What to do in Hokkaido in January? Are you thinking of this question quite often lately? You will know the answer in this post for sure and to get the most out of your trip, my ideas and recommendations here would be useful to you! Japan’s biggest winter festivals are held in the region in February. It does not mean that locals there don’t celebrate any winter festival in January. You will discover some winter events here including other exciting winter activities that are considered quite popular and appealing!

Ryuhyo Norokko – Drift ice Sightseeing Train. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

What is the best place to go on a typical skiing holiday in Japan? It’s arguably Hokkaido! Packed with a number of amazing ski resorts, Hokkaido is Japan’s most popular ski destination. Every year, ski season there begins in December and can be enjoyed till early April. So if you are planning a trip to Hokkaido in January here is my complete guide to where to stay, what to do and most importantly, know the places that you cannot miss visiting.

For your next voyage to Hokkaido in January, just follow my guides as I present you some of my favorite things to do in Hokkaido in winter. Thank you.

1) Explore the sites of Sapporo White Illumination

Odori Park and Sapporo TV Tower during Sapporo White Illumination. Photo Credit: 蛇使いの工藤 at Wikimedia Commons.

Sapporo always inspires me to explore its attractions and events. The city is magical in the winter and there is always something to do and experience for everyone. It is very lovely taking an evening walk down the streets in downtown Sapporo when the famous Sapporo white illumination is held. With this in mind why not treat your family to experience this winter event?

The Sapporo White Illumination is usually held from Late November to Mid March every winter at different sites such as, Odori Park Site, Ekimae dori Site, and Minami 1-jo dori Site, Sapporo Kita 3-jo Plaza, and Sapporo Station. The Sapporo While Illumination was the first winter illumination event held in Japan in 1981. Please note every year, upon arrival of winter, illumination is held in major cities throughout Japan.

The best way to enjoy the event is on foot. Yes, you have to walk, not a lot though! There are lots of photo opportunities for pedestrians as they walk along the streets that are illuminated with hundreds of lights. Someone traveling to Sapporo in December believes that the event provides them a great Christmas festive cheer.

Hotel to stay in Sapporo: Nest Hotel Sapporo Ekimae.

2) Visit a Hot Spring Resort

Jonzakei Onsen in winter. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

One of the best things that you hardly want to miss exploring during the winter months is onsen. This is another one of those travel bucket list ideas that you must experience in Japan. Don’t you think so?

Noboribetsu is Hokkaido’s best hot spring resort town with indoor and outdoor bath facility provided by hotels and ryokans to their guests. An overnight stay is highly recommended here as you can discover some other sightseeing spots located nearby the hot spring resort and Noboribetsu Station.

Hotel to stay in Noboribetsu: Dai-Ichi Takimotokan.

Are you looking for an onsen that is popular and located not that much far from Sapporo? If so, head towards Jozankei Onsen. It’s only an hour by ride from Sapporo Station Bus Terminal to the Onsen. Surrounded by mountains and blessed with splendid nature, Jozankei is an ideal place to spend a day on the outskirt of Sapporo city. In fact, many tourists visit Jozankei during the winter months and enjoy the hot springs there.

3) Skiing in Niseko

A view of Mount Yotei from Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu. Photo Credit: T DMY at Wikimedia Commons.

Another Hokkaido icon is, of course, Niseko Ski Resort. Located about two and a half hours from New Chitose Airpot, Niseko is the best ski destination in Japan. Famous for its quality power snow throughout the winter, Niseko ski resort comprises four interlined ski resorts – Grand Hirafu, Annupuri, Niseko Village, and Hanazono.

Anyone looking to try skiing in Niseko should visit one of ski resorts mentioned above. Each of these resorts can share lots happy memories and even can steal your heart. Even if you are non-skier, a visit to Niseko is a must do activity for you. You may be afraid of downhill skiing, but the resorts in Niseko also provide cross-country skiing opportunity for tourists. You have to walk across snow-covered terrain which is completely different than downhill skiing.

Apart from that you can play in the snow. It will be a great experience, especially if you live in an area where snow is rare. Non-skiers can also spend their time at a resort taking winter landscape photograph, and expect to have fun with sledding, snowmobiling, snow tubing and so on. Therefore, whether you are a skier or non-skier, Niseko offers a lot of outdoor activities that are quote awesome to behold.

There are some ski schools at the resorts, from where you can learn a great ski lesson from professional ski instructors. Who knows that you will be a big fan of downhill skiing in the future!

If you have a tight schedule and cannot get to Niseko for skiing, then visit Sapporo Teine in Sapporo.

Hotel to stay in Niseko: Always Niseko.

4) Viewing Drift Ice on the Sea of Okhotsk

Icebreaking ships Aurora. Photo Credit: Abashiri City Tourist Association.

Watching lots of drift ice on the vast surface of the Sea of Okhotsk is one of the big reasons why you should come to Hokkaido in the winter. February is the best time to witness it but many visitors are also pleased to experience it in mid January. So I recommend you to experience a drift ice cruise when you visit Hokkaido between in Mid January and late March.

This is incredible! Photo Credit: Abashiri City Tourist Association.

If you love exploring wonderful winter landscape as well as meeting some unique marine wildlife then the Okhotsh Sea has a treat for you – drift ice! Get onto either Icebreaking ship Aurora in Abashiri or Garinko-go II icebreaker ship in Monbetsu and then take a look at the surrounding winter vistas to make a remarkable journey. Enjoy the ride; find some seals, steller’s sea eagles and other marine birds! You can use a binocular to spot them easily.

There is nothing interesting than enjoying the magnificent views of blue sky and drift ice from the icebreaking ships. So it is hard to miss this mind-boggling outdoor activity when you visit Hokkaido in winter.

For tourists to enjoy drift ice out of a train window, a train called Ryuhyo Norokko is run between Abashiri and Shiretoko-Shari stations along the of the Sea of Okhotsk during the drift ice season in Abashiri. Hop onto it and enjoy the views!

Hotel to stay in Abashiri: Dormy Inn Abashiri.

5) Ice Fishing

Ice fishing at Lake Akan. Photo Credit: pakku at Wikimedia Commons.

Ice fishing is a great adventure and one of the unique things you can experience! If you are on the hunt for the best ice fishing locations in Japan, head to Hokkaido and see yourself how popular this winter activity attracts tourists and locals alike. A fascinating activity like this can only be enjoyed thoroughly in the Hokkaido region.

There are many areas in the region where people head towards to enjoy the frozen surroundings of nature. It’s no surprise that locals there enjoy this ice fishing tradition and in order to get the most out of your winter vacation in Hokkaido, you must experience this. Yes, just the way locals do it!

To get the job done, you only need to have half a day. If you think that you don’t want to go far away to experience this activity from the capital, look no further! There is a river called Barato in Sapporo. The river is only a 30-minute drive from downtown Sapporo. Every winter, a lot of tourists wish to spend half a day there to enjoy smelt ice fishing and cooking tempura on the frozen river.

Except Barato River, there are some scenic lakes to enjoy ice fishing such as, Lake Akan, Lake Onuma, Lake Kanayama, and Lake Shinotsu. Before you go ice fishing, make sure you keep yourself warm by wearing the right winter outfit that includes snow boot, jacket, winter gloves, warm socks, snow cap, and sun glasses. You won’t have to bring any ice fishing gear, though. They will be provided to you.

6) Visit Asahiyama Zoo

Asahiyama Zoo’s penguin walk. Photo Credit: Birdman at Wikimedia Commons.

Another popular attraction in Hokkaido to visit in January is Asahiyama Zoo. Being the top attraction in Asahikawa, this zoo can be visited year round. A visit to the zoo during the winter months is absolutely overwhelming.

Don’t you compare Maruyama Zoo (Sapporo) with Asahiyama Zoo as it’s quite spacious with various animals and birds! The main highlights are the penguin walk, polar bears, Japanese cranes, red panda, seals, deer, wolves, monkeys, eagles, and other endangered species.

Everything at the zoo is thoughtfully designed and animals are well taken care of. This is one of the best zoos in Japan attracting lots of visitors every year both domestic and international. If you are going to visit Hokkaido in January with your little ones, take them to this highly recommended zoo and I am sure they will have a once-in-a-lifetime experience there. Lots of happy memories are waiting for you all at the zoo!

Hotel to stay in Asahikawa: JR Inn Asahikawa.

7) Hot Air Balloon Ride in Nakafurano

Hot air balloon flight in Nakafurano. Photo Credit: TOURGUIDE ASOBIYA.

Are you acrophobic? I hope you are not! Adventure seekers can experience a hot air balloon ride in Nakafurano in the winter. Seriously this is one of the best ways to witness Hokkaido’s splendid winter landscape.

The hot air balloon flight takes you up for about 20-30 minutes to witness a birds-eye view over the stunning snowy landscape of Nakafurano area. The views of the snow-capped Daisetsuzan Mountain Range from a flying balloon are just incredible.

Check out this link to know about the flight. This hot air balloon flight season is available for tourist from 01 December to 31 March. So if you pay a visit to Nakafurano town in January, you must include this on your travel bucket list.

In addition, from Nakafurano you can get to Biei by a rental car to see its picturesque Blue Pond and Shirahige Waterfalls. If you are a winter sports fanatic, you won’t bother visiting Furano Ski Resort.

Hotel to stay in Nakafurano: Furano La Terre.

8) Visit Hakodate

Night view of Hakodate City from Mount Hakodate, Hokkaido. Photo Credit: City Of Hakodate.

It’s always overwhelming traveling by train in Japan. In order to enjoy the views of Hokkaido’s stunning countryside, one must hop onto a train. This is going to happen, especially if you take a train from Sapporo to Hakodate. It lets you a lot of opportunities to take some photographs of the stunning coastal views.

You just don’t visit Hakodate to enjoy a train ride, though. There is a list of must-do things to experience in the city including Hakodate city night view, Morning market, Fort Goryokaku and its observatory tower, Yokukawa Onsen, Motomachi, Bay area, Onuma Park and so on.

You have got to stay a night and a day in Hakodate city to enjoy your trip. If you arrive in Hakodate around 11:00-12:00, you still have a plenty of time to enjoy the evening. Therefore, try to catch a train early in the morning from Sapporo. The one way trip takes about 3.5 hours.

Churches at Motomachi area. Photo Credit: 663highland at Wikimedia Commons.

Before heading towards Hakodate Ropeway Base Station, you should explore the Bay area and then Motomachi. Seated at the foot of Mount Hakodate, the Motomachi area looks absolutely wonderful in the winter. Its slopes that are lit up with thousands of light in the evening as well as the western style houses including the churches are worth exploring. On the other hand, night views from the observatory of Mount Hakodate are truly breathtaking.

The following morning, visit the Hakodate morning market and enjoy some seafood. After that hop on a tram to Fort Goryokaku, enjoy a birds-eye-view from Goryokaku Tower. Head over to one of the famous Hokkaido’s hot spring resorts called Yokukawa Onsen. This large spa resort consists of many hot spring inns and hotels. Besides, there are also footbath, parks and garden. The Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden is where many snow monkeys warm themselves in a hot spring pool during the winter months.

Hotel to stay in Hakodate: Comfort Hotel Hakodate.

9) Visit Tomamu Ice Village

Ice Village at Hoshino Resort Tomamu. Photo Credit: Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU.

You might have thought that Hokkaido does not feature any winter events in January. That’s not true! Here, one of the notable winter events held in January is called the Ice Village of Hoshino Resort Tomamu. Even though the resort is quite popular for its Unkai terrace in the summer, the winter scenery here is absolutely mind-boggling. To be honest, there is no right or wrong time to visit Hoshino Resort Tomamu as it’s been a place where you can enjoy a trip in all seasons.

Make sure you take the time to learn more about the resort area whilst you are in there – its ski slopes, fun winter activities, ice village, and scenery of the surrounding mountains. The best time to pay a visit to it is in the evening.

Unkai Terrace in the summer. Photo Credit: Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU.

One of the interesting facts about the village is that everything you will see there is made out of ice. They don’t melt quite easily as the temperature reaches there -30℃. The interesting highlights of the village are the Ice Bar, Ice Theater, Ice Chapel, Ice Slide, Ice Hotel, Ice Restaurant and much more to see.

From the views of the surrounding mountains to the sight of ice village, the area indeed is a lovely place to spend your evening with expecting a lot of happy memories coming your way. Please find out the date of the event here.

10) Explore the magical Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival

What an illumination! Photo Credit: t-konno at Wikimedia Commons.

Every year, this beautiful ice festival is held in late January to mid February at Lake Shikotsu Onsen (Chitose). If you are coming to Hokkaido in Late January, you cannot complete your trip without visiting this ice festival.

From the views of stunning ice sculptures to the live stage performances and firework displays, there is a lot to discover at the festival venue. In fact, Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival is where everyone needs to go to make your Hokkaido journey a great adventure. You will see many large and small ice sculptures there that are colorfully illuminated at night making the place like a magical fairytale destination. For children, the horseback riding and ice slides are extremely amusing.

You can also enjoy a warm bath at the onsen located in the hot spring town. Besides, head over to one of the restaurants there and satisfy your stomach.

In conclusion, maybe the above 10 highlights are enough for you to have a great winter holiday in Hokkaido in January. If you are looking for more travel ideas and suggested itinerary, don’t hesitate to contact me. There are still other things that are popping into my head. Thanks for reading.