5 Fun Winter Festivals in Hokkaido
Winter in Hokkaido offers a great deal more than skiing and snowboarding, including the famous festivals around the island. In Japan, festivals are a popular way to celebrate seasons, pray for good harvests or just celebrate in a local town or city.
In winter most of these festivals are centred around ice and snow but offer a great way for the whole family to enjoy them. Here are some options that you could add to your next winter trip in Hokkaido.
Shikotsu Ice Festival is being held from 24th Jan 2020 until February 16th 2020 in Shikotsu-Toya hot spring area on the lake. The entire area is transformed into a frozen winter wonderland. For the kids (and grown-up kids) there are slippery slides made from ice, an ice skating space and walkways with views over the ice sculptures.
We recommend wearing lots of warm clothing and consider ski pants to make it easier to use the ice slide. There are warm buildings to enjoy a hot chocolate inside if you need a break from the cold. After the sun sets the lights shine on the ice sculptures and buildings and the colours are so vibrant. You’ll find on weekends they also have fireworks each evening to make it a little more special.
In the largest city in Hokkaido, you will find the famous Sapporo Snow Festival every February. With the biggest part of the festival set up in Odori Park in Sapporo from 4th – 10th of February 2020.
Foodies must make a visit to this festival with what feels like endless stalls with all the best festival food and local meals cooked up and served in sections of Odori Park. The food keeps us coming back just as much as the sculptures. You can explore the multi-story snow sculptures, ice skate on the outdoor rink, or take a trip up to Sapporo TV tower for amazing views of the festival.
Spending a day at the Sapporo Snow Festival exploring and eating is one of our favourite day trips from Niseko in winter.
Otaru is a beautiful seaside town that was an important shipping port in the early 20th century. The town is known for amazing seafood, beautiful canals, sake distilleries and glassware.
In early-mid February you can visit the Otaru Light Path 小樽雪あかりの路 where the canal and surrounding streets are filled with snow and ice lanterns filled with small candles. Sometimes you can even find a slippery slide made from snow to slide down perfect for kids (and adults).
We suggest arriving in town for a delicious seafood dinner and then strolling around the canals in the dark to enjoy the lanterns. The old warehouses against the canal are often lit up as well making it perfect for easy photos. Most people would find spending between 45minutes and 1.5 hours enough to explore the area.
The ice festival in Sounkyo feels like you’re walking around a magical wonderland. With around 30 different ice structures there is something for everyone. The town is located in the middle of a valley with high cliffs on either side and Ishikarigawa, Hokkaido’s longest river running through it.
Sounkyo is the perfect place for an ice festival with a valley location creating cold bitter weather… perfect for frozen waterfalls, white dusted cliffs and amazing ice sculptures.
Make the most of this festival as it starts towards the end of January and runs until mid-March. With endless amazing onsen hotels in the area, this resort town is a great part of any Hokkaido winter trip. We recommend spending some of the evenings at the festival when the lights turn on and the ice structures and sculptures are coloured with the 7 colours of the rainbow.
The local snow festival in Kutchan is always a great option if you’re staying in Niseko. Yuki means snow in Japanese, is the theme of the festival with snow tubing, food stalls, water glide competition all part of the fun.
The festival is usually on the 3rd weekend of February and is a fun family event on the local Asahigaoka ski hill in Kutchan. This is the perfect time to get a photo with the local mascot Jagata-Kun the potato boy, as this town is known for its potato farming in summer.
Pure Hokkaido offers guided day tours to visit some of the festivals within a few hours of Niseko. If you would like to book a Hokkaido experience for your family or friends please get in touch with us for more info.