Visiting Asahikawa Winter Festival is a must thing do for every visitor who wishes to travel to Asahikawa in winter season. It is the most visited winter event after the Sapporo Snow Festival of Hokkaido. Asahikawa city is blessed with lots of snow that offers the second largest winter festival in Japan to be celebrated by the locals and visitors. A big problem may arise all of a sudden if you hear read this – Asahikawa Winter Festival, Sapporo Snow Festival and Otaru Snow Path Light Festival, literally all these three greatest winter festivals of Hokkaido are held at the same time though the third one ends after the end of the first two festivals. Otaru snow light path festival time is longer to be ended (celebrated for 10 days) than those of the two festivals mentioned here.

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Asahikawa Winter Festival in Hokkaido. Photo Credit: tomoki ito at Flickr.

Would you have enough time to visit all these winter festival? You can break the wall by simply making a wise travel plan. Yes – you are going to make it once you decide to visit the Sapporo snow festival first then to Asahikawa winter festival. And lastly, without any hassle get to Otaru to observe its snow path light festival. You don’t need to stay there a night because a day trip to this winter festival is enough to experience all. However, I recommend you to visit the Japan’s greatest top class Zoo called “Asahiyama Zoo” at the time you come to explore the winter festival.

Asahikawa in Winter

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Snow is Everywhere! Is not it? Photo Credit: tomoki ito at Flickr.

According to my experience, I believe winter is the best time to visit Asahikawa. Asahikawa – the Second largest city of Hokkaido is famous for its Asahikawa Ramen Village, Asahiyama Zoo, and Asahikawa Winter Festival and the Ski Resorts. In the past, the city was only well known for its ramen but nowadays people recognize it for the Zoo. On the other hand, the winter season of Asahikawa is packed with lots of celebrations. Surly, one of the celebrations is the – Asahikawa Winter Festival. Winter does not excite the locals much without the celebration of this yearly event in February.

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Billy Crystal and John Goodman at the Asahikawa Winter Festival. Photo Credit: Jack Lau at Flickr.

Here, winter with no winter festival would be like having an apple without any taste in it. An apple that is produced in Aomori is much tastier than having an apple produced in Wakkanai. They value and love their winter festival than the Otaru snow path light festival that has been celebrating over time as part of their tradition. Actually, this is the fact! Every resident of Asahikawa could feel the real winter atmosphere when they start celebrating the winter festival.

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Penguins Parade at Asahikawa Zoo. Photo Credit: Hsuanya Tsai at Flickr.

Ramen could be eaten all year round though eating it in winter is fabulous. Even though summer is the best time to visit Asahiyama zoo, I believe it gets crazier when the zoo visitors wait for seeing the penguin’s parade on the snowy grounds in winter. You can find out various ski slopes and courses at various ski resorts across Asahikawa. I think, winter Asahikawa gets them all! It wins with a pride of being popular winter destination to experience all of these things together. Make sure that you come here in February and a single trip during winter is enough to blow your mind. I bet you!

About the Festival

The Main Stage for the Asahikawa Winter Festival in 2009. Photo Credit: SteFou at Flickr.

This year in 2017, the locals would be celebrating their 58th Asahikawa Winter Festival from 7 to 12 February. It has been scheduled to be held on the same day when the legendary Sapporo snow festival begins its journey till February 12, 2017. Gigantic snow sculptures and crystal clear illuminated ice sculptures are the main highlights of this festival. In fact it is renowned for featuring a large snow sculpture stage where live music and other performances are programmed. The theme of the main stage changes every year. Compared to the Sapporo yuki (snow) matsuri this festival remains unique with the giant snow sculpture stage. Simply I could say that – it is the main icon of this festival that is made prior to the festival days.

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The Asahibashi Site. Photo Credit: tomoki ito at Flickr.

Asahikawa winter festival takes place in two different places around Asahikawa city, they are known as Asahibashi Site and Heiwa Dori. The Asahibashi site is supposed to be the main site in which most of the fun winter activities can be found. It is located beside the Asahibashi Bridge and close to Tokiwa Park. The opening and the final days of the festival offer you to experience a fireworks display in the evening. It was a truly magnificent moment which had blown my mind. You should not miss either the opening or closing ceremony.

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The Snow Slide at Asahikawa Snow Festival. Photo Credit: かがみ~ at Flickr.

Here, you can find the longest snow slide of Japan that is about 100 meter long. Get ready to have an unforgettable winter fun sliding down it. It is free as a result you may experience a queue. No offence because all the visitors there want to have fun just like you wish to have. You also can add something pretty impressive fun activity riding on a horse-pulled sleigh. The horses that pull the sleighs are healthy, energetic, powerful and bigger. Though don’t you think that they will act like F1 racing cars but they give you a comfortable ride all the way to the last stop. Except these you are offered to have fun with sledding, tubing, snowmobile ride, snow rafting and viewing large-medium size snow sculptures depicting popular anime and movie characters. Also this site features temporary food stalls that sell variety of drinks, ramen noodles, sweets and etc.

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Illuminated Ice Sculptures at Heiwa Dori Site. Photo Credit: かがみ~ at Flickr.

Various styles of ice sculptures dominate Heiwa Dori site which look awfully marvelous when they are lit up with lights in the evening. The beautiful ice sculptures lined both sides of Heiwa dori Pedestrian Street (Kaimono Koen). You can observe each and every sculpture from a very close distance. Every sculpture would seem to you like they all deserve to be in the first place. Though, as this is an annual World Ice Sculpture Contest, held during the Asahikawa Winter Festival – only one nation would take the first prize home. Judging only one as the best one from the many is a tough job, no doubt. When you feel you are hungry and need something to eat then head to some restaurants and bars which can be found near this site.

What to Eat and Buy?

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Asahikawa Ramen. Photo Credit: asahikawa-ramen at Flickr.

Some cities in the world arguably beautiful mostly in winter season and I think Asahikawa is the real example of it. Except exploring its top sightseeing attractions and winter events you have to go to some restaurants, bars and shops. Travelling all over Asahikawa would be meaningless unless you eat its traditional ramen dish at a restaurant. It would be awesome if you have it from one of the eight famous ramen restaurants at Asahikawa Ramen Village. It is a place where best eight popular ramen restaurants of the city have gathered and opened their small branches together. A variety of local ramen dishes can be found there to satisfy your stomach. Each and every ramen you find there is distinct in flavors and tastes. There is a souvenir shop as well from where you can buy something for someone you really care about.

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Heiwa-Dori Kaimono-Koen, Asahikawa in Hokkaido.

Though, ramen is not the only dish you want to eat rather the city features other famous restaurants and bars for serving you well with the dishes and drinks like sushi, yakitori, tempura, sashimi, nabe, wine, beer, and sake. It is also possible for you find Chinese, Italian, Mexican and Indian foods.

The second site of the festival called Heiwa Dori is located along the Kaimono Koen (shopping street). The place is decorated with departmental stores, gift shops, cafes, and restaurants. You can buy some wooden crafts and Yukara-ori hand weaving (a unique Hokkaido textile craft). I have bought a pair of wooden chopsticks set from one of the souvenir shops located there for one of my friends. He was surprised seeing the quality and design of the chopsticks set that I presented him on his birthday. If you want to do the same for your friends and your family members then buy other unique products you find there.

Other Things to Do During Winter in Asahikawa

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Amazing Fireworks Display at the Asahikawa Winter Festival. Photo Credit: danielgohww at Flickr.

Do you have time to stay in Asahikawa more than a day? A day trip is enough to experience the winter festival but there are other things to do except this. I want you to stay there 2 or 3 days so that you could cover other sightseeing spots with the winter festival at the same time. I already have mentioned the Asahiyama Zoo in this post which is seen to be number one tourist spot in this city. A large species of animals dwell there. They are offered to have a relax time and grow their population without having any fear of getting hunted. White polar bears, penguins, wolves, seals and other species make the zoo quite attractive and amusing.

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Kamui Ski Links, Asahikawa. Photo Credit: Andy Seward at Flickr.

If you want to have more fun playing in the snow then please head to Asahiyama Snow Village. It is located next to the east gate of Asahiyama zoo; in fact it is only a 1-mintue walk from there. Gear up one more time with snowmobile rides, sledding and skiing. Snowmobile ride here is so much fun! Please note that, this site is closed when Asahiyama zoo is closed.

I strongly recommend you to take a visit to Kamui Ski Links and Asahidake Ski Resort. Both of these ski resorts provide quality dry snow and various ski courses to start from. In fact Kamui Ski Line is easier to reach from the main city than Asahidake ski resort. Though, Asahidake ski resort is more popular than Kamui Ski Links. When you have a chance be more adventurous then visit both ski resorts and add something valuable to your dream trip to Asahikawa.

How to Get There?

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Asahikawa Bus, Hokkaido. Photo Credit: Akihiro Ohshita at Flickr.

Asahikawa is situated in the center of Hokkaido region. It can be accessed from every major cities of Hokkaido by train, highway bus, and car (taxi). If you are coming from Sapporo to Asahikawa then there are limited express trains connect Sapporo with Asahikawa. There is also a reliable highway bus service operated by three companies such as Hokkaido Chuo Bus, Dohoku Bus and JR Hokkaido Bus. If you have a Japan Rail Pass or JR Hokkaido Rail Pass then you would be able cover your entire JR Train and JR Bus fare.

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JR Asahikawa Station. Photo Credit: ataq411 at Flickr.

Access to the Asahibashi site from train station is easy. There is a free shuttle bus service that operates its service from JR Asahikawa Station to the main event venue. The buses run at every 20 minutes, so if you miss one then you have to wait for a while.

To be honest with you, I did not take the bus rather I walked along the street that took me to the Heiwa Dori site. The distance between Heiwa Dori site and JR Asahikawa Station is about one kilometer. This indicates you don’t have to walk for long; in fact this is what I think about. From this site, you need only 10-12 a minute walk to reach to the Asahibashi site.

Where to Stay?

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Snow is Everywhere at Asahikawa Airport! Photo Credit: Takashi K. A at Flickr.

Before you book your room – make sure you search the hotels that are located near JR Asahikawa Station. Asahikawa has some top world class hotels around the main city. Though, it is possible to find Japanese Inn or so called Ryokan. However, below are the best hotels which can be reached within a very short time from JR Asahikawa Station.

  1. Fujita Kanko Washington Hotel Asahikawa – Located right in front of Asahikawa Station.
  2. Court Hotel Asahikawa – Located just a 2-minute walk from JR Asahikawa Train Station.
  3. Asahikawa Grand Hotel – the Asahikawa Grand is a 13-minute walk from JR Asahikawa Train Station.
  4. Dormy Inn Asahikawa – Dormy Inn Asahikawa is a 10-minute walk from JR Asahikawa Train Station.
  5. Smile Hotel Asahikawa – Smile Hotel Asahikawa is located a 6-minute walk from JR Asahikawa Train Station.

Discover Winter Asahikawa

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Snowman at Asahikawa Winter Festival. Photo Credit: Jack Lau at Flickr.

What is the ultimate winter experience in Asahikawa? Is it Asahikawa ramen, the zoo or the winter festival? Probably I should not have asked this question to you because all of them have their own unique characteristics. Though, it is great to imagine that one could simply satisfy his/her mind visiting these winter wonders. You can experiences these things only by a single trip to this wonderful city. Asahikawa is really freezing during winter so get some idea how to dress well.

It is winter in Japan now. Officially autumn season is over, northern and northeastern cities of Japan are going to get decorated with lots of snow in a few days. While the sculptors who would be responsible for creating awesome looking snow and ice sculptures are setting their mind to overwhelm you with their creations. I hope you will be coming to Asahikawa in this year winter and be a valuable spectator of Asahikawa winter festival.

Copyright 2015 @ takkhis