Jump into the rabbit hole of the Hokkaido February events calendar and you may lose yourself in a variety of joyful celebrations with all kinds of features, sizes, flavors and characters. Winter's coldest month also has the most festivals of the calendar year, we counted over 150 events island-wide. But how not to get lost in the myriad of events; and how to decide which to visit, considering you may only be here for a week or less?!
To give you some ideas among the many events taking place in February, we’ve chosen our favorite three festivals. Of course, the most conspicuous event is the Sapporo Snow Festival, and since it receives so much attention, we're not going to talk about it in this short blog. Unless you're a local(!), you will not miss it anyway if you happen to be in Sapporo from February 5th to 12th.
Without further ado, let's look at our top picks, which are accessible from Sapporo on a day-trip or can be incorporated in your multi-day custom-made tour.
1. Noboribetsu Onsen Hot Spring Festival: February 3rd – 4th, 2018
Noboribetsu Onsen is a popular destination for a day-trip from Sapporo, and one of the most impressive geothermal sites on the island. On the night of February 4th, the town will host a hot-spring-water splashing battle as the final event of the 2-day onsen festival. One hundred young men - dressed only in traditional loin cloths at -20c - show their valor to perform bravely during this ecstatic, 30 minute hot spring battle, This fierce and energetic ritual of purification is actually performed to symbolically ward the cold away. The opening ceremonies on day 1 of the festival (exorcism processions and ritual burnings) will be followed by a parade and the spectacular water battle on day 2. Don't miss this very special cultural event showcasing the Japanese samurai spirit and their special relationship to the cold.
2. Otaru Yukiakari no Michi, Snow Light Path Festival: February 9th – 18th, 2018
The most romantic ice festival among the many in Hokkaido is just a half hour train ride away from downtown Sapporo. During their snow festival, the historical port city of Otaru has a captivating fairy tale-like feeling, especially so along the Sakaimachi District. It can't help but leave visitors wondering how it used to be in the early days of the 20th century when Otaru was at its peak as the most prosperous city and gateway to Hokkaido. With cobbled streets and gas lamps, lit by hundreds of ice candles, Otaru becomes a picture-perfect destination for a date or a day trip. Not only couples, but families, friends, and solo-travelers alike will certainly find something to connect to and enjoy at this charming festival. Whether you like Japanese art & crafts, ice sculptures, night views, candle lights, historical buildings, charming old streets, shopping, gourmet seafood or photography – Otaru has it all! Just don't forget to pick-up some hand & feet warmers to fully enjoy the most romantic winter festival in Hokkaido.
3. Lake Shikaribetsu Ice Kotan: January 27th – March 21st, 2018
Lake Shikaribetsu is located in the eastern area of Daisetsuzan National Park and is the highest lake in Hokkaido with an altitude of 800m above sea level. The picturesque lake is one of Hokkaido's hidden gems and among my personal favorites, along with Lake Kussharo. With it's steep shores holding primeval forest, the caldera Lake Shikaribetsu is set amidst a deep lava dome - like a rough gem stone. The whole place is very peaceful with usually just a few tourists around. To attract more attention to this incredibly beautiful area, locals started the ice festival 35 years ago, and it's still growing in popularity every year.
Lake Shikaribetsu is a 3,5 hour drive from Sapporo, bringing you to experience the unique outdoor hot spring on the frozen lake (!), igloos, an ice bar, an ice chapel with regular services & concerts, ice carving DIYs, ice fishing, ice skating and other snow play activities – all this on the surface of the frozen lake! If you want to extend your trip, you can reserve rooms at the only hotel at the lake, Fusui Onsen Hotel, for about 9,000 yen per person per night. But the real deal - for those with a love of cold & ice - is the ice hotel, which is located on the lake as part of the Ice Village. The most adventurous and cold-resistant visitors are welcomed for an overnight stay for only 6,500 yen per igloo, accommodating 4 pax. At this price, who could say no! ; ) If even the idea of walking on a frozen lake sounds like fun, along with all the fantastic festival activities, then you're sure to have a great trip with memories that will last a lifetime!
Enjoy nature, be happy!
Our blog covers any and all topics of travel in Hokkaido - from the best gourmet oysters to off-the-beaten-track adventures - and everything in between.