Sapporo Snow Festival and More: The Best Hokkaido Events!

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A lantern at the Sapporo Snow Festival.

The Sapporo Snow Festival is one of Japan’s most beloved winter events. This amazing festival attracts visitors worldwide who want to experience what a Hokkaido winter offers. But other winter festivities shouldn’t be ignored. In particular, the Sounkyo Onsen Hyoubaku Festival and Lake Shikaribetsu Kotan introduce visitors to Hokkaido’s natural beauty and rich culture. Join us as we offer a sneak peek of each festival.

Sapporo Snow Festival 

Sapporo’s Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival) started in Odori Park, where high school students built six snow statues in 1950. In 1955, the Japan Self-Defense Forces stationed at Makomanai added large snow sculptures, which gained popularity during the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics. 

An ice tower at the Sapporo Snow Festival.
The Sapporo Snow Festival is one of the most popular events in the coutnry. Image via Shutterstock

Today, the Odori site spans 1.5 kilometers. The snow statues in the International Snow Sculpture Contest reach great heights (over 15 meters tall and 25 meters wide!) and come alive through projection mapping. Visitors can also enjoy skating, curling, and other winter games. The Susukino Site contains around 100 themed ice sculptures. There is an ice sculpture contest and a beauty pageant to crown the Susukino Queen of Ice. For adults, there’s an ice bar offering local alcoholic beverages.

Finally, the Tsudome site is about family fun. Outside are snow slides and opportunities for snow rafting and snowball fights. Inside are indoor play equipment, booths selling local foods, and a stage for live performances. The 2024 Festival dates are February 4 to 11. Admission is free; check each location’s website for opening hours. 

Sounkyo Onsen Hyoubaku Festival 

Northeast of Sapporo is Sounkyo Onsen, located near Kamikawa along the Ishikari River. This is where the Sounkyo Onsen Hyoubaku Festival occurs, celebrating ice, particularly the hyoubaku (ice falls). The ice sculptures are the main attraction. During the evenings, they are lit up with projection mapping. At the venue’s entrance is a giant ice sculpture (13 meters tall), forming a tunnel over 100 meters long. Giant icicles are also hanging in the ice sculpture museum.

The Sounkyo Onsen Hyobaku Festival.
You can ice climb at this amazing festival! Image via Visit Hokkaido

People can participate in various winter activities: snow tubing, dog sledding, snowshoe hiking, and ice climbing. Local cuisine includes zangi (Hokkaido-style fried chicken) and Kamikawa Taisetsu Sake. Finally, the performances from the Kamikawa Ainu people, including drumming and dancing, are not to be missed. On the weekends, you can also take in dazzling fireworks shows. The Sounkyo Onsen Hyoubaku Festival runs from late January to mid-March. The 2024 Festival dates have yet to be announced. Admission is 500 yen, and hours are from 5-11:30 pm. 

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Lake Shikaribetsu Kotan 

Lake Shikaribetsu is Hokkaido’s highest freshwater lake (over 800 meters above sea level) and Daisetsuzan National Park’s only natural lake. In the winter, it undergoes an astonishing transformation. Since 1980, residents and volunteers have built the Kotan (Ainu settlements) using snow and ice. Additionally, these houses are lit by sunlight during the day and subdued lights at night. Brave guests staying at the Onsen Hotel Fusui can try to sleep in one of these structures.

Fireworks at the Lake Shikaribetsu Kotan.
This area has amazing hiking trails! Image via JW Magazine

Guests can also enjoy music and alcoholic beverages at the Ice Bar, which hosts irregular ice glass-making classes. And if they feel the chill, they can warm up in the open-air onsen and foot bath. The GeoPark Igloo teaches interested visitors about the region’s different types of ice. Snowmobile and raft boat tours offer daytime exploration, while night walking expeditions promise a more star-studded experience (Japanese language only). Lake Shikaribetsu Kotan runs from late January to mid-March. The dates for 2024 are January 27 to March 10. The season pass costs 500 yen.

Why should I check out these festivals? 

Japan has many unique events during the wintertime. Why did we choose these three festivals from Hokkaido? The first reason is because of their beautiful views. While Japan is famous for its spring and autumn scenery, it also has breathtaking winter sights. Hokkaido’s festivals focus on the beauty and simplicity of snow and ice and its versatility exhibited through sculptures and the Kotan.

A tunnel at the Sapporo Snow Festival.
Which of these festivals would you attend? Image via Shutterstock

Moreover, they are engaging in festivities. Besides the art, the festivals offer countless forms of entertainment, including performances, games, and contests. By hosting both family events and adult-oriented activities, they appeal to all ages, ensuring everyone enjoys their visit to Hokkaido. Additionally, because they are local traditions, many people enjoy them even more! Hokkaido has a rich heritage includes food, nature, and the Indigenous Ainu people. Attending these festivals in person is the best way to learn about the prefecture.

Finally, you get to experience a different side of Japan. These three festivals offer a glimpse into an often-overlooked part of Japan. Visitors also leave with a more excellent knowledge of Hokkaido and an appreciation for its natural beauty, unique culture, and creative spirit. It’s easy to forget that Japan, especially Hokkaido, has so much to offer in the wintertime. All in all, there’s something for everyone at Sapporo Snow Festival, Sounkyo Onsen Hyoubaku Festival, and Lake Shikaribetsu Kotan. Have you attended any of these festivals? Tell us in the comments below!

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