In winter the air is clean and fresh, the land is blanketed in ice and snow. But more than that, January and February are when Hokkaido shines with many events that offer a taste of the extraordinary: huge snow sculptures, otherworldly illuminations, and plenty of opportunities to play in the snow. Just because it’s cold, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your time to its fullest. Let’s take a look at some of the fun you can have around Hokkaido this winter.
71st Annual Sapporo Snow Festival
Every year, starting at the beginning of February is the Sapporo Snow Festival, likely Sapporo’s most famous (winter) event.
This larger-than-life event brings in over two million visitors from overseas and within Japan!
The main event space in Odori Park displays a host of large sculptures of famous buildings from around the world, popular anime characters, and everything in between, all constructed with snow and clear glistening ice.
There are also laser projected stage-shows, tons of Hokkaido’s famous foods, and more!
Whether you go skating at the skating rink, sliding down the ice slides in the Odori Event Space, or go enjoy the family-friendly attractions in the Tsu Dome Event Space, there are tons to enjoy and explore at the Sapporo Snow Festival.
Odori Site, Susukino Site: Tue. February 4, 2020 – Tue. February 11, 2020 (Public Holiday)
Fri. January 31 – Tue. February 11(Public Holiday)
Sapporo, Odori Park, Tsu Dome, Susukino
42nd Annual Chitose Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival
The famous blue color of Lake Shikotsu might just give Shakotan Blue a run for its money.
But during winter evenings, this clear lake is known for something other than the beauty of its water’s surface. Using a sprinkler, strange objects of all shapes and sizes are created from the lake water and lined up as in the picture above for this festival.
During the day time, you can still see the famous blue lake that never freezes even during the coldest of winters. But at night, the area is transformed into a strange and mysterious landscape of multicolored lights for your viewing pleasure.
There are all sorts of fun things to do during the event period like watching the fireworks displays on the weekends, participating in an ice wedding, and tons more! And we can’t forget about all the delicious warming foods and drinks. Or why not try out ice candy?
If you get a little cold during the event, you can warm yourself up with a dip in one of the many onsen hot springs in the area, which are known for their abundance of variety in chemical composition qualities of water.
Fri. January 24, 2020 – Sun. February 16, 2020
Lake Shikotsu Onsen
http://www.1000sai-chitose.or.jp/icefes.html (Japanese only)
22nd Annual Otaru Snow Light Path
If you feel a bit overwhelmed by the intensity of the Sapporo Snow Festival, then maybe something a little bit more gentle and subtle is in order, the kind of place where you might just feel like you’re one of the figures in a snow globe. If so, the Otaru Snow Light Path is more your speed.
You’re sure to be enchanted when you see the main event area. The Otaru Canal is turned into a gently lit land of candles and small glowing object. Candles float on the surface of the water, creating a beautiful mysterious atmosphere that’s uniquely Otaru.
When you’re done being entranced by the event space at the canal, you can walk over to the Temiya event space, home of Hokkaido’s oldest rail line for a similarly warm, yet totally different kind of atmosphere.
Sat. February 8, 2020 – Sun. February 16, 2020
Around Otaru: Canal, Temiya Line, Asarigawa Onsen, and Otaru Art Base Event
Goryokaku Hoshi no Yume (Star Illumination)
Goryokaku: the ancient ruins of a fortress famous for being dug into the shape of a star and an important cultural artifact of Hokkaido History.
In the winter you get a rare opportunity to see it mysteriously illuminated, an event named Hoshi no Yume (lit. The Star’s Dream).
The 1.8km perimeter of Goryokaku Fortress is decorated with some 2000 lightbulbs, and the beautiful star shape of the fortress is emphasized in the white Hakodate evening winter landscape.
The best place to view this special exhibit of lights is from the nearby Goryokaku Tower’s observation deck (includes a separate fee).
The changing color of the sky brings out the star of the fortress in different ways. The twilight blueness just after sunset and the darkness of night emphasizes the shape differently, so we definitely recommend taking in this beautiful seasonal sight for more than just a few minutes.
December 1, 2019 – February 29, 2020
December to February 9th: 5 pm – 8 pm / February 10th to February 29th: 5:30 pm – 8 pm
Hakodate – Goryokaku Park, Goryokaku Tower
45th Annual Sounkyo Ice Fall Festival
The Sounkyo Ice Fall Festival in Sounkyo Onsen is only about a short 1-hour ride away from Asahikawa and runs every year from the end of January till the end of March.
The centerpiece of the event is an ice sculpture recreation of the nearby Daisetsuzan mountain range.
The inside of the sculpture itself is a massive tunnel of ice. The colorful icicles above form beautiful chandelier-like shapes and create a dreamlike space, unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
The Northern Ice Bar in particular is a huge hit every year for those who are looking for a drink. It’s only open Saturdays, Sundays, and Holidays though, so schedule accordingly!
Why not head over and taste test the famous saké made by local brewer Kamikawa Taisetsu Brewery? Limited varieties such as the Shinagawa and the Takasago are available for tasting, as is limited edition cocoa made from saké kasu.
Every year from the end of January till the end of March
Kamikawa-cho, Sounkyo Onsen Special Event Space
Lake Akan Ice Festival and Winter Fireworks
In the dead of winter, the area on top of the rock-hard frozen Lake Akan is kept warm with a host of hot events.
Don’t let the chilly -20°C temperatures and frosty air keep you away from this incredible celebration where fireworks light the night sky above the frozen lake. The sound of bursting fireworks in the still night air is truly romantic.
For a really unique experience, witness the original culture of Hokkaido by watching a real Ainu ceremony.
And for your kids, why not have them try their hand at cutting ice taken right from Lake Akan, build a snowman or an igloo, or play some mini-games? Don’t worry, adults, if you want to give in to your inner child, you can feel free to take part too.
Every year from the beginning of February until March
Kushiro Area, Lake Akan Onsen, On the Ice Special Event Venue
Shikaribetsu Ice Village
On top of frozen Lake Shikaribetsu is a mysterious village that is said to only appear for 60 days out of the year.
The buildings of this mysterious village are made completely out of ice and snow.
Right in the middle of the magnificent expanse of nature in winter you can take a dip in an outdoor onsen and warm yourself up when you get chilly. When you’re done with your dip, why not get a drink in the ice bar, complete with all-ice glasses. And then take in a concert in the ice igloo stage area.
The harsh cold and the magnificence of nature that surrounds is sure to give you an experience that can’t be had anywhere else.
You might have a bit of trouble leaving the comfortable warmth of this outdoor onsen placed on top of the ice. Look out over the endless white expanse of Lake Shikaribetsu as you sit comfortably in the warm waters.
And at night, you can take in one of the most beautiful night skies you’ll ever see. A visit to the unreal Shikaribetsu Ice Village is sure to give you winter memories that you’ll never forget.
Sat. January 25, 2020 – Sun. March 22
Shikaoi-cho, Shikaribetsu Lake Area
https://kotan.jp/ (Japanese only)