Japan is made up of a group of relatively small islands. Hokkaido, the furthest north of these, is separated from the Tokyo mainland by a large stretch of sea. People tend to be surprised at just how different the weather and temperature is in Hokkaido compared with Tokyo or Osaka. In this article, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about the climate before you travel!
The distance from Tokyo to Sapporo is about 820km. By plane, it takes about 1.5 hours from Haneda Airport (Tokyo) to New Chitose Airport (Sapporo). If you go by train, it’s about four hours on the Hokkaido Shinkansen (opened in 2016) from Tokyo Station to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station. The distance alone means the weather in these two places will naturally be quite different.
1. The temperature gets below -10 ℃ in Hokkaido in winter. It’s on the same latitude as Vladivostok in Russia and the Great Lakes in Canada!
The Japanese archipelago extends a long way both north and south. Okinawa in the south has a subtropical climate, whereas the climate in Hokkaido in the north is subarctic. Hokkaido is located at 41.21 degrees to 45.33 degrees latitude north. It’s on the same latitude as Italy, southern France, northern Spain and the Great Lakes of Canada. Sapporo, the prefectural capital, is located at 43.05 degrees latitude north, and is on the same latitude as Vladivostok in Russia and Marseille in France.
2. The average temperature in Sapporo reaches 26.4℃ in summer. In winter it’s -7.0℃!
According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, the average annual temperature in Sapporo over the past 20 years (up to 2010) is 8.9℃. The average high temperature in the summer is 26.4℃, with average lows in winter of -7.0℃. It’s relatively warm in Sapporo compared with some places in inland Hokkaido, but there’s a big difference if you compare it with Tokyo's annual average temperature of 15.4℃ and Okinawa's 23.1℃.
3. Hokkaido is a big place! If you’re planning a trip, remember that temperatures and periods of rainfall will vary depending on where you go!
Hokkaido is surrounded by the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotsk, and the Pacific Ocean. Each region of the island has its own climate characteristics. Below we’ve shown you a climate graph for cities on the Sea of Japan coast, the Pacific Ocean coast and the Sea of Okhotsk coast, and in the inland as well (Asahikawa), as published by the Meteorological Agency and the Asahikawa Regional Meteorological Office. (Average values 1981-2010).
◆ Sapporo (Sea of Japan side): Temperature, average hours of precipitation/sunshine
Major cities on the Sea of Japan side: Sapporo, Hakodate.
The average annual temperature in Sapporo is 8.9℃, which is 2-3℃ higher than other inland areas in Hokkaido. There’s a lot of snow in winter.
◆ Abashiri (Sea of Okhotsk side): Temperature, average hours of precipitation/sunshine
Main cities on the Sea of Okhotsk side: Abashiri, Wakkanai
The average annual temperature is 6.5°C in Abashiri. Blizzards tend to be quite rare in winter.
◆ Kushiro (Pacific Ocean side): Temperature, average hours of precipitation/sunshine
Main cities on the Pacific Ocean side: Kushiro, Nemuro, Shiretoko
The average temperature is 6.2℃ in Kushiro. This area tends to have only a few days of sunny weather in summer and many sunny days in winter.
◆Asahikawa (Inland) Temperature, average hours of precipitation/sunshine
Main inland cities: Asahikawa, Biei, Furano
The average annual temperature is 6.9℃ in Asahikawa. It has the lowest average temperatures in winter in inland Hokkaido
4. Hokkaido has less rain than Tokyo! There’s no rainy season and only a few typhoons!
◆ Sunshine days and seasonal precipitation
Hokkaido has limited rainfall compared to Tokyo (1528mm a year on average), and a cool climate in summer. There tends to be a lot of rain in August and September. High pressure areas in the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk mean that some years have concentrated torrential rainfalls. Kushiro on Hokkaido’s Pacific Ocean coast tend to have only a few days of sunny weather in summer and plenty of sunshine in winter.
5. There are events going on all year round in Hokkaido!
Sapporo Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival) is held at several venues in Sapporo every year, such as Odori Park, in early February. You’ll see all sorts of snow statues and ice sculptures on display. Many tourists come to visit every year – it’s an event that’s unique to Hokkaido. There are also plenty of other unique events and activities that take place when there’s snow around, such as lighting snow candles.
Hokkaido is surrounded by three different seas, and its distinct climate and culture give it a unique feel compared with other cities in Japan. It attracts plenty of visitors every year, coming to sample experiences that can only be found in Hokkaido, such as winter sports, regional cuisine and so on. Make sure you get to know all the quirks of Hokkaido’s climate so you can enjoy its charms and attractions whatever the season!
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