Here in Japan Christmas Day is not a public holiday, with most people going to work as usual. That being said, Christmas is by no means a small occasion, with supermarkets and convenience stores opening up for Christmas cake orders, and Christmas decorations beginning to grace the shelves of large homeware stores not long after Halloween. From December onwards, a number of large-scale winter light-up events are held across Japan; making this an exciting time of year to visit the country.
Of course, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a little snow, and Hokkaido has heaps of the stuff! If you’re planning a trip to Japan in December, you will no doubt want to head north to Hokkaido, to experience a truly “White Christmas”. Here are just a few heart-warming winter events and entertaining winter activities for your December itinerary to get you in the festive mood!
Sapporo White Illumination
Sapporo’s winter events kick off with the White Illumination, which was first held in 1981, and has become progressively larger every year since. During this event the trees around Ekimadori and Minami Ichijodori are adorned with hundreds of twinkling fairy lights, and a variety of sparkling works of art of all sizes stretch out for 6 blocks along the main event site of Odori Park. Each block features a different theme to explore over the course of an evening.
When you’ve had you fill of fun at ground level, head over to Sapporo’s TV Tower and take the elevator up to the tower’s viewing platform for a bird’s eye view of the whole of Odori Park. Although the Ekimaedori and Minami Ichijodori sites can be seen lit-up until the end of winter, the display at Odori Park ends a little earlier on the 25th of December, so be sure to see it before then!
Munich Christmas Market
This cozy German-style Christmas market has been held in Sapporo since 2002, when the city marked the thirtieth anniversary of its sister-city ties with the city of Munich. Every year from around mid-November until December 25th Stalls selling Christmas items, hot wine, and German food are lined up in Sapporo’s Odori park.
*In 2021 Sapporo’s Munich Christmas Market will be held online to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Sapporo Ski Resorts
What better way to enjoy Hokkaido’s perfect powder snow than a day of skiing? A number of Hokkaido’s largest ski resorts including Teine, Sapporo Kokusai and Bankei can be easily accessed from Sapporo city- perfect for a day trip! Equipment is available to rent at all three resorts, so there is no need to take any special equipment with you. Ski and snowboarding lessons are available in both Japanese and English, so even beginners can have a go!
Otaru Blue Canal
Every winter from the start of November until the end of December the already picturesque Otaru Canal takes on an entirely different atmosphere when bathed in the blue glow of the fairy lights which light up the banks of the canal every evening from sundown until 10:30 PM. In the winter months there’s nothing more relaxing than an evening stroll along the canal-side, surrounded by the soothing blue glow.
Toyako Onsen Illumination Tunnel
Located just a few hours drive south of Sapporo, Toyako Onsen Town is one of Hokkaido’s most popular hot spring destinations- perfect for warming up during the long, cold winter months. Every year from November to March, a sparkling tunnel of lights is constructed at the center of Toyako Onsen Town, right on the shores of Lake Toya. Lit up by 400,000 shining lightbulbs, the entire path is bathed in a festive glow.
Hoshino Resorts Tomamu Ice Village
Hoshino Resorts Tomamu is always coming up with unique ways to entertain guests, throughout the year, the winter months being no exception. Every year from December to March a stunning ice village is constructed on the grounds of the resort, with everything from buildings to furniture created entirely from ice! Highlights include an ice bar, where you can drink cocktails from glasses made of ice, as well as a beautiful chapel constructed from just one cut block of ice. For those who are willing to brave the cold, there is also an ice hotel where you can stay in a room made of ice, complete with ice furniture, including the bed. Super warm sleeping bags keep guests warm in the ice dome which, constructed from a thick slab of ice, makes for a very peaceful night’s rest.
Of the many Christmas events which take place across Hokkaido, Hakodate’s “Christmas Fantasy” is definitely one of the most popular! From November until the 25th of December, a giant 20-meter-tall Christmas tree decorated in millions of glittering fairy lights is set up directly opposite the rows of storehouses in Hakodate’s Bay Area. Every night from 18:00, the bay is bathed in the romantic glow of fireworks, which fill the sky at the exact moment the lights on the tree are turned on. At 18:30, 19:30 and 20:30 for a period of only 15 minutes each time the tree is lit up in a brilliant red! Warm up by trying some of the delicious soups available at the nearby food stalls.
Hakodate Winter Light-up
Coinciding with the Christmas Fantasy event, every winter from December until February the historical buildings of Hakodate’s Motomachi district are bathed in the warm glow of over one hundred and sixty thousand glistening fairy lights, setting the scene for Hokkaido’s beautiful winter nights.
Goryokaku Star Illumination
Every winter from December until February Goryokaku, Hakodate’s French-style star-shaped fort, is lit up at night. The freshly fallen snow which accumulates around the grounds of the fort perfectly reflects the twinkling lights, creating a fantasy-like glow, which is best seen from the observatory of the neighboring Goryokaku Tower.
Hidden away in a forest within the grounds of the New Furano Prince Hotel, you will find Ningle Terrace, a tiny village dotted with 15 little log huts. Although beautiful in the summer when surrounded by lush green forest, the area shows it’s true charm in the depths of winter, when the entire area around the snow-topped log huts is bathed in warm glowing lights, creating a sense of romance reminiscent of peaceful Christmas eves of days gone by. You will truly feel as if you’ve stepped into a fairy tale as you wander through the forest, surrounded by the snow-capped forms of white and birch trees. Each little hut reveals new wonders in the form of original goods, many of which are hand-made using natural materials; you are sure to find unique gifts which you will not find anywhere else!
Asahiyama Zoo Penguin Walk
I don’t know about you, but when I think of Christmas I can’t help but be reminded of cute arctic animals-penguins in particular!
Located towards the center of Hokkaido in Asahikawa City, Asahiyama Zoo is Japan’s northern-most zoo. Every year when winter comes around, the “Penguin Walk” becomes the zoo’s greatest winter attraction! Started to make sure that the penguins get enough exercise in the winter months, penguin fans flock to watch as the penguins are let out of their enclosure and taken for a 30-minute walk around the zoo. Spectators cheer the adorable penguins on as they toddle along across the snow-covered trail, occasionally dropping down to slide on their bellies! The Penguin Walk starts every year around mid-December when the snow has fully settled, and continues until the snow begins to melt away in the early spring.