12 Month Journey in Hokkaido (January – December)

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Hokkaido Train
Source: bryan…

Remote, untamed Hokkaido could be viewed as one of Japan’s truly remote natural wonders. Famous the world over for its world class ski resorts, Hokkaido is a joy to visit all year long. Each month brings something new to the ever-changing environment here and you’ll have plenty to see and do no matter what season you choose to visit.

This article will take a look at every month in Hokkaido so you can see some of the things on offer in the particular month you’d like to visit.

January

niseko snowboarding
Source: MIKI Yoshihito

Ski and snowboard season is in full swing this month. Travelers the world over will head to this Northern mecca to ride on some of the freshest powder any resort has to offer. First-timers to Hokkaido’s resorts will return home with tall tales of the freshest, fluffiest powder they’ve ever ridden on in their lives. The one-time Winter Olympics host has a number of resorts you can choose from. But the largest and most famous of them all is the legendary Niseko. The area is actually comprised of six different resorts. The largest four (Annupuri, Higashiyama, Hirafu, and Hanazono) are interconnected and can be skiied on with one pass.

The resort also boasts opportunities for some back-country skiing, something pretty much unheard of in any other resort in Japan. While the open season tends to vary due to weather conditions, most resorts are usually open from late November to early May with peak season between December and March.

teine ski resort
Source: Perfect Zero

Besides Niseko, Furano resort is very well-known for its long and fast trails crisscrossing two different peaks. The resort also offers a family snowland for parents traveling with kids. Closer to Sapporo, Teine Ski Resort offers a great mid-sized option only 40 minutes outside the city.

February

sapporo snow festival
Source: hirotomo t

Ski season continues this month but something else is about to steal the show. Behold the biggest event of the season in the city of Sapporo: the annual Sapporo Snow Festival. This icy wonderland is a week-long event held every February and it showcases the most majestic, wondrous snow sculptures one can possibly imagine. Professional sculptures from all over the world will come here to showcase their very best feats of ice and snow manipulation. The celebration is held in three different locations,  Odori Park, Susukino, and Tsudome, though the main venue is Odori Park itself. The tradition started in the 1950’s when schoolchildren began showcasing snow sculptures in Odori Park. It’s since grown in numbers to 2 million visitors per year.

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otaru winter
Source: Hiroaki Kaneko

At the same time as Sapporo’s snow festival, the nearby city of Otaru will hold the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival where the city becomes decorated in lights and small snow statues for ten days. There are two main viewing areas, Unga Kaijo area is located near the town’s Otaru Canal. The second location is the Temiyasen Kaijo area, located between the canal and the train station. The fact that it coincides with the Sapporo Snow Festival makes it a perfect chance to see two winter festivals together.

March

red crowned cranes hokkaido
Source: Alastair Rae

Temperatures are slowly rising and more roads are becoming accessible this month. Though many roads will still be inaccessible for the winter, more roads – and their corresponding destinations – are beginning to open up. Why not take this time to visit other parts of the island that look absolutely stunning in the wintertime?

Skip the zoo and head straight into the wildlife already around you. In Eastern Hokkaido near the city of Kushiro, you’ll find red-crested white cranes on 45,000 acres of boreal marsh. Most cranes of Japan congregate here during the winter season. Or you may find a few Whooper Swans at Kussharo Lake.

abashiri aurora cruise
Source: Hajime NAKANO

For a truly otherworldly experience, get on board the Aurora Drift Icebreaker Cruise. From Abashiri, the cruise will sail inside the Sea of Okhotsk where it will cut through drifting sea ice. Along the way, check out white-tailed sea eagles and seals from the ship.

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April

lake akan
Source: TravelingOtter

Spring is now right around the corner. As the snow recedes in most places, colorful blooms bashfully start to dot the landscape. Lake Akan in Eastern Hokkaido becomes a popular tourist destination starting in April and going through October. By now, the lake has thawed and the area offers gorgeous hiking options for the outdoorsy types.

ainu ceremonial dance
Source: National Museum of Denmark

The lake is also famous for hosting one of the largest Ainu kotan settlements. Ainu Kotan is a small Ainu village in Akankohan. Along with shops that display handicrafts and souvenirs, you can watch a traditional Ainu dance performance which takes place 6 times a day between April and October. In the rest of the year, the performance takes place once daily. Learn about this ancient indigenous culture of Hokkaido at the nearby exhibit which houses artifacts and historical information.

Information

  • Name: Akan Ainu Kotan
  • Address: Yubinbango0 85-0467, Kushiro Akan-cho, Hokkaido Akankoonsen 4-7-84
  • Website: http://www.akanainu.jp/

May

hokkaido cherry blossoms
Source: MIKI Yoshihito

Snow is beginning to thaw in most parts of Hokkaido and roads are almost completely open. And most importantly, sakura season is finally here! Hokkaido being the Northernmost island of Japan, the cherry blossoms will bloom last here of all the other locations. But once they come, the whole landscape will completely transform before your eyes. Blooming begins at the Southern tip of Hokkaido in early May and will progress slowly North over the course of the month. Remember that once the blooms begin, you’ll only have a week to get a glimpse of these temporal beauties.

hokkaido shrine sakura
Source: MIKI Yoshihito

In the city of Sapporo, head to Maruyama Park and Hokkaido Shrine if you want to check out the city’s most popular viewing sight. The park has a lot of open space for you and your friends to hold cherry blossom viewing parties, or hanamis. Other great viewing locations include Odori Park and Moerenuma Park.

Information

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Information

  • Place: Moerenuma Park
  • Address: 1-1 Moerenumakoen, Higashi Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido Prefecture
  • Tel: 01-1790-1231
  • Website: http://moerenumapark.jp/

Goryokaku Park
Source: Yuki Shimazu

Outside Sapporo, check out Matsumae Park in Matsumae. It’s the only place in Hokkaido featuring a Japanese castle. Or skip right over to Hakodate and check out Goryokaku (Star-shaped Fort). The Goryokaku Tower in the center of Hakodate City offers a lovely view down onto the fort.

June

Kamiyubetsu
Source: ほくなん

Flowers are in full bloom this month. And while the rest of Japan is sitting under stormy clouds for the onset of rainy season, Hokkaido will remain dry and temperate as you get to see the most beautiful blossoms on the longest days of the year.

To see some of the most gorgeous tulips on the island, head to the Kamiyubetsu Tulip Fair an hour and a half drive from the Memanbetsu Airport in the Okhotsk area. The area comes alive with flowers anytime between late May to early June. You can enjoy the area on foot or by taking a an electric bus on a 12 minute tour of the area.

yosakoi soran festival
Source: Yuki Shimazu

Then enjoy two festivals almost back-to-back in Sapporo. June 8th-12th, head to the YOSAKOI Soran Festival in Odori Park for high-energy dancing and parading into the night. Professional dancers perform on stage while approximately 200 million visitors join in on the streets. Give yourself a couple days of rest before joining the Hokkaido Shrine Festival from June 14th-16th. On the final day, a line of more than a thousand people in colorful Heian period costumes parade around the city, along with four mikoshi portable shrines and eight floats. The parade begins at Hokkaido Shrine and heads to central Sapporo in the afternoon.

live uni
Source: J c

In case it wasn’t obvious, food could be a religion in Hokkaido. People flock here for the freshest seafood imaginable. One of the top famous dishes is fresh sea urchin (uni). They come into season in mid-June and go through August. Even fans of the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo will claim the market has nothing on Hokkaido’s uni. You’ll find this delicacy in many restaurants but the region of Shakotan bordering the Ishikari bay claims to have the best of the island. If you’re in that area, try out the uni-don from Oshokujidokoro Misaki.

Information

  • Place: Oshokujidokoro Misaki
  • Address: 236 Hiduka-cho, Shakotan-gun, Shakotan-cho
  • Tel: 01-3545-6547

July

Days are long and warm and everyone is out camping, trekking, biking, or just sitting back in an outdoor beer garden taking in the fresh air. It’s also the season of fireworks shows (hanabi) all around Japan and Hokkaido is no exception.

Japan’s longest running fireworks show is located at Lake Toyako. It runs every single night from April to October (barring bad weather). The 20-minute long performance is probably not going to be the most impressive show you’ll ever see but it’s still hard to miss considering it runs daily. Can other fireworks shows make such a claim? Yeah, we didn’t think so. Head to the lakeside park around 8:45pm to catch the lights as they’re flung into the sky from a ship slowly sailing East across the waters.

Farm Tomita Lavender
Source: Nakae

July is also peak season to visit its rolling violet hills covered in endless fields of lavender. The plant was imported to Hokkaido in the 1900s but when the price of lavender dropped significantly in the 70s and 80s, the fields here turned from industrial production to attracting tourism. Farm Tomita in the city of Furano is one of the most famous spots to view the fields. With the Tokachi mountain range in the distance, you can’t help but get great pictures piled up on your camera. In 2008, they opened a second farm to help ease the summer congestion. It’s about 4km east of Farm Tomita.

Information

 

August

rising sun rock festival
Source: Kentaro Ohno

The days will start to get a little chillier as Hokkaido’s short summer begins to wane. Give it a good farewell by checking out Hokkaido’s largest rock concert of the year, the Rising Sun Rock Festival in Ishikari. The concert will be held August 12th-13th and feature all Japanese rock bands. It was launched in 1999 as Japan’s first full-scale, all-night outdoor rock festival. The music will play all night until the sun rises at 4am. It’s a perfect setting to hold an all night outdoor event.

Information

  • Place: Rising Sun Rock Festival
  • Address: Stage next to Tarugawa Pier, New Port of Ishikari (Zenibako 5-chome, Otaru)
  • Tel: 01-1614-9999
  • Website: http://rsr.wess.co.jp

September

Fall is officially here in Hokkaido. Get ready for cold weather by gorging out on some of the best dishes the island has to offer at the Sapporo Autumn Festival in Odori Park. Running from September 9th – October 1st, the festival showcases all kinds of meats, vegetables, alcohols, and processed foods from the entire island. Popular restaurants will bring their chefs to prepare their most beloved items from the menu.

salmon roe and uni don
Source: Alpha

September is also the month that salmon swim from the ocean, upriver to reach their spawning grounds. Both salmon meat and their roe will come into season this month. You may find them on the menu combined with other great seafood items like sea urchin and crab. So if you’re a fan, be sure not to miss it.

October

October is a transitional month in Hokkaido as the warm period dies down and snow season has yet to come. In this month, be sure to get in some viewing of the fall foliage around Hokkaido that the whole country is famous for. One great viewing location is the Old Iwafune Family’s Garden, or Kosetsuen Park, in Hakodate. It’s the only government designated cultural-asset garden in Hokkaido. Between October 22nd and November 13th the park will host the MOMI-G Festa, in which trees are lit up until 9pm and live music concerts will sometimes be playing.

Information

lake oonuma
Source: TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋)

Another great viewing location is Lake Oonuma, one of three beautiful lakes in what’s called a Quasi-National Park in Hokkaido. Overlooking the lake, the ancient volcanic cone of Komagatake dominates the horizon. The city of Oonuma is located about 20 minutes by train from Hakodate and the walk to the lake is another 15 minutes.

 

November

Sapporo White Illumination
Source: rimse.nefert

Days get colder and shorter and the last leaves of autumn are falling away. By the end of the month, major ski resorts will likely begin to open, though you won’t see any deep powder yet and facilities will be limited. In this transitional month, come to Hokkaido for some last remnants of warm weather and the beginning of Christmas decorations. Tourism is on the low side so you’ll have no problems hitting up all the most delicious restaurants without reservation.

Head to Odori Park in Sapporo to get a taste of German culture at the Munich Christmas Market. You’ll find all the traditional trappings of Bavarian culture here with Christmas goods, hot wines, and German foods all on display. The monthlong market starts November 25th.

Complimenting the market, the Sapporo White Illumination will also begin in late November in Odori Park. White illuminations are common in Japan but did you know Sapporo was the first city to start it in 1981? Some 520,000 light bulbs are used to decorate the trees along Sapporo Ekimae dori and Minami 1-jo dori. Hakodate will also begin lighting their trees November 28th. The trees of Motomachi Park and the sloping streets of Hachimanzaka and Nijukkenzaka are all shining brightly with lights. Lights turn on around 5pm daily.

December

hokkaido white birch
Source: MIKI Yoshihito

Ski season kicks into high gear this month and Hokkaido will see an influx of eager snow bunnies ready to shred some powder. Winter weather will cause some roads to become inaccessible so be sure to plan your itinerary carefully and consider transportation time into the places you plan to see. Whatever your reason for coming to Hokkaido this month, you’re sure to be blown away by it’s enchanting transformation into a white winter wonderland. Winter illuminations will continue in Sapporo and Hakodate as locals start shopping and preparing for the coming New Year.

hokkaido crab
Source: bryan…

And with winter in full swing, this is probably the best time to get your hands on some delicious fresh crab. There are many types of crabs caught locally in Hokkaido and most of them come into season in the winter. Horse hair crab (kegani) is a very common species found in the Sea of Okhotsk. King crab (tarabagani) is prized for its large size and flavor and will probably be the most expensive kind you’ll find in Hokkaido. Snow crab (zuwaigani) is another common variety which has a great flavor. While there’s no shortage of great places to find this delicacy, Kani Honke in Sapporo is one of the oldest standing venues to find a great crab-centric meal.

Information

  • Place: Sapporo Kani Honke
  • Address: 4-1-3 Minami 6-jo Nishi, Chuo-ku, Sapporo
  • Tel: 01-1551-0018
  • Website: http://www.kani-honke.jp/e/

Have a good trip and travel!

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