Hokkaido Travel Guide Winter

8 Best Winter Festivals in Hokkaido

Visiting Hokkaido this winter, especially in February? It’s arguably the best winter destination in Japan and loaded with a list of fascinating winter festivals and events. 

With its mind-boggling winter festivals, mouth-watering local specialties, amazing ski and hot springs resorts, the area is considered a perfect winter holiday destination.

It’s not a daunting task for travelers of all ages to find their right winter activities in the region.

I assume that many of you will be interested in skiing. Won’t you be? One of the activities that locals love to do is to participate in the winter matsuri, held across the region.

Impressive giant snow structures of the Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival. Photo Credit: Chitose Tourist Association.

If you are thinking of embarking on a holiday in winter between December and March, come to Hokkaido as it offers you to explore some of its breathtaking winter festivals.

The snow festivals/events you are going to read about in this post are nationally well documented, and while some of the events have already been widely known as the best winter festivals on earth.

To find the facts of each of these festivals, I gladly welcome you to join me on the journey which reveals everything about the festivals including travel guides and much more. Let’s get going and find the top winter festivals of Hokkaido.

1) Sapporo Snow Festival/Sapporo Yuki Matsuri

One of the giant snow sculptures of Sapporo Yuki Matsuri. Photo Credit: Takuya Yoshimura at Flickr.

Sapporo Yuki Matsuri is one of the largest snow festivals on the planet.

Despite of the cold weather, locals there don’t bother to go out to see this hilarious winter event. Extreme temperatures out there help the sculptors creating stunning snow and ice sculptures of various sizes.

Some of them are even larger than an average size of a house. In fact, making giant snow sculptures of various models is the main reason why the festival has been celebrating since 1950.

Both locals and international designers alike attempt to create stunning snow and ice sculptures in order to the make the festival quite awe-inspiring.

Travelers can enjoy the views of the magical night illuminations of the giant snow and ice sculptures. They look breathtakingly incredible to behold when they are lit up in the evening. Competitions are held at some sites of the festival.

Besides, visitors can experience a number of outdoor activities, such as skating, and sliding down the giant snow slider. Various live stage performances are held to entertain the visitors.

Hokkaido is enriched with a lot of winter dishes; don’t you forget to try them as you will see many food vendors buzzing around the festive sites.

To see the date of the festival in 2024, please visit this here.

2) Asahikawa Winter Festival

Kawaii looking snow statues! Photo Credit: SteFou! at Flickr.

Home to one of Japan’s biggest and top recommended Zoo, Asahikawa is a perfect place to travel year round. The city plays an important role when it comes to exploring the central and northeastern part of Hokkaido.

It’s a highly recommended place for travelers to stop by when they are off to exploring the areas like Daitesuzan National Park, Biei, Furano, and Abashiri.

The Asahikawa Winter Festival is considered the second largest winter matsuri in Hokkaido. The festival is celebrated in two separate locations: Asahibashi Site, and Heiwa Dori Street.

At the Asahibashi site, where visitors are offered to see a giant snow sculpture alongside other sculptures. Every year the giant sculpture has a unique and different theme. It’s used as a stage to perform various entertaining events.

On the other hand, at Heiwa Dori Street, an international ice sculpture competition is held.

This is the place where you can expect to see beautifully designed ice sculptures and they look absolutely stunning when they are illuminated in the evening. For more info about the whole festival, visit this page.

3) Otaru Snow Light Path Festival

Otaru Canal area during the festival. Photo Credit: Tony Lin at Flickr.

Otaru, the small port town is one of the popular places to take a day trip from Sapporo, and it becomes so lively when the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival takes place in the second week of February every year.

It is a-10 day festival, attracting thousands of visitors who enjoy their time walking along the Otaru Canal and gazing at the surrounding illuminated snow candles and sculptures. The freezing surface of the canal also looks fabulous with many glowing candles in glass floats.

The festival is spectacular, and you can make your trip a great adventure if you attempt to explore other areas of the town including some popular attractions such as Otaru Aquarium, Sakaimachi Street, Otaru and City Museum.

A walk in the Sakaimachi Street will be a great idea as you find many shops to buy souvenirs and cafes.

Otaru is only a-45 minute train ride from JR Sapporo Station.

4) Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival in Chitose

What a view! You will definitely love the way the whole area is illuminated with lights. Photo Credit: redlegsfan21 at Flickr.

Be prepared to see large piles of snow! The Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival is held between late January and mid February in Shikotsuko Onsen, a hot spring resort in Shikotsu-Toya National Park.

A visit to this stunning ice festival would seem to you like a truly winter wonderland as everywhere you look around you see walls of snow that are illuminated gorgeously at night.

Here, the ice sculptures made from the lake water would look to you very different in comparison with the ones you see at Sapporo Snow Festival or Asahikawa Winter Festival.

During the festival, what it exhibits is incredibly breathtaking. Once you pass through the welcome gate, you can feel the dramatic lively atmosphere it offers to its visitors. Every corner you look around, you will be overwhelmed for sure, especially after the sunset.

Exploding fireworks display in the night sky, snow slide, tunnels made of ice, and drum performance, are some of the highlights you would love to discover here. I think this sort of place completely suits in fairy tale. Don’t you think so?

5) Tokachi River Swan Festival Sairinka

The view is just awesome! Photo Credit: tokachigawa.net.

Indeed, the Tokachi River Swan Festival is a majestic sight to behold. Every year in the winter, Tokachi River provides shelter to thousands of migratory graceful swans. To commemorate their arrival, locals greatly celebrate this winter event.

The festival is held at Tokachigawa hot spring resort, located in Otofuke town, Tokachi subprefecture, in Hokkaido. This year the festival is set to present its stunning trigonal pyramid shaped objects from January 27 to February 25.

Hundreds of such objects on the snowy grounds are illuminated nicely including a light tunnel to walk through, miniature snow candles, and LED animal lights.

In addition, apart from viewing the lighting shows, there you are offered to enjoy the sound of cool music and outdoor snow activities. The entire venue without question creates a majestic sight.

6) Obihiro Ice Festival

The fireworks display. Photo Credit: obikan.jp.

Hokkaido’s winter is relatively long enough to make you crazy about its brutal cold weather and heavy snowfall out there, but locals there find the various ways to enjoy the weather.

In Obihiro, people follow the same tradition that rest of the Hokkaido residence follow. They have their own style of snow festival that resembles the greatest Sapporo Winter Festival.

Here is another popular winter festival of Tokachi subprefecture, held in Midorigaoka Park, Obihiro city. The festival’s atmosphere would seem to you like Sapporo Yuki Matsuri (Snow festival).

You can enjoy fun winter activities alongside viewing both giant and small sizes snow statues and ice sculptures.

In addition, children proudly enjoy their time sledding on the slides made of snow. In the evening, the magical fireworks display happens at the opening ceremony that lights up night sky fabulously.

Every year, the festival usually takes place around early February.

7) Sounkyo Ice Waterfall Festival

Who wants to walk through this icy tunnel? Photo Credit: sounkyo.net.

Sounkyo is known for its impressive scenery of the four seasons. It’s a small hot spring resort town in the Daisetsuzan National Park, located in eastern part of Asahikawa, in Kamikawa town.

For many nature fanatics, Sounkyo is a must-see place in central Hokkaido. Even though I adore its fall colors beauty, I also admire the winter season that comes with an exciting winter event known as the Sounkyo Ice Waterfall Festival.

Every year, the festival is scheduled to be held for two months, between late January and late March. Indeed, the festival offers travelers a list of outdoor winter activities.

You may spend your time just roaming around the venue and marvel at the various kinds of snow structures or find yourself relax at the ice bar drinking delicious sake.

A perfect treat to get rid of the cold weather! Whatever you do, don’t forget to view the breathtaking fireworks display there. Please note that it does not occur everyday though.

Access to this site by public transport is daunting! But my advice to you is, if possible stay overnight in a hotel located at the hot spring resort town.

If not then try to get there by a rental car. It will save your time. And visit the festival on weekends as various stage performances are held to entertain visitors.

8) Noboribetsu Onsen Hot Spring Festival

The battle begins! Photo Credit: Takimoto Inn.

Unlike most of the winter festivals you have come across so far in this post, this winter event seems very different.

What happens in the festival does not actually match with rest of the festivals held throughout the region in winter. Here you will not see any snow or ice sculptures. So what do you think you are going to experience there?

The festival is about a Hot Water Battle, where participants are divided into two teams, red and white, to celebrate the divine hot springs water, and to wish for a good fortune and longevity.

They fight against each other splashing hot water back-and-forth wearing lion-cloth and hachimaki (Japanese headbands).

Every year, the festival is held for two days in early February (3rd and 4th). It’s believed that if the red team wins, the temperature of hot spring rise up, and if the white team wins, the area will have an abundance of hot water.

Please note Noboribetsu Onsen is known for its different kinds of thermal waters, and Hell valley (Jigokudani). Stay overnight either at Dai-ichi Takimotokan, or Takimoto Inn and enjoy their hot springs baths.

Apart from all these winter festivals, there are some popular illumination events can be experienced such as Hakodate Illumination, and Sapporo White Illumination.