From stunning views to gourmet food, and hot springs, Hokkaido, the northernmost part of Japan, is packed with attractive winter tourism activities! Among them, many people visit Hokkaido in winter with the goal to see the snow and ice festivals, don't they?

So, this time, we will introduce events in the four areas of Central Hokkaido (Dou-Ou) , Northern Hokkaido (Dou-Hoku), Southern Hokkaido (Dou-Nan), and Eastern Hokkaido (Dou-Tou), including the Sapporo Snow Festival, that you would want to visit despite the cold weather. You will surely find something you want to experience on your winter trip to Hokkaido!

※The information featured in this article is as of October 2023. Please check the official website or other sources for the latest event information.

What is the average winter temperature in Hokkaido? What kind of clothing is recommended?

In Hokkaido, the average monthly temperature in many areas drops below freezing in December, and the cold continues until March. From late October, the first snowfall begins to be observed in various parts of the region. For instance, in the central area of Hokkaido in 2022, the first snowfall was observed in Kutchan around the end of October. It is not uncommon for several tens of centimeters of snow to accumulate in central areas such as Sapporo and Otaru, which see their first snowfall around early November.

However, even though it's all Hokkaido, the climate characteristics change due to the differences in terrain, as it is surrounded by three seas: the Sea of Japan, the Pacific Ocean, and the Sea of Okhotsk.

Sapporo, Otaru, etc.
(Sea of Japan side)
Kushiro, Hakodate, etc.
(Pacific Ocean side)
Abashiri, Monbetsu, etc.
(Sea of Okhotsk side)
Asahikawa, Biei, etc.
(Inland)

Characteristics of winter climate
Strongly affected by seasonal winds, with many cloudy and snowy days
The season with the most sunny days and relatively little snowfall
Has intermediate characteristics, with many sunny days
Winter is marked by drift ice. It is one of the coldest areas in Hokkaido, with a large temperature difference and days when the minimum temperature drops below -20℃

Average Monthly Temperature
① December
② January
③ February

【Sapporo】
① -0.9℃
② -3.2℃
③ -2.7℃ 

【Kushiro】
① -1.9℃
② -4.8℃
③ -4.3℃

【Abashiri】
① -2.4℃
② -5.1℃
③ -5.4℃

【Asahikawa】
① -4.2℃
② -7.0℃
③ -6.0℃

Source: Japan Meteorological Agency Website
※All values are average (yearly and monthly values)

Sapporo (Ishikari Region)
Kushiro (Kushiro Region)
Abashiri (Abashiri, Kitami, Monbetsu Region)
Asahikawa (Kamikawa Region)

If you are participating in winter events in Hokkaido, where there are many light-ups and night fireworks, it is expected that you will be outdoors until late at night. Therefore, it is recommended to incorporate down outerwear with excellent cold protection and pants with high waterproofness into your coordination, so you can stay outside to enjoy the events even if it is snowing.

Don't forget to wear anti-slip shoes to prevent slipping on the snow, and take measures against the cold with scarves, gloves, and hats.

【Central Hokkaido Area (Dou-Ou)】Recommended Events for Winter Sightseeing

【Sapporo City】Sapporo Snow Festival

One of the three major winter festivals in Hokkaido, the "Sapporo Snow Festival", is a major winter event in Sapporo that attracts over 2 million visitors each year. The festival is held at three venues: the "Odori Site", where about 100 snow and ice sculptures are displayed with five large snow sculptures as the main attractions; the "Susukino Site", where ice sculptures and ice statues are lined up; and the "Tsudome Site", where visitors can enjoy experiential content such as giant slides and tunnels.

Among them, the International Snow Sculpture Contest, which has been ongoing since 1974, is a highlight event. Elite teams from around the world gather in Sapporo, create snow sculptures during the festival period, and compete with each other. At the Odori Site, you can see the process of making snow sculptures up close.

  • Venue:
    【Odori Site】1 Chome-12 Chome, Odori Nishi, Chuo-ku, Sapporo
    【Tsudome Site】885 Sakaemachi, Higashi-ku, Sapporo, at the Sapporo Sports Exchange Facility "Tsudome"
    【Susukino Site】Station Front Street from Minami 4 Jo-doori to Minami 7 Jo-doori, Chuo Ward, Sapporo
  • Event period: Usually from February 4th to February 11th
    *In 2024, all venues will be held from February 4th to February 11th
  • Nearest station: JR "Sapporo Station", Sapporo Municipal Subway "Susukino Station" & "Odori Station" and others
  • Official website: https://www.snowfes.com/

【Sapporo City】Jozankei Onsen Yukitouro (Snow candle way)

Jozankei Onsen, a hot spring area accessible in about an hour by direct bus from Sapporo Station. At the Snow Candle event "Yukitouro" held at Jozankei Shrine, the people of the hot spring town decorate the shrine grounds with the light of 2,000 snow candles they made. It is said that if you make a wish on this snow candle, light it, and carry it to the snow tower without it going out, your wish will come true.

The photo spot modeled after a heart mark, which is set up every year, is so popular that it forms a long line of queue. There are many inns around the venue that are equipped with open-air baths and private baths, and it is recommended to stay overnight for the hot springs.

  • Venue: Jozankei Shrine, Higashi 3-chome, Jozankei Onsen, Minami-ku, Sapporo City
  • Event period: Usually late January to early February
    *In 2024, it will be from January 27 to February 3
  • Event time: 18:00~21:00
  • Fee: Cooperation fee 500 yen (Free for those staying in the Jozankei area)
  • Access: About 60 minutes by direct bus "Kappa Liner" from JR Sapporo Station
  • Official website: https://jozankei.jp/event/yukitouro/

【Otaru City】Otaru Snow Light Path

The "Otaru Snow Light Path", held mainly at six venues in the heart of Otaru city. At the Otaru Canal, where brick buildings line up, in addition to the "Canal Venue A" where 200 floating ball candles on the water surface and snow candles on the promenade stand out, the "Canal Venue B" where snow candles and snow objects are installed creates two spaces with different atmospheres.

If you want to have an extraordinary experience, head to the "Temiyasen Venue", located about 5 minutes walk from the Canal Venue. The railway facilities of the railway line that was opened in 1880 are still intact, and you can go through the Snow Tunnel.

  • Venue:
    【Canal Venue A&B】5 Minatomachi, Otaru City, between Otaru Canal Asakusabashi ~ Chuo Bridge, and between Chuo Bridge ~ Ryugu Bridge
    Other shopping streets, schools, hospitals, etc., various venues in Otaru City
  • Event period: Usually around mid-February
    ※In 2024, it is scheduled for February 10th to 17th
  • Event time: 17:00~21:00
  • Nearest station: JR "Otaru Station"
    ※It takes about 17 minutes by Hokkaido Chuo Bus from Otaru Station to Tengu Mountain Venue
  • Official website: http://yukiakarinomichi.org/

【Northern Hokkaido Area (Dou-Hoku)】Recommended Events for Winter Sightseeing

【Asahikawa City】Asahikawa Winter Festival

One of the three major winter festivals in Hokkaido, the "Asahikawa Winter Festival". Centered around the world's largest snow sculpture, which boasts a height of 20m, snow sculptures and ice carvings made by citizens are lined up in competition. From the stage where you can watch projection mapping using the large snow sculpture and music performances, to the large snow sculpture slide and a huge maze made of snow are set up. There are also many food trucks offering gourmet food from various places, making it a fun-filled event for the whole family.

During the period, fireworks are launched at night, enveloping the illuminated venue in a fantastical atmosphere. Also, check out the "International Ice Sculpture Competition" held at the same time in the venue and the "Asahiyama Zoo by Snow Light" held at Asahikawa City Asahiyama Zoo.

  • Location: Tokiwa Park in Asahikawa City, Ishikari River riverbed
  • Duration: Usually in early February
  • Hours: 09:00~21:00 (until 20:00 on the last day)
  • Access: About 10 minutes by free shuttle bus from JR "Asahikawa Station"
  • Official Website: https://asahikawa-winterfes.jp/

【Kamikawa District】Sounkyo Onsen Ice Fall Festival

One of the three major winter festivals in Hokkaido, the "Sounkyo Onsen Ice Fall Festival", is also recognized as a Japanese Night View Heritage. In the 12,000㎡ venue, giant main ice sculptures and tunnels are lit up in seven colors. Not only can you enjoy the view, but there are also experiential events such as the "Northern Ice Bar", where everything from chairs to tables is made of ice.

One thing you'll want to get when you come to the festival is the "Extreme Cold Certificate" that you can get if you take a free commemorative photo at the photo house. It's the perfect memento of your visit during the cold season. There are also fireworks, so enjoy them from the viewing seats or observation deck.

  • Location: Special venue at Sounkyo Onsen, Kamikawa Town, Kamikawa District
  • Duration: Usually late January to mid-March
  • Hours: 17:00 to 21:30
  • Price: Cooperation fee 500 yen
  • Access: About 35 minutes by Dohoku Bus from JR "Kamikawa Station"
  • Official Website: https://sounkyo.net/hyoubaku/

【Biei Town】Illuminated Blue Pond & Illuminated Shirahige Waterfall

The surface of the Blue Pond freezes over, transforming into a world of silvery white! In stark contrast to the emerald green of summer, from autumn to winter, the pond is covered in snow and the "Illuminated Blue Pond" is held. The illumination program, which lasts about 10 minutes and features various lighting patterns, is a feast for the eyes, along with the dead larch trees.

If you have some extra time in your itinerary, take a 5-minute drive to the Shirahige Waterfall. The illumination here is year-round, but you can only see the ice waterfall on days when the temperature drops below freezing from December to February. The changing shape of the ice waterfall due to the spring water, the frost, and the art created by nature are sure to impress.

  • Location: Shirogane Blue Pond, Biei Town, Kamikawa District
  • Event period: Usually from November 1st to April 30th of the following year
  • Lighting time: Varies by month
  • Access: About 20 minutes by Dohoku Bus from JR "Biei Station" to the Blue Pond
  • Official website: https://www.biei-hokkaido.jp/ja/

【Southern Hokkaido Area (Dou-Nan)】Recommended Events for Winter Sightseeing

Hakodate CityGoryokaku Hoshi no Yume Illumination

The Goryokaku Park and Goryokaku Tower are landmarks of Hakodate. The "Goryokaku Hoshi no Yume Illumination", which decorates the moat with 2,000 light bulbs, is lit every day during the period, and the star shape emerges in the light. Of course, you can enjoy the illumination while walking around the park, but it is also recommended to go up to the observation deck and look down from the sky.

Especially on snowy days, you can enjoy the unique night view of Hakodate in winter. During the period, illuminations are also held in the atrium of Goryokaku Tower.

  • Location: 43-9, Goryokaku-cho, Hakodate City
  • Period: Usually from early December to the end of February of the following year
  • Lighting time: From sunset to 19:00
  • Access: About 15 minutes by Hakodate bus from JR "Goryokaku Station" to the entrance of Goryokaku Park
  • Official website: https://www.goryokaku-tower.co.jp/

【Kato District】Tokachigawa Onsen Sairinka®

The 'Sairinka' event, held in honor of the swans that migrate to the Tokachigawa Onsen every year. Approximately 600 bulbs and LEDs covered in triangular prisms are all operated by a stage lighting control system, leading you to a fantastical world in sync with the music, with a symbol tower up to 5.4m high and various light objects of different sizes.

From the hot spring town to the venue, a corridor of light created in the forest, "Alley of Light", leads to the full bloom of "Winter Cherry Blossoms". From the special observation deck, photogenic shooting spots such as the tunnel of light spread out below.

  • Venue: Tokachigaoka Park, Kita 14-Chome, Tokachigawa Onsen, Otobuke-cho, Kato District
  • Event period: Usually late January to mid-February
    *In 2024, it will be held from January 27 to February 18
  • Event time: 19:00 to 21:00
  • Access: About 30 minutes by Tokachi Bus from JR "Obihiro Station", about 10 minutes walk after getting off at "Garden Spa Tokachigawa Onsen"
  • Official website: http://www.tokachigawa.net/event/sairinka.html

【Eastern Hokkaido Area (Dou-Tou)】Recommended Events for Winter Sightseeing

Kushiro CityLake Akan Ice Festival Fuyu-hanabi

The "Lake Akan Ice Festival Fuyu-hanabi" where fireworks are launched on the ice of Lake Akan at minus 20 degrees Celsius. During the day, enjoy snowmobiling and banana boating on the ice, and at night, spend time until the launch while drinking sweet sake and hot milk. The fireworks that bloom large flowers in the night sky are very powerful!

Don't miss the ceremonies and performances by the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido. Witness the "Fire Ceremony" to welcome the god of fire up close, and luxuriously enjoy the traditions and activities unique to Hokkaido.

  • Location: Special venue on the frozen Lake Akan, Akan Onsen, Akan Town, Kushiro City
  • Event period: Usually from February 1 to March 2 every year
    *Only the fireworks festival "Fuyu-hanabi" is until March 19
  • Event time: From 19:30 (Fireworks launch from 20:00)
  • Access: About 2 hours by fully reserved sightseeing shuttle bus from JR "Kushiro Station"
  • Official website: https://www.tsurugagroup.com/plans/fuyu_hanabi/

Experience winter events unique to Hokkaido!

In winter Hokkaido, there are plenty of unique events such as fantastic light-ups and fireworks using snow and ice. Why not incorporate your favorite event into your Hokkaido travel itinerary?

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