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Hokkaido is one of my favorite prefectures to visit in Japan. The most significant thing about Hokkaido is its nature. If you are a nature lover like me, you should definitely go to Hokkaido. The color of the green there is deeper than any other places in Japan, and the air is super fresh. Hokkaido is like the place where you can hear the symphony of nature. You cannot help appreciating to our mother earth once you are there. I bet you will be in love with the place. Although it is hard to mention everything about this magnificently beautiful prefecture in one article, I would like to introduce 10 best festivals to join and places to go in Hokkaido with my love. I hope you will consider visiting Hokkaido in your itinerary after reading this article.
★10 Best Festivals to Attend in Hokkaido by Season
– The Cherry Blossoms in Goryokaku (Spring)
– Koinobori Festival in Juzankeiing (Spring)
– Yotaka Andon Festival (Summer)
– Susukino Festival (Summer)
– Hakodate Outside Stage Show (Summer)
– Sapporo Chrysanthemum Festival (Autumn)
– Autumn Festival in Sapporo (Autumn)
– Sapporo Snow Festival (Winter)
– Juzankei Snow Festival (Winter)
– Otaru Snow Light Path Festival (Winter)
★Places to go and things to do in Hokkaido depending on your purposes
– Firm Tomioka, Kushiro Shitsugen National Park, Reibun Island and Blue pond for exploring nature
– Abashiri Prison Museum and Hokkaido Museum for understanding the history of Hokkaido
-Sapporo Maruyama Zoo and Asahikawa Zoo for connecting your heart with animals
– Niseko Grand Hirafu and Rusutsu Resort for winter sports
Hokkaido is the northernmost island of Japan. It is the second biggest island and about 5,317,000 people live there. There are 4 areas in Hokkaido: Donan Area, Douo Area, Dohoku Area, and Doutou Area. Hokkaido’s old name is Ezochi. From the 13th century to the Edo period, Ainu – the indigenous people in Hokkaido, resided and developed their land. After the Hakodate war, the Meiji government renamed Ezochi to Hokkaido. Since then, many people from the mainland had broken into Hokkaido. As a result, the indigenous culture of Ainu died out. If you want to learn about the history of Hokkaido prior to your trip, these two movies: “Unforgiven” (2013) by Lee Sang-il and “Kitano Zero nen” (2004) – a Japanese movie by Isao Yukisada are my recommendations.
You can access Hokkaido either by plane or train. There is also an undersea railway going through Seikan tunnel that connects Aomori prefecture and Hokkaido. Now Hokkaido is one of the famous resort islands in Japan. It is famous for volcanoes, natural hot springs, and mountains. Many people from abroad visit Hokkaido for skiing or snowboarding. Other than that, Hokkaido offers various spots to explore for tourists throughout the year. Here follow 10 recommended festivals to attend in Hokkaido by season.
Since Hokkaido is the northernmost prefecture, it is very snowy. That is why many festivals in Hokkaido take place in winter. People in Hokkaido live with snow and cultivate its traditions with it. Yet, there are some areas and festivals you can enjoy other seasons as well. Please consider joining those festivals during your trip. You can learn about the community and people from local festivals, right? There are many great events and festivals in Hokkaido, so it was not an easy job to pick 10 best festivals this time. Anyways, I tried my best and picked the most recommended ones by season.
The first one is the Cherry blossoms in Goryokaku. You might have come across the word “花見(Hanami)” when you browse through FestuvalGo to look for the place to go to in Japan in Spring. Hanami is the biggest Japanese seasonal event in spring, and it is something that many Japanese people look forward to every year. People usually do hanami under the Cherry blossoms. Everyone brings their own food or readymade food and enjoy viewing Cherry blossoms over chatting. If you happen to be in Hokkaido in spring, why don’t you join for Hanami in Goryokaku and go through Japanese traditional spring event?
五稜郭 (Goryokaku) locates in Hakodate City. Hakodate was one of the open ports in Japan at the end of the Edo period. Goryokaku was built as a public office for defending and dealing with foreigners coming to Hokkaido. The fortified city in France was the model for Goryokaku. If you see Goryokaku from the sky, it looks like a typical bastion fort in Europe.
The public office that was surrounded by the walls was destroyed in the Meiji period, and now the place is opened for the public as a park. Goryokaku Park gets totally pink – the color of Cherry blossoms at the end of April to the beginning of May. You can enjoy cherry blossoms on the ground or from Goryokaku tower during the season. There are several buses going to Goryokaku Park.
For more details about Goryokaku Park and access, please check the following link, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/1678/
It is common in Japan to put Koinobori out in the sky on Children’s day, which is on May 5th. Koinobori in English is a Carp Steamer. It is traditional clothes with the shape of a carp. Japanese people celebrate and pray for children’s, mainly boy’s, health and bright future by hanging those carps outside of their houses. Koinobori Festival in Juzankei is the festival where you can see hundreds of Koinobori swimming in the sky. The view is very colorful and very Japanese. You do not usually see something like this in other places in the world.
This festival takes place at The Jozankei-Onsen mountain stream. You will see about 400 Koinobri of various sizes and colors swimming in the sky there. The festival started in 1987 to attract more tourist to the city. And it has become a traditional local event in the area. As you can guess from the name of the venue, Jozankei-Onsen has a hot spring. You may come across the word “Onsen” often when you look for the travel information about Japan. It would be a good chance to remember what it means. “Onsen” means hot spring. In Jozankei-Onsen, you can enjoy hot springs while you visit this festival. You can access to the venue by bus from Sapporo City within 1 hour.
For more details about this event, please check the article under the following link, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/2478/
There are several festivals that involve lanterns in Japan. Yotaka Andon Festival is one of the amazing lantern festivals that you cannot miss. Andon means a lamp made of paper shade or lantern. Yotaka Andon is remarkable due to its size. They have a wooden handcart and local people create Andon by hand 3-4 month prior to the festival. Surprisingly, the biggest Andon that appears in this festival is about 7m high, 12m long and 3m wide. And it weighs about 5 tons. It is almost like a mature elephant. Now you can imagine how big it must be huh? You can join this festival on the fourth Friday and Saturday of August.
What is marvelous about this festival is the number of Andon’s parading. There are more than 20 gigantic lanterns parading on the streets and not only that they collide with each other with the loud sound, they also shake at the end of the festival! You will be overwhelmed by the atmosphere and the sound of the collisions. This festival takes place in Numata city, which takes about 80 minutes from Sapporo City by train.
For more information about this festival, go and check at the following link, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/5180/ and for other lantern festivals in Japan, you can check here, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/5180/
This festival takes place in Susukino city in August for three days. Susukino Festival is one of the biggest festivals in Hokkaido. It started in 1965 and has continued for over 50 years. The highlight of this festival is an Oiran parade. Each year the festival committee choose two women for dressing up as traditional courtesans. These traditional courtesans were called “Oiran”花魁in the 18 century. The traditional dresses that they put on are stunning and beautiful. Also, there will be a parade with over 1000 people going down the streets with portable shrines. You can enjoy drum performance and traditional Japanese dance called Yosakoi dance at this festival.
This festival starts at 5 p.m. You can access the venue by walk from Susukino Station. There are many stalls stands on the street during the festival, so you won’t stay hungry. You can enjoy traditional Japanese festival food during the festival, so try as many as you want. The other dish you should try is Ramen. Susukino is famous for Ramen. There is a Ramen Street in Susukino and they run the business till very late at night. If you are interested in Ramen, it would be a good idea to do a taste test while you are in Susukino.
For more information about this festival please take a look at the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/2707/
The first Hakodate outside stage show began in 1988 with the support of a French priest who lived in Hakodate. This show tells the hidden historical story about Hokkaido. If you want to learn about the real history of Hokkaido, you should check out this show. This show tells you about indigenous people called Ainu who lived and cultivated their own culture before people from the mainland invaded Hokkaido and started Hakodate war, which drastically changed the fate of Japan. As you can see that this show is not just a performance but also follows educational purposes.
Nowadays this show is performed by local NPO. There is a 1500 Yen admission fee for this show, but it is worth paying considering what you can learn from it. You can access the stage within 10 minutes’ walk from Goryokakumae station.
If you want to know more about this show, please click on the following link, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/2572/
Sapporo Chrysanthemum Festival is called Sapporo Kiku Matsuri and it is an annual autumn festival. It started in 1963. This festival is a three-day event that takes place in early November. At the festival, you can see more than 800 works of tremendously beautiful cultivated chrysanthemum. The venue is bursting with colors. You can also enjoy Japanese flower arrangement, Haiku (Japanese seventeen-syllable poem), Senryu (humorous poem), Japanese traditional dance performance at this festival.
What you can see at this festival is carefully cultivated 800 chrysanthemum works as Bonsai or dwarf miniature potted trees. There are various types of Bonsai such as Kengai (cascade) or Takrin (large flowers of bright color). Each of them is neat and pretty. You can access the venue from Sapporo station. You can learn more about this festival by checking the following link, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/2899/
If you want to taste good local food, Sapporo Autumn Festival is certainly the event for you to join. This festival takes place from the first Friday to the last Saturday of September in Sapporo City. Great local food, including sake, comes from all over Hokkaido to this festival. As you can see on the map, Hokkaido is surrounded by the ocean. They are blessed not only with agricultural products but also with seafood thanks to its rich water resources. Anything you are going to taste at this festival will not disappoint you.
The venue of this festival is scattered in 8 areas. Starting from Odori 1 Chome site, 4 Chome site, then 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 and 11 Chome sites follow. Each site has a different theme and offers various delicious foods! Since this festival goes on for about a month, you can come and go as many days as you want to experience different tastes.
For more information about this festival, please click on the following link, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/3705/
Can you see the castle in the picture down there? Do you know what this castle is made of? It is made of snow! Isn’t it amazing? Sapporo Snow Festival is a nationally famous event in Japan. Over 2.7 million people visited this festival in 2018. You can imagine how popular this event is. If you plan to come to Hokkaido during the winter, you should definitely join this festival!
This event started in 1950 when junior and high school students made 6 statues out of the snow. Then they displayed those statues in Odori Park. Now there are various snow and ice figures of multiple sizes lined up for about 1.5 km through the city blocks. Those snow sculptures are lit up from the sunset to 10 pm every winter. There will be an international snow contest during the festival. You can see teams from around the world competing with each other.
Since there are several venues to check out, please check and the following link to know more about this festival, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/761/
Juzankei Snow Festival offers various winter activities for snow lovers. If you like cold weather and play in the snow, this festival is the one for you to go. You can try dog sled, horse riding, snow rafting, and even making barbeque in the cold weather at this festival. Would it be too freezing? No worries, there are hot springs at the venue. It will warm your frozen body up after the event.
This festival usually takes place in January at Juzankei. Juzankei is a nature spot, which has many natural hot springs. It gets very snowy during the winter, yet the nature that you are going to see there is extraordinary. If you are not good with cold weather, you can visit Juzankei during another season. In spring and summer, you can enjoy hiking, cycling and enjoy leaves changing colors. There is a bus going to Juzenkei from Chitose airport.
For more details about this festival, please check the following link, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/2603/
Otaru Snow Light Path Festival a charming and tranquil 10 days event. During this festival, Otaru city turns into a cozy harbor decorated with small snow statues, handmade snow lanterns, and warm candlelight. Walking in the city during the festival will make you relax and release your stress from everyday life. The atmosphere at this festival is magical and romantic. Why don’t you take a look at this festival and enjoy the cold weather?
At this festival, you will see more than 100,000 private candles illuminating many places in the city. You can feel the local hospitality to the visitors through the gently spread candlelight while walking down the sites. There are two main sites and semi sites to check out.
If you want to get to know more about this festival, please check the following link, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/925/
Other than those festivals mentioned above, there are so many things you can do in Hokkaido. Especially if you are the nature lover, you can visit natural spots and parks and enjoy in Hokkaido. The other good thing about Hokkaido is foods. You can taste the great food anywhere you go. In this section, I picked up 10 best places that you should visit in Hokkaido to have a full image of this beautiful island. I’m sure you will find some places that trigger your interest in Hokkaido.
There are 13 different types of gardens in Firm Tomita. And those gardens are filled with several types of beautiful and gorgeous flowers. As you can see in the picture, those flowers entertain tourist’s eyes with their beauty. You can walk around the firm and enjoy the colorful fields. The best season to visit Firm Tomita is from May to October. As Hokkaido gets cold sooner than any other part of Japan, it is better to go there from the middle spring to the autumn.
Otherwise, the firm will be covered with snow in November. There are cafes and restaurants on the site. You can try sweets made of lavender or organic foods cultivated locally there. You can check more about Firm Tomita at their official website, URL: http://www.farm-tomita.co.jp/en/
Kushiro Shitsugen National Park is the biggest swamp in Japan. This park is the first national park registered in Ramsar Convention from Japan. It is 2800 hectares big and you can see valuable animals and plants there. This is the only place where you can see red-crowned cranes, which were about to extinct. In this park, there are 9 hiking courses. You can choose the shortest one or the longest one depending on your schedule. Either way, it is super relaxing and refreshing to walk along those trails in the fresh air.
There are viewing spots along to those hiking courses. You can enjoy the spectacular view of the park from the spots and take nice pictures. If you are not so much into hiking, you can get on a trolley train instead of walking. This train crosses this huge swamp and you can see the park from the window while you are sitting in the trolley. For more information about Kushiro Shitsugen National Park please check their official website, URL: https://www.env.go.jp/en/nature/nps/park/index.html
Rebun Island is the northernmost island in Japan. You can get to the island by ferry from Wakkanai in Hokkaido within 1 and a half hours. Only on this island, you can see over 300 kinds of alpine plants in bloom. There are several hiking courses you can challenge. The longest one takes about 8 hours to finish. Whichever you try, the scenery you come across by the way is breathtaking. The weather on this island is unstable like in the mountains. Please bring rain gears and long sleeve shirts for your own good. You can check their official website for more information, URL: http://www.rebun-island.jp/en/
Blue pond is one of the famous tourist spots in Hokkaido. The picture of the pond was adopted as a screensaver for Mac. If you are a Mac user, you might have come across the picture of this pond on your computer screen. You can go and see this pond anytime but the best season to be there is the winter. You can see the collaboration of the color reflecting on the pond.
Besides, the pond will be illuminated in the winter. The view is super extraordinary and fairytale-like. It is also a good photo spot. This pond locates close to Biei town, 17km away from Biei Station. As there are more beautiful natural spots to explore in the town, you can visit those places after enjoying the blue pond. For more information about Biei town, please check the official website, URL: https://www.biei-hokkaido.jp/en/sightseeing/shirogane-blue-pond/
Visiting a new place is a good chance for us to educate ourselves. It is not unusual for us to go around local museums and learn about the history and culture of the city we are in. And that is what we always do anyway. You can do the same in Hokkaido. Hokkaido has its unique history and culture which is worth learning. Here are two museums that help you to understand about Hokkaido more. Abashiri Prison Museum and Hokkaido Museum are the ones you can check out if you are interested in getting to know more about Hokkaido. Here follows some information about those two fantastic museums.
Abashiri Prison was the northernmost prison in Japan. This museum used to be a prison between 1868 and 1912 and preserved as a museum. The oldest building in this museum was built 120 years ago. You can also check the architecture of that building. As for history, many criminals in Abashiri were forced to work for reclaiming land during the pioneer era in Hokkaido. That is why Abashiri prison was called the harshest prison in Japan. There were many attempts at prison breaks going on all the time back then.
In this museum, you can peek into the dark history of Hokkaido. You can learn how prisoners lived and were treated back in the old times. There is a real Abashiri prison nearby, so please do not enter the real one. There are some people who get confused and go to real prison by mistake. You are not going to be arrested but please check this website before you go to the museum, URL: https://www.kangoku.jp/multilingual_english/
If you are keen on the history of Hokkaido, Hokkaido Museum is the place for you to go. Here, in this museum, you can learn about nature, history, and culture of Hokkaido in an integrated manner. The concepts of the museum are “Hokkaido in relation with Northeast Asia” and “the relationship between nature and people”. This museum opened in April of 2015, and so far over 100,000 people have already visited it. There are several exhibitions and events tied with museum themes. The striking thing about this museum is that it holds exhibitions about Ainu culture. You can experience the Ainu culture by touching their original tools, musical instruments and writing Ainu words. You can check the details of this place on the official website, URL: http://www.hm.pref.hokkaido.lg.jp/en/
There are always pros and cons about how to treat animals, but they are always there for us and are good partners for the human. Sometimes going to the zoo helps us to relax and forget about regular life. The way those animals in the zoo act or see us makes us happy. They are very innocent and calm. And the funny thing is that you can see and learn about the culture by comparing zoos in the country you visit. There are two major zoos in Hokkaido to visit. Each of them has a unique character; you can visit both or try one of them to find out what Japanese zoos look like.
Sapporo Maruyama Zoo locates in Sapporo city. It has easy access from Sapporo station. You can access the zoo within 15 minutes by car or 30 minutes by public transportation. There is another famous zoo in Hokkaido – Asahikawa Zoo. However, Maruyama, this zoo is compact and easy to go around. Most of the facilities in this zoo are indoors, so you do not need to worry about the weather. And you can get close to the animals through the glass windows. The most popular animal in Maruyama Zoo is a white bear. They also have instant noodle originated as a charity for this white bear and it tastes actually pretty good. The brand is becoming popular in Japan and outside.
Image courtesy of Shunichi kouroki
You may bring the instant noodles back as a souvenir. For more information, please check the Maruyama Zoo official website, URL: http://www.city.sapporo.jp/zoo/index.html
Asahikawa Zoo locates in Asahikawa city. There is a bus going to the zoo from Asahikawa station. Asahikawa zoo is one of the famous zoos in Japan because of its unique history. It was once in the danger of bankruptcy. But they performed a comeback by introducing an exhibition that allows visitors to see how animals react in nature. Now there are many people visiting this zoo to connect their hearts with animals. In this zoo, you can enjoy interacting
with animals and see how they behave in real circumstances. I bet those animals will ease your heart and put a smile on your face.
Please visit their official website at http://www.city.asahikawa.hokkaido.jp/asahiyamazoo/index.html (in Japanese) to find out more about what you can see in this zoo.
You may have realized that Hokkaido is the snow prefecture of Japan. The temperature goes down to -40 degree in the mountains depending on the weather during winter. Thanks to this coldness, Hokkaido is known as one of the great ski and snowboarding resorts in Japan. There are thousands of people coming to Hokkaido for skiing and snowboarding each year from abroad. If you are one of those winter sports buffs, you should check out those two ski resorts before your trip.
Niseko Grand Hirafu is probably the most famous ski resort area among tourist from abroad. The resort gets packed with people during the winter, and the town no longer looks like Japan. This ski resort has a huge skiing area that consists of 30 courses with 15 ski lifts and gondolas. Niseko Grand Hirafu is known for the quality of snow. That is one of the reasons that attracts many skiers and snowboarders not only from Japan but also from abroad. You may not feel like you are in Japan, but if you want to enjoy skiing or snowboarding on a super good quality of snow, Niseko Grand Hirafu is a must go place to try. You can check about Niseko Grand Hirafu at the official website, URL: http://www.grand-hirafu.jp/winter/en/
Rusutsu Resort is the biggest ski resort in Hokkaido. It is nominated for World Ski Award both in 2017 and 2018. There are three mountains all together and they offer 37 courses to choose from. The total sliding distance at this resort is surprisingly long. It is 42 km! You can imagine how tired you will be after trying all the courses! You can enjoy dog sledding, snowmobiles, and ice fishing at the site as well. It is good to visit Rusutsu during the winter, but it has a different appearance in the other seasons. You can enjoy rafting, canoe riding, and swimming during the spring and summer. For more information, please visit their official website, URL: https://www.hokkaido-rusutsu.com/en-gb
Thank you for reading this article to the end. I hope this article made you feel like visiting Hokkaido. It is difficult to mention every single great spot to visit in Hokkaido in one article. As you could figure out, this prefecture offers great nature, extraordinary learning opportunities through museums and shows. Staying in Hokkaido gives you a different type of experience compared to the big cities like Tokyo or Osaka.
Your trip will be more rewarding if you could connect with local people prior to your trip. Try Huber and find locals in Hokkaido who can help you to sketch your travel plans, will suggest you the best places to visit according to your wishes and will bring you to local festivals! For more information, please click on the banner below.
A lot of people when they get to a Matsuri for the first time feel a bit lost. They confuse about what is happening around. If you are new to Japanese Festivals or just want to know an alternative way of how you can enjoy these events, the following article will provide you with a set of helpful tips on how to choose a proper festival and activities you should definitely try there. Please don`t hesitate to take a look at it!
Image courtesy of Tomomarusan
The food presented during Matsuri is pretty different from the one you get at the restaurants in Japan. Besides, there is a certain charm in grabbing some snack from a food stall and diving back into the festival crowd. I am sure that you will discover something new about Japanese festival food from the following article!
Japan is a country of festivals indeed. Matsuri is an essential part of traditional Japanese culture. Thus, every day somewhere in Japan a festival takes place. There are traditional and modern festivals, on the sea and on the ground, in summer and winter. Japanese are hardworking people. However, when you attend at least one festival in Japan, you will understand how locals like to party. The article under the link below will introduce you to a celebration on any day of the year. I am sure you will find an event that suits your interests utmost!