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Winter is peak season for parts of Hokkaido. In the last decade, foreign investment has turned Niseko, which gets enormous dumps of perfect powder snow, into Japan’s most sophisticated, international-grade ski resort. In the wake of its success, other good resorts such as Furano, Sahoro and Tomamu (all great for families) are attracting more overseas winter sports enthusiasts. Ski parks surrounding Sapporo served as venues for the 1972 Winter Olympics, an event celebrated at the Sapporo Winter Sports Museum; nearby Snowmobile Land offers the chance to ride snowmobiles around several hilly, twisting courses.

Early February sees ...

Winter is peak season for parts of Hokkaido. In the last decade, foreign investment has turned Niseko, which gets enormous dumps of perfect powder snow, into Japan’s most sophisticated, international-grade ski resort. In the wake of its success, other good resorts such as Furano, Sahoro and Tomamu (all great for families) are attracting more overseas winter sports enthusiasts. Ski parks surrounding Sapporo served as venues for the 1972 Winter Olympics, an event celebrated at the Sapporo Winter Sports Museum; nearby Snowmobile Land offers the chance to ride snowmobiles around several hilly, twisting courses.

Early February sees some two million visitors head to Hokkaido’s capital for Japan’s most famous Yuki Matsuri (snow festival). With giant snow and ice sculptures built by Japan’s self-defense forces as well as locals and visiting international teams, it's a spectacle well worth seeing in a carnival atmosphere. The snow festival in Asahikawa, however, holds the world record for the largest snow sculpture. There are other snow festivals in the charming port of Otaru, the national park towns of Shikotsu-ko and Sounkyo and the far northeastern port of Abashiri, from where you can board an ice-breaker to observe drift ice floating across the Sea of Okhotsk.

Simon Richmond
About the Expert

Simon Richmond has written Rough Guides to Malaysia and Japan; Lonely Planet guides to India and Russia; and adventure travel guides for Frommer's on Australia, India, South America, and Southeast Asia.

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Simon Richmond for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

  • Location: Hokkaido is Japan's second largest island. The Tsugaru Strait separates Hokkaidō from Honshū, although the two islands are connected by the underwater Seikan Tunnel.
  • Language: Japanese
  • Currency: Yen
  • Research: Wikipedia | Wikitravel
  • Current Time:

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    Early February to catch the snow festivals