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16 Hokkaido winter festivals in 2018: a rundown!

There are a whole bunch of reasons to visit Hokkaido in the winter: the skiing, snowboarding, snow activities, hot springs… to name more than a few.

But Hokkaido is also renowned for it’s winter festivals, and A LOT of the enquiries and bookings we have at Social Bus and our guesthouses at this time of year are asking about the best dates and times to come and see the famous and not-so-famous events that are due to take place over the region in the next few months.

Dates vary, and depending on what you are wanting to see and do then this can really impact your travel plans, accommodation budget and how early you need to reserve transport.

I’m including a rundown of 16 Hokkaido winter events and their 2018 dates. These are events that I’ve either been to, or want to visit this next season. Please keep in mind that these are just my personal views, and some of my thoughts about ease of access. I know that I can’t be completely comprehensive in one blog post, so please also do your own research, or drop me an email if you’d like!

One thing I did realise over the process of writing this, is that once you get past the more mainstream events, you really have to search in Japanese to find decent information and dates. There’s not a lot of English information out there!

Hopefully this will at least help to get you started on your adventures!

1. Sapporo Snow Festival, Odori Park, Sapporo
February 5-12, 2018
Access: Easy
Sapporo Snow Festival is by far the most famous of all the events going on in Hokkaido. There are some stunning, breathtaking (and also some slightly interesting) statues each year, made by local and international designers. The whole Odori Park site is open all day, but illuminated at night when it’s particularly stunning. There are also a bunch of competitions, activities, food vendors and things to keep you warm and entertained as you walk around.
Word of warning though – over this particular week, Sapporo is PACKED and accommodation is EXPENSIVE. You also, ironically, won’t actually see many locals out, as they don’t tend to attend.

2. Otaru Snow Light Path Festival, Otaru
February 9-18, 2018
Access: Easy
We really love Otaru city. It’s my husband’s hometown; a small and beautiful place, full with charm, a cute canal, great seafood and wonderful deserts.
The Snow Light Path sees the city lit up with smaller snow candles and sculptures between 5pm and 9pm. The main sites are along the canal side, and along the old Temiyasen railway line, so it’s perfect for an afternoon trip, dinner and an evening at the festival.
Otaru is also very easy access from Sapporo – the trains run regularly and take about 45 minutes. It’s also not too expensive to hire one of our buses for the evening!

3. Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival, Chitose
January 26 – February 18, 2018
Access: A bit tricky!
I really recommend this event for a different kind of snow festival experience, not too far out of Sapporo. If you are looking to hire a bus, I also recommend considering it for this this one. Public transport to Lake Shikotsu is possible, but if you are wanting to stay into the evening, it can make it a lot easier and relaxing to have your own vehicle ready and waiting.
Ice sculptures here are more natural, and the evening sees great walls of ice and tunnels of frozen lake water illuminated. It’s pretty magical! There are also fireworks every evening from 6:30pm which are worth sticking around for. Locally, you can also buy some hot takeout food and drinks – really recommended, as it gets really, really cold!! I’m a fan of Hokkaido’s battered and deep-fried potato!

4. Asahikawa Winter Festival, Asahikawa
February 7-12, 2018
Access: Okay
Asahikawa Winter Festival isn’t as big as Sapporo, but it still boasts an array of sculptures and local things to do. Asahikawa is about 80 minutes on the train from Sapporo, so it is possible to combine both in one week!
I also recommend Asahikawa for the other sightseeing that you can do it the area! The zoo is huge, and pretty impressive throughout the winter (pengiun walk anyone?)You are also not so far from Biei and the illuminated blue pond. If you are wanting to explore locally, public transport does get a little more difficult. We have lots of trips to Asahikawa and Biei this coming winter though, so feel free to contact us!

5. Onuma Hakodate Snow & Ice Festival, Hakodate
February 3-4, 2018
Access: Okay
Hakodate is the final stop of the Shikansen before heading on to Sapporo by local train, so if you are coming through, it’s worth checking out this local festival.
There’s a 20 metre long ice slide, along with lots of ice sculptures and local entertainment.
From Hakodate station, Onuma Koen Station is about 30 minutes, so it is a little out of the way – but you can return in time to check out some of the local food, fireworks and illuminations in Hakodate city and be set for a great day! (Hakodate illuminations and fireworks will be on until late February!)

6. Showa Shinzan Snowball Fight, Mount Showa Shinzan
February 24-25, 2018
Access: A little tricky!
This is basically a huge snowball fight between 100 international teams. Not to be mistaken for the kind of backyard snowball fights you might be used to, this event is serious business, and definitely worth watching if you get the chance.
Around the competition dates there are also snowball experience activities. If you and your family are wanting to go, public transport is a bit tricky – but we can help you out!!

snowball tourament
Photo Credit: http://yukigassen.ca/
Photo Credit: http://yukigassen.ca

7. Sounkyo Ice Fall Festival, Kamikawa
January 25 – March 18, 2018
Access: A little tricky!
A mixture of natural, illuminated ice sculptures, local events and fireworks!
This is a bit of a trek out into Hokkaido, but a really stunning event! It’s also on for a longer time period that most festivals, so you can plan this part of your journey onto the beginning or end of your trip if you want to. Really recommended!

Photo Credit: http://japan-attractions.jp/illumination/sounkyo-hot-springs-ice-fall-festival/
Photo Credit: japan-attractions.jp

8. Tokachi River Swan Festival Sairinka, Otofuke, Tokachi
January 27 – February 25, 2018
Access: A bit tricky!
This is another event that I really recommend, but definitely think it’s worth considering hiring a bus for. Tokachi is an amazing area of Hokkaido, and the food and hot springs are also A-M-azing. But, it can be a bit tricky to navigate your way around and there’s not a lot of English support.
The River Swan Festival celebrates the arrival of migratory swans to Tokachi River with a whole array of beautiful illuminations. There are also local activities and events going on throughout the festival period.

tokachi winter
Photo Credit: http://visit-tokachi.jp/en_activity/en_evt1927
Photo Credit: visit-tokachi.jp

9. Tomamu Ice Village, Tomamu
December 10 – mid-March, 2018
Access: Easy
This is event is already in full swing, and will be around for the next couple of months at least. There are bunch of houses and buildings created out of ice, and an ice bar on site. It’s beautiful to see and a great experience.
You can also travel quite easily by public transport, and there’s a free shuttle bus from Tomamu station.

10. Obihiro Ice Festival, Obihiro
February 2-4, 2018
Access: Okay
Taking place in Midorigaoka Park, Obihiro Ice Festival sees many sculptures and local events taking place over the weekend. If you are interested in the Tokachi Festival then we recommend combining these trips if you can. Obihiro is about 150 minutes on the train from Sapporo, but if there are a group of you, your own Tokachi and Obihiro tour is definitely worth considering for both ease of transport and cost.

11. Lake Shikaribetsu Ice Kotan, Kato
January 27 – March 21, 2018
Access: A little tricky!
Kotan means village in Hokkaido’s indigenous Ainu language, and this place is literally that big! A variety of amazing ice activities, ice buildings, and ice bar and things to do! There’s even an outdoor ice onsen!
Again, it’s worth adding this to your itinerary if you are interested in Tokachi or Obihiro area as its in the general area and easy to combine.

Photo Credit: http://visit-tokachi.jp/en_activity/en_evt1902
Photo Credit: visit-tokachi.jp

12. Abashiri Okhotsk Drift Ice Festival, Abashiri
February 10-12, 2018
Access: Okay (but far East!)
Abashiri is famous for its drift ice, but for these 3 days there are also a range of ice sculptures displayed in the seaside venue! If you are planning an East Hokkaido trip, this is one to schedule in.

13. Shiretoko Drift Ice Festival, Shiretoko
January 30 – February 28, 2018
Access: Okay (but far East!)
Again, if you are heading into deep Hokkaido to see the famous drift ice, it is worth combining some events (and maybe hiring a bus or transport for ease of access!) This is a new festival, so I haven’t been, but this area is on my wishlist and the event combines nature, outdoor experiences and spectacular views! Sounds amazing.

14. Lake Akan Ice Festival, Kushiro
February 3 – March 4, 2018
Access: A little tricky!
Various attractions, nightly fireworks, and below freezing temperatures. This is Hokkaido nature in an amazing display. Again, its far East, towards Kushiro city, so this is definitely one to combine with a longer road trip and make the most of the local area at the same time.

lake achan
Image credit: http://ja.kushiro-lakeakan.com/things_to_do/1855/
Photo Credit: ja.kushiro-lakeakan.com

15. Kawayu Diamond Dust, Kawayu
February 2-8, 2018
Access: A little tricky!
This has to be seen in person really. Tiny ice crystals are made in the air when the cold temperatures meet the heat of the onsen river, and this is called ‘diamond dust’. Local illuminations and stunning nature make Kawayu well worth a visit though!
Seriously, let’s go on an Eastern-Hokkaido adventure together this winter! There’s so much to see and do!

diamond dust
Image credit: http://diamond.teshikaga.asia/
Photo Credit: http://diamond.teshikaga.asia/

16. Noboribetsu Hot Spring Festival, Noboribetsu
February 3-4, 2018
Access: Easy
Maybe one of the most unusual festivals, and a little different, but Noboribetsu Hot Spring Festival is worth a mention. Here two teams battle it out in hot springs, splashing water back and forth, and the colour of the winning team is said to impact the temperature of the onsen over the next year. Teams are wearing loincloths and Japanese headbands, and if you’re a fan of Japanese onsen, it might be worth soaking up the local atmosphere!

Okay. That’s my rundown! Have fun in Hokkaido this winter, and make sure to get in touch if you need any additional transport help! Hope we can adventure with you.

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