Your Essential Guide To Winter Festivals In Niseko
There are plenty of opportunities to explore Japan's cultural side when it's cold and snowy—take a look.
When you think of Japanese festivals, what do you picture? For many festival fans, the images that spring to mind are of summer yukata (cotton kimono), bowls full of kakigori (flavoured shredded ice) or warm summer evenings watching fireworks. Here in Hokkaido, the summer festivals are a blast and so are the winter ones!
There are a number of international festivals not far from Niseko, such as the Sapporo Snow Festival, which attract visitors from across the globe. But not every festival has grown to such scale, and there are still many local events that are plenty exciting too.
Kutchan Town's Yukitopia Festival
Yukitopia translates to snowtopia—a very fitting name for a winter festival in the town that supports one of the snowiest ski destinations in the world!
What to Expect:
The event offers a number of fun winter activities to try. The local Asahigaoka Ski Resort offers festival goers free rides up the lift, meaning you can get a few runs in before breaking for some yummy festival food. If you don't ski, you can take a rubber inner tube up and race your friends down the slope—it's the longest inner tube ride around the Niseko area.
The event hosts food stalls from local vendors and restaurants, so there are plenty of delicious munchies to enjoy when you are getting hungry. There are also a number of live events and performances to take part in throughout the day.
Dates: This two-day event will be held Saturday 17 - Sunday 18 February, 2024
Location: Kutchan Town Central Park (behind the Cultural Welfare Center)
Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival
This festival is a great option for a day trip while staying in Niseko or adding on to the start or end of your ski holiday. It is beautiful during the day, but even better during the evening when the sun goes down and the lights come on.
What to Expect:
The ice sculptures take nearly two months to create and are made by spraying lake water onto wooden frames for 24 hours non-stop until their final shape takes form. While impressive during the daytime, the festival is most stunning at night as the sculptures are lit up all kinds of colours after the sun goes down.
This is a festival you will want to bring your camera to so you can practice up your night-time photography skills. If you are coming with the family, there's an ice slide and ice arena where you can slide along with the kids.
There are also plenty of warm winter specialties to dig into when your tummy starts to rumble.
Dates: This daily event will run from Saturday 27 January - Tuesday 13 February 2024 (closed early due to warmer temperatures)
Opening Hours: 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM
Light Up Hours: 4:30 PM to 8:00 PM
Location: Held in the Lake Shikotsu onsen area, which is a 40-minute drive by car from New Chitose Airport, and about 75-minute from the Niseko resort area.
Otaru Snow Light Path Festival
When evening falls, thousands of candles and lights illuminate the canal and the water surface. This festival always falls in proximity to the Sapporo Snow Festival, usually overlapping slightly so that travellers can experience both events.
What to Expect:
While there are no games and food stalls that line the streets for this event, there are plenty of popular stores and shops along the street just opposite the canal.
When the Snow Light Path Festival is on, the canal is lit up with thousands of snow and ice candles so that the already scenic walkway is transformed into something magical.
It is an excellent destination for an evening trip out of the resort area and easily combined with many of the other winter festivals that run throughout the month of February.
Approximate Dates: This daily event runs for a week from Sunday 10 - Saturday 17 February, 2024.
Location: Held in Otaru City, along the Otaru Canal.
Access: It is a 90-minute drive or train from the Niseko area to Otaru City.
Sapporo Snow Festival
This is an event that likely requires little to no introduction for many. The Sapporo Snow Festival is without a doubt, Hokkaido's largest and most well-known festival and attracts millions of visitors each year.
What to Expect:
Everything winter and more! This festival has become so massive over the last 50 years that you can pretty much expect to do anything winter related.
For those seeking activity, there is a skating rink near the TV Tower and snow slides out at the Tsudome Site, which makes a grand return this year for the first time in four years. If you just want a casual stroll or to take a few photos, the main Odori Park and Susukino site are both filled with snow and ice sculptures that will send your jaw dropping.
If you are coming hungry, there are several food sections along the Odori Park site where you can try delicacies and dishes from across Hokkaido.
There are a number of stages which feature live performances during the day and into the evening, which are sure to excite and delight.
Dates: This event runs for a week from Sunday 4 - Sunday 11 February, 2024.
Location: Held in Sapporo City in Odori Park, Susukino and at the Tsudome.
Access: It is a 90 – 120 minute drive, bus or train ride from the Niseko resort area to Sapporo City.
Have we convinced you to book a trip to Niseko to experience the winter festivities? Take a look at our blog for the latest international and domestic daily flights to New Chitose Airport here.