Planning a trip to Hokkaido in winter? It’s severely cold out there, don’t you forget it. You have to learn the things or ways to stay warm in cold weather. Although it’s very cold, people there enjoy the season doing exciting outdoor activities. Apart from its breathtaking winter landscapes, snow festivals, ski and hot spring resorts, there are plenty of outdoor activities waiting for you there. Lately people have been asking me about the “best winter activities in Hokkaido.” Here in this post, I have decided to reveal the best things you are offered to do and see in Hokkaido in the winter and of course including the snow festivals.

Abashiri drift-ice expedition! Photo Credit: 流氷観光砕氷船おーろら.

Why do you think you are planning to visit Hokkaido this winter? I assume that most of you would probably answer this “I want to see the snow festivals, eat some fresh seafood and other local delicacies, enjoy hot springs bath, and have some fun with skiing.” Am I right? You will be surprised to know that there are other awesome discoveries can be explored. It’s time to uncover some of the exciting winter activities of Hokkaido in the winter. Let’s have fun!

1) Snow Festivals

This is a giant snow sculpture of Sapporo Yuki Matsuri. Photo Credit: Sapporo Snow Festival Executive Committee.

Those of you who are coming to Hokkaido in February are going to see some of the best snow festivals of Japan in the Hokkaido region. A winter festival in Japan is all about celebrations with a list of events such as live music performance, taiko drum performances, fireworks display, and making ice and snow sculptures of different sizes.

When I think of Hokkaido’s most prestigious snow matsuri, the first picture that comes into my mind is giant snow sculptures of Sapporo Snow Festival (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri). This is considered the most popular snow festival in the country. If you want to see giant and wonderful themed snow sculptures in Japan, you will have to attend the festival.

Otaru Snow Light Path Festival is another example of a great winter discovery in Hokkaido, held in Otaru town every year in the second week of February. There are others which I can’t explain here them all, instead I request you to take a look at this page and then learn about each festival.

2) Watching Drift Ice (Ryuhyo)

Impressive winter scenery. Photo Credit: 流氷観光砕氷船おーろら.

Cruising is a fun outdoor activity that everyone enjoys and adores. Doing it here in Hokkaido during winter is a great outdoor adventure. This hilarious activity lets you discover the region’s marine wildlife, and mind-boggling winter scenery. Hokkaido is a place that knows how to show visitors a good time not only offering its festivals and onsen but much more than that. Therefore, you should give it a shot and experience the whole journey to make your trip a great adventure.

In Hokkaido, abundance of drift ice can be spotted floating across the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk in northeastern part of the region. What are the places in Hokkaido where you can experience drift-ice? According to experience, there are two areas where drift-ice watching is considered best, they are: Abashiri and Shiretoko Peninsula. February is the best time to see drift ice. Therefore, if you are coming to Hokkaido to see its winter festivals, make sure you head to Abashiri. For more info, please read this page.

3) Hot Springs (Onsen)

Jigokudani in Noboribetsu Onsen. Photo Credit: ruich_whx at Flickr.

Is there anything I have to say about Japanese ONSEN (hot spring)? If you have visited Japan before, I guess you have experienced it, have not you? Though, I think I have to say something about it when since you are supposed to travel to Hokkaido.

Every hot spring resort in Hokkaido has ryokan and quality hot spring waters including footbaths, but not every hot spring resort in the area has ski slopes to skiing and snowboarding.  On the other hand, most of the popular ski resorts in Hokkaido feature both attractive ski slopes and hotels with hot spring bath facility. How cool is that!

A trip to Noboribetsu Onsen during winter is must thing to do. Many Hokkaido travel experts will recommend this place to you. The hot spring resort itself a great place to enjoy traditional onsen experience with many types of thermal waters. To make your visit more pleasurable and get the most out of it, I suggest you to stay overnight there. This also makes you discover some other attractions such as the Hell Valley (Jigokudani), Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe and so on.

If you think you have no time to make your way to Noboribetsu, you will be just happy to make a day trip to Jozankei Onsen from Sapporo. Toya Onsen is also a popular hot spring resort town in Hokkaido, so try to experience one of these areas.

4) Winter Illuminations

Sapporo White Illumination in Orodi Park. Photo Credit: sii_side ar Flickr.

Indeed winter is perfect time to see illuminations out there. Japan is known for its winter illuminations, especially Tokyo.  Although Hokkaido impresses its visitors with a list of amazing winter illuminations, many people actually think that Tokyo’s illuminations are the best.

To be honest with you, I am not here to argue with those people; instead I am here to welcome you to experience Hokkaido’s some very impressive illuminations such as Hakodate Illumination and Sapporo While Illumination. The streets in Motomachi area in Hakodate look fabulous with colorful bright lights. You will be happy taking a stroll in Odori Park and witness thousands of lights making the area awe-inspiring. The area is decorated gorgeously that everything you see there seem to you like a fairy tale!

Many tourists also prefer celebrating Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Hakodate and Sapporo.

5) Skiing and other Winter Sports

Snowboarding in Niskeo, Hokkaido. Photo Credit: MIKI Yoshihito at Flickr.

I tell you a truth here. If you don’t visit a ski resort or don’t try some winter sports in Hokkaido during the winter months, then your trip seems not complete. It sounds like there is gap that you have to cover it up. And you will surly regret it if you don’t visit at least one.

Kids actually like to lay with snow. Sometimes elders seem not interested! No matter how old you are, you should pay a visit to one of the most popular ski resorts in Hokkaido. You don’t have to do anything with the available winter sports there, but enjoy the scenic beauty and watch how sporty guys there perform skiing and snowboarding. In fact, ski resorts are good place to snow walk as well. And snowmobiling and snow tubing makes a lot of fun. You should try them!

There are many places in Hokkaido where popular ski resorts can be visited such as Niseko, Furano, Sapporo, Kiroro, Rusutsu, Asahikawa, Asahidake, Tomamu and etc. If you are looking for some ski resorts located adjacent to Sapporo city, visit Sapporo Teine, or Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort.

6) Foods

Ramen dish, Hokkaido style! Photo Credit: MiNe at Flickr.

Are you foodie? In Japan, often I heard people saying that Osaka is the mecca for foodies. Probably that is, but Hokkaido has its own special menus that cannot be found in Osaka. If Osaka is a mecca for foodies, then Hokkaido will be the paradise for them.

Japan is widely renowned as a great place to eat fresh seafood in the world. The whole area is surrounded by the seas and every year, abidance of seafood is produced to meet the demand. A large amount of fishes are caught in Hokkaido.

Various sort of local dishes can be found across the Hokkaido region raging from crab, ramen, salmon roe, sea urchin, soba noodles, soup curry, beer, soft-served ice cream to many dairy products, and this is where you can eat delicious Genghis Khan (Jingisukan).

If you happen to visit Asahikawa this winter, try its local Asahikawa ramen. It’s yummy and perfect dish to eat in winter. If you don’t mind getting up early in the morning, why don’t you visit Nijo market? Enjoy your Donburi including sushi and sashimi there as your breakfast!

This page shows you the best local dishes you could try in Hokkaido.

7) Ice Finishing

Ice fishing on frozen Barato River, Sapporo. Photo Credit: Welcome to Sapporo.

Ice Finishing in Hokkaido! I am not a big fan of this winter activity because I keep myself stay away from hurting any living creatures. And this is how I always try to deliver my loving-kindness to all. Actually my friends love this outdoor activity and often they head to Barato River to enjoy wakasagi (smelt) ice fishing along with cooking tempura at this frozen river.

Does it seem a fun activity to you? If you say a BIG “YES,” embark on a trip to many place across Hokkaido region, though the most popular ice fishing spots could be Barato River, Lake Akan, Lake Kanayama, Lake Onuma, and Lake Shinotsu.

There are some ice-fishing tours available for tourists. Contact us if you want to spend a day catching smelt and making tempura. All sort of fishing equipment including technique on how to catch fish will be provided to you by guides. What you have to do is that dress up well with warm clothes and your enthusiasm. That’s it!

8) Wildlife

Steller’s sea eagle in Abashiri. Photo Credit: 流氷観光砕氷船おーろら.

Hokkaido is rich in wildlife. You don’t need to take a trip deep into the forest to experience wilderness of Hokkaido. Some of the amazing creatures that belong to this island are endangered and it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience if you could encounter them either in the wild, designated sanctuary or at zoo.

By a drift-ice cruise tour you can witness seals, steller’s sea eagle, white-tailed eagle, northern fur seals, and other marine wildlife including variety of birds. Winter is dangerous to walk into the wild to see wild animals in Hokkaido. Taking this into account, you should always prefer to visit a Zoo.

Asahiyama Zoo is the perfect place to learn about Hokkaido’s amazing wildlife. If you are supposed to visit Noboribetsu Onsen, make sure you pay a visit to Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe. Dolphin show here is hilarious and it’s a perfect treat for your little ones. Both of these attractions also feature penguin parade. I hope at Asahiyama Zoo you will be seeing many beautiful creatures including ezo deer, iconic Hokkaido brown bears, and red foxes and so on.

Winter is the perfect time to see Japanese cranes dancing. In order to witness this graceful sight, make your way to the Tancho Observation Center in Kushiro Marshland area. There are also several spots to observe these birds and you must visit the Akan International Crane Center to learn about their ecology and history.