If you want to experience the snow and witness some mind-boggling winter landscapes in December, try heading somewhere in the north of Japan. Will it be Hokkaido?
December has come! Snow is falling on a regular basis in the region with the temperature dropping down to minus 6 degrees. That’s indeed good news for many winter sports fanatics, waiting to hit the slopes.
In December, the northern island of Hokkaido turns into a winter wonderland.
Life here historically has been very harsh in the winter, and local communities have found ways to not only make the winter more cheerful but even turn it into a boon for their homes. Because of this, Hokkaido has its own culture distinct from the rest of Japan, especially around December, January, and February.
You may get some ideas on what to do in Hokkaido throughout the four seasons.
Here are ten of Hokkaido’s top attractions in December:
1. Ice Village of Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU
Every year from December to March at Tomamu, you can see a specially constructed ice village. Everything here is made of ice, from the carefully constructed huts to the bars.
The very chilly temperatures are what enable the ice to hold its shape so well that it can be used to build large, useable structures. Enjoy the magical ice chapel or go skating at the Ice Plaza.
There are even an ice hot tub and an ice hotel. Every year there are limited events ranging from fireworks in celebration of newlyweds to a concert played on musical instruments made out of ice.
The night is the best time to see the Ice Village, as the resort has illuminated the village to turn it into something truly magical.
Festival date: December 10, 2023 – March 14, 2024.
2. Ningle Terrace & Skiing in Furano
Located just below the Shin Furano Prince Hotel, the Ningle Terrace is a set of boutique cottages. Here, visitors can find specialty arts and crafts. This is a magical place and it feels as if you are walking around Santa’s Workshop.
The walkway winds through the cottages as well as waterfalls and along the edge of the nearby forest.
If you’re looking for a treat, the Terrace’s café offers both hot and cold drinks as well as cakes, cheese, and more. At night, the paths are lined with fairy lights. Enjoy a visit to this pleasant and artistic area.
Furano Ski Resort is located next to Shin Furano Prince Hotel, which means if you are planning to stay overnight in Furano then hit the slopes and enjoy skiing and snowboarding there.
The ski resort is divided into 2 zones, Furano and Kitanomine. Experience a great view of the Daisetsu Mountain Range while skiing and snowboarding along the trails.
3. Noboribetsu Onsen
This is the most famous hot spring resort in Hokkaido. There are many hotels and inns to be found here, all offering a chance to soak your cares away.
Several of the baths are open during the day to guests who are not saying the night for a small fee. You can also enjoy some of the shops and restaurants that have popped up for visitors. Baths are usually separated by gender.
Many feature both indoor and outdoor hot spring baths. Everyone of these hotels and inns has its own unique character. Visit Noboribetsu to enjoy the long and relaxing tradition of Japanese hot spring baths.
You may stay a night at this hotel, which is known for its private onsen baths.
4. Lake Toya and Usuzan Ropeway
The frozen wilderness of Hokkaido has a charm all its own in December.
Lake Toya is a beautiful place to visit anytime of year and you can visit many hot spring baths on its shores. You can also take the nearby Usuzan Ropeway up the slopes of Mount Usu.
This volcano last had a minor eruption in 2000 (it is closely monitored by scientists for signs of activity). At the ropeway’s top observation deck you can get panoramic views of Lake Toya and the surrounding area.
One interesting fact about Lake Toya is it never freezes during the winter months. How cool is that!
5. Sapporo White Illumination, Odori Park
Sapporo’s winter festivities are some of the best in Japan. The White Illumination is the oldest in Japan and dates back to 1981. This incredible nighttime event lights up Odori Park with the ‘art of light’, utilizing the area’s heavy snows as a canvas.
Besides displays that use thousands of strings to lights, there are also booths where visitors can grab a bite to eat and a German Christmas Market that blends international traditions.
The displays range from whimsical to majestic to magical, turning the chilly winter night into something else entirely.
6. Mount Hakodate
This mountain towers 334 meters above sea level. You can take either a ropeway or a bus up to the mountaintop observatory.
Once there, enjoy the sight of the sea and the nearby urban areas of Hakodate sprawling below. Take a snowy walk along the trails to see a picturesque winter scene.
At night, you can see the city lights as well as the lights of ships at sea. The winter snow frames this scene, making it into something from a postcard as the snow reflects the many colors of the city lights.
Quieter than nearby Sapporo, Otaru is a great trip to make in winter. Like the larger city, there is a special festival held here every year in February, the Otaru Light Path Snow festival, which features snow sculptures and illuminations.
Even though you will not be able to feel the atmosphere of this winter festival in December, you can still take a day trip to this port town and explore its must-see attractions.
Visit Snow Cruise ONZE, which opens on the 20th November, the earliest in Hokkaido! The ski slopes here provide excellent view of Ishikari Bay.
Mt. Tengu (532 meters) in Otaru city offers great views overlooking Otaru, mountains in the distance, and the Sea of Japan. Night view of Otaru from the top of the mountain is also breathtaking!
You should also visit Otaru Unga (Otaru Canal), the canal that was once the lifeblood of the town. Now, the warehouses lining the canal feature shops, restaurants, and museums.
Shop owners will draw in visitors by building adorable snow sculptures in front of their shopfronts. There are many sweet treats available. Even if you can only stay for a little while, Otaru is a delightful little town to visit.
8. Lake Mashu
Lake Mashu freezes over every winter, changing an already spectacular view into a nearly mystical one.
The lake appears to turn into sapphire, surrounded by a rugged snowy landscape. Under the right conditions, frost will paint geometric patterns on the surface of the frozen lake.
Rent some snowshoes and hike on top of the thick snow to some of the observation decks located around the lake. The lake’s freezing date varies from year to year, so be sure to check to see when the perfect time to visit arrives.
9. Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa
A zoo in winter might not seem like fun, but Asahiyama Zoo in Asahikawa city offers something special. Walk into domes that put you into the middle of polar bear and wolf habitats.
You can get face-to-snout with swimming seals as they swim through their specially constructed ‘Marine Way’. The zoo’s biggest winter highlight comes in the form of penguin walks.
The zoo’s king penguins go on parade twice a day, depending on their health. King penguins naturally walk in straight lines when they see obstacles in their way, so the zoo asks visitors to serve as the obstacles by ling up along the penguins’ path!
This offers a great chance to encounter these unusual birds that you won’t find anywhere else.
Cape Kamui on the Shakotan Peninsula reaches out into the Sea of Japan. While it is well known for its incredible sea life in summer, the winter offers its own unique take on this beautiful area. Visit Yoichi Distillery to enjoy its whiskey museum as well as Nikka Whiskey.
You can also visit a space museum, the Yoichi Space Museum, which has numerous interactive exhibits. For the more outdoorsy, there is back-country skiing.
After all this exploring, enjoy some of the region’s famous seafood at a local restaurant. Shakotan in winter has something for everyone.
The above mentioned places can also be visited around January and February. There are some very interesting winter festivals that take place in Hokkaido in early February. Please check out the festivals calendar.