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Visiting Hokkaido, Japan, In Winter


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Elyssa Hsu



Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, is known for its stunning landscapes, rich culture, and vibrant traditions. While visiting Hokkaido is a splendid experience throughout the year, it becomes truly magical during the winter season. With its powdery snowfalls, icy lakes, and cozy hot springs, Hokkaido offers a winter wonderland that attracts travelers from all around the world.


Winter in Hokkaido is a magical time when the entire region transforms into a picturesque scene straight out of a fairytale. The average temperature in Hokkaido during winter ranges from -6°C to -12°C (21°F to 10°F), creating the perfect conditions for winter activities and adventures.


From skiing and snowboarding on world-class slopes to soaking in hot springs and indulging in delectable cuisine, there’s an array of experiences to enjoy during your winter visit to Hokkaido. Whether you’re a nature lover, an adventure seeker, or a food enthusiast, Hokkaido offers something for everyone.


In this article, we’ll explore the wonders of visiting Hokkaido during winter. We’ll cover the weather conditions, recommended winter activities, best places to visit, exciting festivals and events, traditional cuisine to try, and essential travel tips. So, get ready to bundle up, embrace the chilly temperatures, and embark on an unforgettable winter journey in Hokkaido, Japan.


Weather in Hokkaido during winter

When planning a trip to Hokkaido during winter, it’s essential to be prepared for the cold and snowy weather conditions. The winter season in Hokkaido typically lasts from December to February, with temperatures dropping well below freezing.


During this time, Hokkaido experiences heavy snowfall, creating a magical winter landscape. The region is famous for its dry, fluffy snow, which makes it a haven for winter sports enthusiasts. The average snowfall in Hokkaido can range from several centimeters to several meters, depending on the area.


The temperatures in Hokkaido during winter can vary, but it’s not uncommon for them to hover around -6°C to -12°C (21°F to 10°F). It’s crucial to dress in layers and wear appropriate winter clothing, including thermal undergarments, sweaters, winter coats, waterproof boots, hats, gloves, and scarves, to stay warm and protected from the cold temperatures.


One of the advantages of visiting Hokkaido during winter is that the clear, crisp air allows for incredible visibility and breathtaking scenery. The snow-covered landscapes, frozen lakes, and hilly terrains create a serene and picturesque backdrop for your winter adventures.


It’s worth noting that while Hokkaido offers enchanting winter landscapes, the cold weather can sometimes impact travel plans. Flights and transportation services may be affected by snowstorms or icy conditions. It’s advisable to monitor weather reports and stay updated with any travel advisories or alerts.


Despite the cold temperatures, the unique beauty of winter in Hokkaido is unmatched. Whether you’re exploring the vibrant city of Sapporo, trekking through national parks, or soaking in an outdoor hot spring surrounded by snow, the winter weather in Hokkaido adds an extra layer of charm and adventure to your trip.


Recommended Winter Activities in Hokkaido

Hokkaido offers a plethora of exciting winter activities that cater to different interests and adrenaline levels. Here are some highly recommended activities to make the most of your winter visit to Hokkaido:

  1. Skiing and Snowboarding: Hokkaido boasts world-class ski resorts known for their powdery snow and excellent slopes. Resorts such as Niseko, Rusutsu, and Furano offer a range of runs suitable for beginners to advanced skiers and snowboarders. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a first-timer, hitting the slopes in Hokkaido is an exhilarating experience.
  2. Snowshoeing and Cross-Country Skiing: For those looking for a slower-paced winter activity, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are perfect choices. Explore the untouched winter landscapes, trek through snowy forests, and enjoy the tranquility of Hokkaido’s backcountry. Places like Shikotsu-Toya National Park and Daisetsuzan National Park offer breathtaking trails for these activities.
  3. Dog Sledding: Embark on a thrilling adventure with a dog sledding experience. Feel the rush of gliding across the snow-covered terrain while being pulled by a team of energetic huskies. This unique activity allows you to embrace Hokkaido’s winter wilderness in an unforgettable way.
  4. Ice Fishing: Hokkaido’s frozen lakes provide the perfect setting for ice fishing enthusiasts. Drop your line through a hole in the ice and try your luck at catching fish such as smelt or trout. Join a guided tour to learn techniques and enjoy the tranquility of ice fishing in Hokkaido.
  5. Snowmobiling: Get your adrenaline pumping with a snowmobiling adventure through Hokkaido’s snowy landscapes. Race across frozen lakes, zip through snowy trails, and enjoy the exhilaration of this high-speed winter activity.
  6. Hot Springs (Onsen) Soaking: After a day of outdoor adventures, there’s nothing more relaxing than dipping into a steaming hot spring (onsen). Hokkaido is dotted with numerous hot springs, both indoor and outdoor, where you can unwind and soothe your muscles amidst a snowy backdrop. Places like Noboribetsu and Jozankei are renowned for their onsen experiences.

These are just a few of the many winter activities Hokkaido has to offer. Each activity provides a unique opportunity to embrace the beauty of the winter season and create lasting memories of your visit to this enchanting island.


Best Places to Visit in Hokkaido during Winter

Hokkaido is a treasure trove of stunning winter destinations that showcase the region’s natural beauty and cultural charm. Here are some of the best places to visit in Hokkaido during the winter season:

  1. Sapporo: The capital city of Hokkaido, Sapporo, comes alive during winter with its famous Sapporo Snow Festival. Admire the magnificent snow and ice sculptures, enjoy winter sports at the Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort, and indulge in Hokkaido’s delectable food at the local street food stalls and restaurants.
  2. Niseko: Located in the western part of Hokkaido, Niseko is renowned for its world-class ski resorts and breathtaking landscapes. Enjoy unparalleled powder snow, take in stunning views of Mount Yotei, and unwind in luxurious hot springs after a day on the slopes.
  3. Otaru: This charming port city is known for its beautifully preserved canal area and nostalgic atmosphere. During winter, the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival illuminates the streets with enchanting snow lanterns, creating a magical ambiance. Explore the local shops, glass workshops, and sample the famous Otaru sushi.
  4. Furano: Famous for its picturesque lavender fields in the summer, Furano transforms into a winter wonderland during the colder months. Enjoy skiing or snowboarding at the Furano Ski Resort, visit the Furano Cheese Factory, and take a walk in the snowy landscapes surrounding the city.
  5. Lake Shikotsu: As one of Hokkaido’s deepest and clearest lakes, Lake Shikotsu becomes a beautiful sight in winter when it freezes over. Take a walk on the frozen lake, enjoy ice fishing, or relax in a hot spring overlooking the serene frozen scenery.
  6. Abashiri: Located in Eastern Hokkaido, Abashiri is known for its drift ice phenomenon during winter. Embark on a cruise and witness the extraordinary sight of floating ice on the Sea of Okhotsk. Visit the Okhotsk Ryuhyo Museum to learn more about the region’s unique winter environment.
  7. Asahikawa: Known for its Asahiyama Zoo and famous for its snow festival, Asahikawa offers a range of winter activities. Explore the beautifully lit ice sculptures at the Asahikawa Winter Festival and experience the thrill of snow activities at Asahikawa Kamui Ski Links.

These are just a few examples of the many incredible destinations Hokkaido has to offer during winter. Each place presents its own unique charm and experiences, making a winter visit to Hokkaido an unforgettable journey.


Winter Festivals and Events in Hokkaido

Hokkaido is renowned for its vibrant and festive winter celebrations that showcase the region’s cultural heritage and showcase the beauty of the season. Here are some of the must-visit winter festivals and events in Hokkaido:

  1. Sapporo Snow Festival: Held annually in Sapporo, the Sapporo Snow Festival is one of Hokkaido’s most famous winter events. The festival features stunning snow and ice sculptures of various sizes, intricate designs, and even gigantic snow slides. Be amazed by the intricate artistry and enjoy fabulous light displays during the evening.
  2. Otaru Snow Light Path Festival: The Otaru Snow Light Path Festival transforms the canal town of Otaru into a magical winter wonderland. Thousands of snow lanterns line the streets and canal, creating a breathtakingly romantic atmosphere. Visitors can stroll along the illuminated path and admire the mesmerizing glow of the lanterns.
  3. Asahikawa Winter Festival: The Asahikawa Winter Festival is another prominent event in Hokkaido, attracting visitors with its incredible ice sculptures and snow activities. The festival features massive ice sculptures intricately carved by local artists, and visitors can enjoy snow slides, snow rafting, and other thrilling snow activities.
  4. Sounkyo Ice Fall Festival: Located in Kamikawa, the Sounkyo Ice Fall Festival is known for its towering ice waterfalls that are illuminated at night. The festival offers various activities such as ice climbing, ice sculptures, and fireworks, providing a unique winter experience surrounded by stunning frozen beauty.
  5. Hakodate Christmas Fantasy: Hakodate, a historic port city, celebrates the holiday season with its Hakodate Christmas Fantasy event. The city is beautifully adorned with Christmas lights and decorations, creating a festive and magical atmosphere. Visitors can enjoy Christmas markets, ice skating, and special illuminations throughout the city.
  6. Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival) in Niseko: Niseko hosts its own Yuki Matsuri, or Snow Festival, featuring snow statues and performances by local artists. The festival highlights the region’s natural beauty and winter culture, creating a delightful and immersive experience for visitors.

These winter festivals and events in Hokkaido offer a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the region’s winter traditions, witness incredible artistry, and create unforgettable memories of your visit.


Traditional Japanese Cuisine to Try in Hokkaido

Hokkaido is not only blessed with beautiful landscapes but also renowned for its delicious and unique culinary offerings. Here are some traditional Japanese dishes that you must try during your winter visit to Hokkaido:

  1. Soup Curry: A specialty of Hokkaido, soup curry is a hearty and flavorsome dish that combines the flavors of Japanese curry with a light, soup-like broth. It features a variety of vegetables, tender meat, and fragrant spices. The warm and comforting soup curry is perfect for cold winter days.
  2. Genghis Khan: Genghis Khan is a beloved Hokkaido-style barbecue dish. Thinly sliced lamb or mutton is grilled on a dome-shaped skillet along with vegetables. The meat is usually marinated in a special sauce, adding incredible flavors to the dish. Enjoy Genghis Khan at local restaurants and savor the unique taste of Hokkaido.
  3. Seafood: Hokkaido is known for its abundance of fresh seafood. Indulge in a wide array of delicacies such as melt-in-your-mouth sashimi, succulent crab, scallops, and sea urchin. Whether you visit a seafood market, a local restaurant, or try a seafood hot pot known as “kaisen nabe,” you’ll be treated to the freshest seafood delights.
  4. Ramen: Hokkaido offers its own distinct style of ramen, characterized by rich and creamy miso-based broth, chewy noodles, and various toppings such as roasted pork, corn, and butter. Warm yourself up with a bowl of Hokkaido-style ramen during the chilly winter months.
  5. Jingisukan: Jingisukan is a popular Hokkaido dish inspired by Mongolian cuisine. It involves grilling thinly sliced lamb or mutton along with vegetables on a hot plate. The tender and flavorful meat is often dipped in a unique sauce for added taste. Try Jingisukan at specialty restaurants and experience this cultural fusion.
  6. Hokkaido Milk and Dairy Products: Hokkaido is known for its high-quality milk and dairy products. Indulge in creamy soft-serve ice cream, taste the richness of Hokkaido cheese, and savor the smoothness of Hokkaido butter. The distinct flavor and quality of Hokkaido’s dairy products make them a must-try during your visit.

These traditional Japanese dishes and Hokkaido specialties offer a delightful culinary experience, allowing you to savor the unique flavors of the region and appreciate the rich gastronomic heritage of Japan.


Tips for Traveling to Hokkaido in Winter

Traveling to Hokkaido during winter can be an incredible experience, but it’s important to be well-prepared for the unique challenges and conditions. Here are some tips to keep in mind when planning your winter trip to Hokkaido:

  1. Dress in layers: Hokkaido’s winter temperatures can be frigid, so make sure to dress in layers to stay warm. Opt for thermal undergarments, sweaters, winter coats, waterproof boots, hats, gloves, and scarves. Don’t forget to wear extra-warm socks to protect your feet from the cold.
  2. Prepare for snow activities: If you plan to engage in snow activities like skiing or snowboarding, make sure to bring appropriate gear such as ski jackets, pants, goggles, helmets, and gloves. If you’re not bringing your own equipment, you can rent them from ski resorts or local shops.
  3. Check weather conditions: Keep an eye on weather forecasts and be prepared for potential flight delays or changes in transport schedules due to heavy snowfall or icy conditions. Allow extra time for your travels and have a contingency plan in case of any disruptions.
  4. Stay hydrated: Despite the cold weather, it’s essential to stay hydrated. The dry winter air can lead to dehydration, so make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Consider carrying a refillable water bottle to ensure you have access to water wherever you go.
  5. Explore winter festivals: Take advantage of the vibrant winter festivals and events happening in Hokkaido during your visit. Research the dates and locations of festivals like the Sapporo Snow Festival or the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival and plan your itinerary accordingly. These festivals offer a unique glimpse into Hokkaido’s winter culture.
  6. Try local hot springs: Hokkaido is famous for its natural hot springs, known as onsens. After a day in the cold, indulge in a relaxing soak in the warm waters of a local onsen. Check for onsen etiquette, such as bathing customs and rules, to ensure a respectful and enjoyable experience.
  7. Sample Hokkaido’s cuisine: Hokkaido is a culinary paradise, so don’t miss the opportunity to try traditional dishes and local specialties. Explore the local markets, street food stalls, and restaurants to savor Hokkaido’s renowned seafood, ramen, soup curry, and dairy products.
  8. Plan transportation in advance: Hokkaido’s winter weather can sometimes affect transportation services. Plan your travel routes and book train or bus tickets in advance. Consider purchasing a Japan Rail Pass if you plan to travel extensively within the region.

By following these tips, you’ll be well-prepared to embrace the beauty and excitement of Hokkaido’s winter season and make the most of your trip.



A winter visit to Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, is an experience that combines natural beauty, exhilarating activities, delicious cuisine, and vibrant festivals. From the snowy landscapes and world-class ski resorts to the enchanting winter festivals and mouthwatering traditional cuisine, Hokkaido offers a magical winter wonderland for travelers to explore.


When traveling to Hokkaido in winter, it’s important to come prepared for the cold temperatures and snowy conditions. Dressing in layers, staying hydrated, and being aware of weather conditions are essential for a comfortable and enjoyable trip. Additionally, taking advantage of winter festivals, trying local hot springs, and indulging in Hokkaido’s culinary delights are all must-do experiences.


Whether you choose to ski down powdery slopes, immerse yourself in the colorful atmosphere of winter festivals, or savor the rich flavors of Hokkaido’s cuisine, a winter visit to Hokkaido promises an unforgettable journey filled with adventure and cultural immersion.


So bundle up, embark on your winter adventure, and let Hokkaido’s stunning landscapes and warm hospitality captivate your senses. Create memories that will last a lifetime and discover why Hokkaido is a dream destination for winter travel.