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Five Special Experiences in Hokkaido During the Cold and Snowy Winter

Did you know that there are many unique things that you can only experience when it's winter in Hokkaido - the land covered in snow? Below are five events and spots that you should check out.

1. Sounkyo Onsen's Hyoubaku Festival

The Hyoubaku Festival (Ice Waterfall Festival) is a winter festival that usually takes place around late January to late March. You’ll be able to view sights like icicles formed by blowing water and leaving it for a long time, fantastical ice tunnels, lives on stages, and so on. There will be stalls selling things like hot drinks, too. Some of the must-see events are the night illuminations and the winter night sky lit up with colorful, vivid fireworks. The whole area will be decorated with mystical lights.

Schedule for 2018: January 25 (Thu) – March 18 (Sun), 2018

1. Sounkyo Onsen's Hyoubaku Festival

Sounkyo Onsen, Kamikawa-cho, Kamikawa-gun, Hokkaido

2. SHIKARIBETSUKO-KOTAN

Shikaribetsu-ko (Lake Shikaribetsu) – the lake with the highest elevation of all the lakes in Hokkaido – completely freezes over during the coldest time of winter. SHIKARIBETSUKO-KOTAN refers to a mysterious village that only appears on top of that ice for a mere 60 days during the winter. Several events usually take place in that village from late January – late March. For example, at the Ice Bar – made from naturally formed ice and snow – you can enjoy cocktails from glasses carved from ice. You can also stay at lodges made with ice, or even experience the outdoor ice bath, which you can only find here! You’ll be able to enjoy the onsen (hot springs) while gazing at the snowy landscape.

Schedule for 2018: January 27 (Sat) – March 21 (Wed), 2018

2. SHIKARIBETSUKO-KOTAN

Mubanchi, Kita Urimaku, Shikaoi-cho, Kato-gun, Hokkaido

3. Asahiyama Zoo's The Penguin Walk

Asahiyama Zoo is Japan’s northernmost zoo. At this extremely popular spot, they host the much-loved “The Penguin Walk” event around late December – mid-March (only when there’s snow in the winter) every year. Based on the habits of King Penguins heading to the sea in groups to catch food, the zoo tries to combat the penguins’ lack of exercise in the winter through this event. You’ll be able to see their adorable forms up close!

Schedule for 2018: Undecided
Entrance Fee:
Adults (high school students and above): 820 JPY
Children (junior high school students and below): Free

3. Asahiyama Zoo's The Penguin Walk

Kuranuma, Higashi Asahikawa-cho, Asahikawa-shi, Hokkaido

4. Winter in Biei

Many people visit Biei throughout the year. The beautiful sight of its gentle rolling hills that go on forever is popular, but this is actually an area that you should also visit during the winter, which is when it turns into a snowy wonderland. When winter comes, the contrasting blue from the pond and white from the snow interweave, taking its mystique one step further. There will be light-ups at night, too, ensuring that you get to come across magical scenes that almost seem like they’re from a dream.

Schedule for the Illumination Event at Blue Pond: November 1 (Wed), 2017 – March 31 (Sat), 2018

4. Winter in Biei

Shirogane, Biei-cho, Kamikawa-gun, Hokkaido

5. Go See the Drift Ice

Every year during mid-winter, chunks of white ice (“ryuhyo” in Japanese) from Siberia drift along bodies of water like the Sea of Okhotsk, which is on the eastern side of Hokkaido. You’ll be able to gaze upon this phenomenon around late January – early March every year. You can enjoy two types of activities during this time: a cruise tour where you can view the drift ice on-board famous sightseeing icebreakers like the Garinko ice-breaker, and walking tours where you embark on expeditions on top of the drift ice!

Schedule for 2018: January 10 (Wed) - end of March
Example of Fees for the Garinko ice-breaker (reservation needed):
Adults: 3,000 JPY
Children: 1,500 JPY
*You’ll be able to view the drift ice!

5. Go See the Drift Ice

1 Kaiyo Koen, Monbetsu-shi, Hokkaido

Winter in Hokkaido is extremely cold, so make sure to properly prepare for it!

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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