5 Winter Activities in Hokkaido (Other than Skiing)
Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s four main islands, is home to many fantastic ski resorts and is famous for powder-like snow. But Hokkaido’s winter charms do not stop there at all! Whether you ski or not, here are five fun things to do in Hokkaido this winter!
Take a Soak in an Outdoor Onsen
This is not just any hot spring experience. In Hokkaido, you can be soaking to your heart’s content in front of stunning scenery that you may otherwise be too cold to fully appreciate! There are many onsen to choose from and most ski resorts include access to onsen also. My personal favourite Hokkaido onsen experience was at Marukoma Onsen at Lake Shikotsu-ko. The combination of an impressive mountain back drop, full views of the beautiful lake, delicate snowflakes, and healing waters made for an unforgettable experience.
Details about the onsen and Lake Shikotsu-ko:
Marukoma Onsen address: 7 banchi, Horobinai, Chitose-shi, Hokkaido, 066-0287 Japan
Getting there: Bus from New Chitose Airport – Lake Shikotsu-ko (approx. 1hour) More details to be found on Lake Shikotsu-ko tourism website.
Visit a Quirky Museum
Hokkaido houses a few unusual treasures, worth ducking out of the cold to peruse! For example, if you climb/cable car your way to the top of Tenguyama (Mount Tengu, Otaru) you will find a museum dedicated to Tengu masks (the red, long-nosed goblin the mountain is named after). It is quite a sight to behold: A room with 700 + tengu masks staring at you...! Alternatively, you could visit the music box museum, also in Otaru–which is well worth a visit for its canals and quaint shopping streets–or the museum of drift ice (Okhotsk Ryuhyo Museum) in Abashiri, Eastern Hokkaido.
So, if I'm honest, I'm actually pretty scared of the concept of skiing...but that doesn't mean I didn't want to get up into the mountains and be surrounded by the light, powdery snow Hokkaido winters are famed for! Since I am apparently not scared of whizzing round a mountain on a tiny vehicle, snowmobiling was an excellent, incredibly fun solution to my dilemma! We got brilliant views, a unique experience and plenty of time to jump around in the snow-and I left with all limbs intact!
Snowmobile Land Sapporo: It’s pretty pricey (but then again, so is skiing) but the instructors were thorough, friendly and fluent in English.
Chow Down on Some Regional Food
Regional food is a big deal in Japan–I have found that whenever I tell a Japanese person I am going somewhere, they immediately tell me what food is famous and most delicious there–a very helpful trait indeed! When it comes to Hokkaido, you have to get yourself some sweet corn roasted on a stick at one of the many stalls around: So simple, so sweet and so tasty. Then the fish and seafood on offer are quite something to even make this vegetarian’s mouth water…Hokkaido’s ikura (salmon fish eggs) are highly prized. Then work your way through the baked potatoes with local butter, Hokkaido Camembert, Royce’s chocolate and the multitude of Yubari melon flavoured treats (the last 2 of which make great souvenirs...if you can save some).
Celebrate New Year in The Snow
If you manage to be in Hokkaido over the New Year period, you will have a wonderful opportunity to see (and join) Japanese people on their first visit of the year to a Shinto shrine, called Hatsumode, in the snow! Many people will visit a Buddhist temple at midnight on December 31st (where you can hear, and sometimes even ring for yourself, the temple bell). Then on January 1st or 2nd, people will pay their first visit to the Shinto shrine. So why not also pick yourself up an omamori (a protective, lucky charm with different properties depending on the shrine or temple) and get your new omikuji (fortune) on this auspicious day.
Of course, there are many more wonderful things to see and do in Hokkaido in winter (and any other season!) So happy exploring!