Hokkaido is Japan’s northernmost prefecture, and is an island locating above Honshu (Japan’s main island). It is a popular destination throughout the year, and is loved for its spacious, abundant nature that cannot be found in many parts of Japan. In this article, we will introduce 4 wintertime activities that you can experience in Hokkaido.
About winter in Hokkaido
Hokkaido locates in the subarctic zone, which is where Canada also locates.
To be considered as an area in the subarctic zone, for at least one month, the warmest average temperature must be above 10 degrees Celsius and the coldest below -3 degrees Celcius.
The subarctic zone spreads across the Northern hemisphere’s top half, right below the North Pole. Areas in the subarctic zone tend to have a large temperature difference between the summer and winter months.
Winter in Hokkaido can get pretty cold. It isn’t uncommon to have days that don’t even go above 0 degrees.
Between mid-November and early January, fallen snow will stay stacked in some parts of Hokkaido. In some areas, the snow won’t melt for over 30 days!
On the Okhotsk Sea on the northern coast of Hokkaido, you will be able to see drift ice flowing across the waters. Throughout all of Japan, Hokkaido is the only place where you can see drift ice.
Winter Activities in Hokkaido
Here are 4 winter activities in Hokkaido for you to enjoy during your visit.
1. Skiing and snowboarding
Skiing and snowboarding is a winter activity staple. You can enjoy both at Hokkaido, where the mountains are known to have some of the best powder snow.
The quality of Hokkaido’s snow was even praised by National Geographic Traveler magazine, and described as “absolute powder”.
Hokkaido’s powder snow has low water content and is smooth and silky. Skiing and snowboarding on this unique slow is sure to give you an unforgettable winter experience.
Dog sledding in North America
Dogsledding is when a sleigh is pulled by several dogs. It is said to have originated about 30,000 years ago in Mongolia as a form of transportation in the cold.
Even today, dogsledding is used as an important means of transportation in cold areas such as Siberia, Alaska and Greenland.
While devices like snowmobiles have replaced dogsleds in many regions, dogsledding is still popular as a sporting event.
Sled dog races are particular popular in the northern region of North America.
Sled dog racing
You can experience dogsledding in some areas of Hokkaido, such as Furano or Tokachi.
3. Drift Ice Activities
Hokkaido is one of the southernmost areas of the world where you can see drift ice.
Drift ice is a unique winter sight on the Okhotsk Sea, locating on the northern coast of Hokkaido. The drift ice on the Okhotsk Sea measures about 40-50 centimeters thick.
The drift ice forms on the Siberian coast of the Okhotsk Sea. The wind blows the waters down south, and eventually the drift ice reaches Hokkaido’s waters.
The ocean typically doesn’t freeze anywhere else besides the northern or southern poles. However, the waters of the Okhotsk Sea have a low salinity level from its surface to 50 meters below, making it possible to freeze.
The drift ice in Hokkaido can be seen between the end of January and the end of March. During these months, the sea is covered in white with the drift ice.
Icebreaker Ship Aurora and Garinko II Icebreaker Ship
■Abashiri Ice Sightseeing and Icebreaker Ship Aurora
Abashiri Ice Sightseeing and Icebreaker ship Aurora
To see the drift ice, going on these ships are recommended.
The Abashiri Ice Sightseeing and Icebreaker Ship Aurora departs from Abashiri Port. The ship has the same build as an Antarctic research vessel, and its heavy body is perfect for crushing through the drift ice.
From the side deck on the first floor of the ship, you can see the ship in action as it cuts through the drift ice.
View from Aurora
■Garinko II Icebreaker Cruise
Garinko II Icebreaker Cruise
The Garinko II Icebreaker Cruise departs from Monbetsu Port, located in the central area of the Okhotsk Sea’s coast.
The ship holds 195 passengers, and at the front of it is a large drill. The drill digs into the drift ice and crushes it to move forward.
The ship usually only operates during the daytime. However, there is a special sunrise cruise held in February, which departs at 6a.m, where you can see the sun rising from above the white drift ice.
4. Drift Ice Walking
Drift Ice Walking
If you want to directly feel the drift ice, then the drift ice walking tour is perfect for you. You can experience this at places like Abashiri or Shari on the coast of the Okhotsk Sea.
A professional guide walks you through the drift ice. During the tour, you will be wearing a dry suit that will keep you warm and insulated.
Since you are in your dry suit, you can sit on the ice or even roll around it. You can even float on the sea!
If you are lucky, you might be able to see seals, eagles, cliones and more.
Winter in Hokkaido has many activities awaiting you. When visiting, make sure to layer up and be ready for the cold. Once you are nice and warm, you are ready to enjoy Hokkaido’s winter activities!