Located at the northernmost part of Japan, Hokkaido is a beautiful island with lots to offer. Despite being a huge island that makes up for a whopping 22% of Japan’s land mass, it’s got a relatively smaller population, making the places there less crowded.
Hokkaido’s scenery is breathtaking throughout all four seasons, but one of the best times to visit Hokkaido is winter and here are 10 reasons why!
1. Experience the best snow in the world
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It wouldn’t be too excessive to say that Hokkaido has the best snow in the world. The snow quality is consistently good throughout winter. The texture is powder-like and so fine, it reminds you of icing sugar on a cake. The snow blankets and turns almost everything white.
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Winter in Hokkaido is from December until March and the coldest time in the island is between January and February. In some places, snow remains to be seen until early May.
2. Take part in the Sapporo Snow Festival
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So where do you go during winter in Hokkaido? One place that you must visit would be the Sapporo Snow Festival! The festival started in 1950 and today it attracts more than 2 million people worldwide. It’s a visual spectacle to see building-sized ice and snow sculptures that are so much bigger than your body on display.
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3. Chase away the blues at Blue Shirahige Waterfall
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In the town of Biei, there is a blue waterfall that looks as if it came out of a CGI movie. It is known as Shirahige which means ‘white beard’, a reference to the flowing water that resembles a man’s beard.
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The water is in the most beautiful shade of cobalt blue you’ll ever see. During winter, frozen peaks of water hang from the sides. The waterfall is the source of water to a blue pond nearby, located about a three-minute drive away. The blue pond is also a popular tourist attraction on its own.
4. Watch the panoramic skyline view from Mount Hakodate
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The best view of Hokkaido can be seen from Mount Hakodate. During winter nights, you can see the city lights reflecting off the blanket of white snow that envelopes the city.
The experience of seeing Hakodate city from bird’s eye view has been given the Michelin stamp of approval with three stars on its badge, making it equal to the experience of seeing the views of Naples and Hong Kong.
You can reach the peak of the mountain by hiking, biking or taking a ride in the cable car service.
5. Enjoy the warm bath at onsen, or just soak your feet!
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Hokkaido has some of the best onsens (hot springs) in the land of Japan and nothing beats soaking your feet in hot water after a cold day out in the winter. It is a therapeutic experience as the natural hot baths have many health benefits including clearing your skin and curing your aches and pains.
Most importantly, soaking in a hot spring is healing and relaxing, a means to reconnect with yourself and enjoy some time out. Some of the recommended onsens are Yunokawa Onsen in Hakodate, Jozankei Onsen in Sapporo and Noboribetsu Onsen in Noboribetsu.
6. Eat the freshest seafood at Nijo Fish Market
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If the cold weather makes you hungry, the best place to satiate your hunger pangs is located at the heart of Sapporo. Nijo Fish Market is similar to the famous Tsukiji Market in Tokyo but smaller in size and with a smaller crowd.
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The historical market has been around for more than a century, serving only the best and the freshest of seafood that you can devour. The cold ocean water surrounding Hokkaido produces the best sea creatures and you can taste the freshness in all the seafood you try here. More than just a fish market, you can find scallops, oysters, sea urchins, mantis shrimp and crabs. Try the sashimi donburi while you’re here!
Nijo Market is three blocks south of the TV Tower at Odori Park. It is about a five-minute walk from Odori Station on the Nanboku, Toho and Tozai Subway Lines.
7. Ride on a snowmobile
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Riding on a snowmobile – especially if it is on a frozen lake – makes skiing sounds so mainstream. You can get this experience at Onuma Park in the suburbs of Hakodote and Sapporo.
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In winter, the lake is frozen with a thick layer of ice and temperatures can drop as low as below -5 degree Celsius. You would need a crash course before you can ride your own snowmobile too and please, don’t text and drive!
8. Ice fishing
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Underneath that thick layer of ice… are fish in a pond. Ice fishing is a popular winter activity in Hokkaido and it’s pretty easy to do, only that you need patience for it. There are several places that offer ice fishing and they would make a hole in the ice where small fish can be reeled in.
Cooking the fish would require extra cost but it would be an experience to eat the fish (deep fried tempura!) you caught yourself under the ice.
9. Stay in a hotel made out of ice!
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Yes, for real! You can channel your inner ice queen/king by visiting Tobetsu, a town located in the Ishikari district of Hokkaido. Due to the unique nature of this hotel, it is only available for accommodation during winter.
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The industrial town has a reputation for being bitterly cold and the hotel is built to attract more visitors into the town. The next time you can “check-in” into this hotel is next year, between late January and late February.
10. Watch some drift ice
Drift ice is the phenomenon where ice blocks float in the sea following the wind or sea current. Drift ice usually appears in the Arctic and Antarctic Circles. However, during winter, you can also catch drift ice on the Okhotsk Sea that shares a similar geographical latitude as Portland in Oregon and Venice in Italy.
Credit: David McKelvey on Flickr
Drift ice only happens during winter but you can catch a simulated display of drift ice at the Okhotsk Ryuhyo Museum located on top of Mount Tentozan. Visitors can learn about drift ice any time during the year with the museum’s permanent display.
Hokkaido has unspoiled natural beauty and one of the best times to experience the island would be winter. With a lot of exciting activities, Hokkaido is the ultimate destination for some fun-filled winter vacation. There is no place quite like it!
P.S. Planning a trip to Japan? Remember to download the HHWT Travel Planner App available on both Google Play for Android and Apple App Store for iOS, to find the best attractions in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka! 🇯🇵