural open-air bath is separated from Lake Shikotsu by only a narrow rocky area. At the bottom of the spring, water temperatures are nearly 50 degrees Celsius, and there are reportedly only about 20 such hot springs in Japan.

The bath attendant controls the temperature by adjusting the amount of gravel laid on the bottom and with the sluice gate in the rocky partition.

Image courtesy of Marukoma Onsen Ryokan

The depth of the open-air bath is greatly affected by the water level of Lake Shikotsu, and varies seasonally. In winter, the amount of hot water gradually decreases, and in April it’s at its shallowest depth of the year – only about 50 centimeters deep.

However, from May to June, when the snow in the surrounding mountains melts, the water level of the spring rises along with that of the lake. Spring rains further increase the depth, which reaches 160 centimeters.

Day trip bathing is available, so if you visit Lake Shikotsu in the spring, why not stop by for some peaceful relaxation?

  • Marukoma Onsen Ryokan
    • Address Shikotsuko Poropinai 7, Chitose, Hokkaido, 066-0287
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    • Nearest Station Makomanai Station (Namboku Line)

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Text by: Minna-no-Kotobasha
*Information accurate as of March 2021. Please check the latest information from official websites before visiting.

*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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