Hokkaido’s best winter activities
Japan’s second largest and northernmost island has plenty of wide-open spaces and unspoilt nature. Hokkaido is an ideal place for a wide range of winter activities. Whether it is winter
sports like skiing and snowboarding, bird watching, attending cultural events, or soaking in a hot spring bath, Hokkaido caters to all tastes. Wintertime in Hokkaido comes with sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfall, but it has enjoyable, unique aspects that other seasons cannot offer.
Snow Festival, Sapporo
It is unbelievable that nearly two centuries ago Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, was home to only seven people! Today, it is Japan’s fifth largest city and famous for many attractions, such as Odori Park, Moerenuma Park, the Historic Village of Hokkaido, Beer Museum, Chocolate Factory, and Sapporo Teine Ski Resort. It is the Sapporo Snow Festival, however, that is one of the largest and most well-known winter events. Held each February, it attracts nearly three million visitors! Located in Odori Park, Sapporo Snow Festival features spectacular snow and ice sculptures stretching across the 1.5 kilometer long park. The giant snow sculptures are illuminated at night, and there are concerts, projection mapping shows, local Hokkaido foods, and much more to enjoy. You can get the best view of the whole event from Sapporo TV Tower.
Soaking up the View, Hakodate
Located in the south of Hokkaido, the city of Hakodate lies in the shadow of the magnificent Mount Hakodate, which boasts one of the best night views in Japan. At an altitude of 334 meters, the ropeway takes you to the top where you can soak up the vista of the city lights twinkling far below. If you want more impressive aerial views of the city, Goryokaku Tower offers a view of the unique design of Fort Goryokaku, the famous 19th century, star-shaped citadel. Another check-in spot is the Red-Brick Warehouse District, a historically significant part of Hakodate, which is now filled with a harbour front shopping arcade, bars and restaurants. There is also a giant Christmas Tree, which is lit up on the 1st December.
Watching Red-Crowned Cranes, Kushiro
The red-crowned crane, or Tancho in Japanese, is a symbol of happiness and long life. Though in fables the bird lives for 1,000 years, unfortunately, the reality is different. The bird was heavily hunted during the 19th and the early 20th century and land development for agriculture resulted in shrinking the bird’s natural habitat until it became nearly extinct, with a population of only 20 thought to survive in the marshes of Kushiro, a port city in eastern Hokkaido. Later attempts to revive the population met with great success. Since 1959, when the number of birds increased to over 150, the population grew to more than 400 in the late 1980s. Nowadays, you can watch this amazing bird from November to March at several sites: the Akan International Crane Center, a popular feeding site, Tsurumidai Plain in Tsurui Village, on the lakeside of Kushiro Shitsugen Wetlands, and Tsurui/Itoh Tancho Sanctuary, one of the best spots to watch the bird closely.
Skiing on the Best Snow, Niseko
A number of long ski runs, endless fields filled with top quality snow, and the flourishing after-ski activities describe Niseko, Japan’s most famous ski resort town. Since the number of foreign winter adventure seekers visiting Niseko has kept growing in recent years, the town is equipped with more and more facilities and offers activities such as ski trails for beginners and off trails for the more adventurous, cross country ski courses, night skiing, snowmobile adventures to explore the untouched surroundings, and so on. There are several resorts to choose from, and you can also ski from one to another if you get a Niseko All Mountain Pass, which allows access to the three largest resorts, located adjacent to each other.
Enjoying Onsen, Noboribetsu
Immersing yourself in a hot spring on a snowy day is an unbeatable experience. Noboribetsu Onsen, one of the three major onsen resorts in Hokkaido, is a place where natural hot springs containing sulphur and other minerals bubble up from the ground. There is a wide range of accommodation to choose from - from traditional ryokan to luxury hotels. Besides the hot springs, there are also sightseeing spots worth visiting, such as Jigokudani, or Hell Valley, which has geothermal vents and volcanic activity and is a main source of the waters of Noboribetsu’s hot springs.
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