Experience Japan’s remarkable winter festivals, travelling from Sapporo to Otaru and Sounkyo

Be entranced by winter in Japan. Experience the sensational Sapporo Snow Festival, be awestruck by the size of snow sculptures and watch the soft lantern light cast its magic over festivalgoers in Otaru. Explore picturesque landscapes, don some snowshoes for a wintery walk in the coldest Sounkyo and sample some of the region’s finest beers and sakes as you enjoy an adventure of natural, cultural and artistic delights that celebrates the splendour of Japan’s far north.


Start
Sapporo, Japan
Finish
Sapporo, Japan
Destination
Japan
Style
Original
Theme
Festivals and Events
Code
CJSWS
Physical rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1, Max 12

Why you'll love this trip

  • Winter is a beautiful time of year to explore Japan. The streets are lit up at night and blanketed in snow, the markets are bustling a piping hot bowl of ramen tastes especially good when it is below zero outside!

  • This is a brief but fun packed trip that gets the most out of the northern region of Hokkaido in a relatively short amount of time.

  • The Sapporo Ice and Snow Festival is world famous for its huge and elaborate sculptures. Make sure you get your camera out and have your batteries charged as you will take far more photos than you expected!

  • The picturesque Snow Light Path Festival in Otaru is a true winter experience. Stroll along the river, gathering around the glowing snow mounds and under lantern light.

  • Warm up after your winter wanderings with visits to some of Japan's best-known breweries and whiskey distilleries.

Is this trip right for you?

  • Japan is best to explore on foot. In fact most travellers are surprised at how much distance they end up covering just exploring places walking! Make sure your shoes are comfy and you are fit enough to spend most of each day on your feet.

  • While heating inside buildings and trains is cosy, it gets very cold in Japan at this time of year (well below zero), so it's important to be prepared with warm clothes and waterproof shoes suitable for walking on ice and snow.

  • The festivals attended on this adventure are super popular with both foreign and domestic tourists so you can expect to be mingling with crowds as you enjoy the festivities together.

Itinerary

This itinerary is valid for departures from 01 January 2019 to 31 December 2019. View the itinerary for departures between 01 January 2018 - 31 December 2018

Konnichiwa! Welcome to Sapporo, Japan. As travellers are arriving from all over the world, there are no activities planned for today. However, you're expected to attend a group meeting in the evening - your group leader will leave a notice for you at the hotel detailing the exact time and place. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information during this meeting, so please bring these with you.
Nestled in a wide basin beneath snowcapped mountains, Sapporo is the lovely capital of Hokkaido and Japan’s northernmost island. Only 5% of the population live on over 20% of Japan’s land mass. It's a very special time of year in the city, as it hosts its annual Snow Festival. This is an incredible display of lights, ice sculptures and snow, which delights both domestic and international visitors. Join the eating, dancing, drinking and singing festivities during this art
festival.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today visit the Sapporo Snow Festival in all of its glory. This is Japan's biggest snow festival and full of beautiful snow sculptures, exciting food and lots of different activities. The markets serve up hot wine, which is great to warm you up while you enjoy the spectacular sculptures. You'll also pay a visit the Sapporo JR Tower Observation Deck for amazing views over the city.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Sapporo - Sapporo Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri)
  • Sapporo - JR Tower Observatory T38
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Head to the small, picturesque harbour city of Otaru today, which is about half an hour northwest of Sapporo by train. The Otaru canal that stretches through the whole city is still beautifully preserved along with many other buildings from the past. During your visit, Otaru holds it’s magical Snow Light Path Festival. The whole city is decorated with lanterns and snow statues, which creates a fantastic fairytale-like scenery when it gets dark. On your way to Otaru, there is also the option to get off at Yoichi and visit the Nikka whiskey distillery to warm up with some strong Japanese whiskey.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Otaru - Snow Light Path Festival (Yuki Akari no Michi)
Optional Activities
  • Otaru - Nikka Whisky Distillery - Free
  • Otaru - Herring Mansion & Aoyama Villa - JPY1380
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Discover the charm of Otaru wandering on its snow-covered streets with your leader. Check out the music box museum and maybe try your hand at glass blowing which Otaru is famous for other than the festival.
Visit Tanake sake museum to learn how sake is made and what makes a good sake.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Otaru - Tanaka Sake Brewery
  • Otaru - Glassware workshop
  • Otaru - Music Box Museum
  • Otaru - Walking tour
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
A travelling day today from Otaru to Sounkyo. You'll have a couple of changes in between from train to train or train to bus depending on the availability.

Sounkyo is a small tourist town known for its hot springs. Located in a scenic narrow gorge that's flanked by 100-metre-high, forested cliffs, this region is also known as one of the coldest parts of Japan - so make sure you bring your winter woolies. After arrival, visit the Sounkyo Ice Festival in the evening after a hearty dinner at our hotel. This chilly winter festival takes place along the Ishikari River and features large, multi-story buildings and structures made of ice and snow.

While the layout of the festival can change from year to year, it normally features large ice sculptures, snow domes and a snow tubing run (small fee required to rent tubes). There's also a stage area that's built out of snow, where various shows and stage events are held. In the evenings, everything is illuminated with colourful lights and it's a great attraction to see.
Accommodation
  • Ryokan (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Sounkyo - Ice Waterfall Festival (Hyobaku Matsuri)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
A free day in a winter wonderland. Weather permitting venture down to the gorge which runs along the Ishikari River; you may wander on riverside paths where frozen waterfalls hang in mid-air. If the weather is clear you may opt to ride the Kurodake Ropeway to the higher reaches of Daisetsuzan National Park and near the summit of Mount Kurodake. Sounkyo offers the ultimate wintertime indoor / outdoor public onsen in the village or the resorts own onsens which are one of the best in town.
Accommodation
  • Ryokan (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
Travel back to Sapporo today.
Visit Nijo Market after return to Sapporo. The Nijo markets cover around one city block and is a public market. You'll find the locals here haggling for crabs, salmon eggs, sea urchin, and various fresh and prepared fish. Enjoy some local delicacies or check out the several restaurants that can be found among the shops, including a collection of small drinking places and eateries along a narrow corridor called Noren Yokocho.
Continue to the Sapporo Brewery and learn about the birthplace of beer in Japan at the Sapporo Beer Museum, while also enjoying some tastings. Sapporo beer is one of Japan's oldest and most popular beers, not to mention a good way to warm up. Maybe try the most famous Jingisukan (Genghis Khan) barbecue for dinner that Sapporo is famous for and celebrate the end of the journey with your new friends.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Sapporo - Beer Museum tasting
  • Sapporo - Beer Museum
  • Sapporo - Nijo Market
Optional Activities
  • Sapporo - Mt. Okura Observatory (Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium) roundtrip chairlift ticket - JPY500
  • Sapporo - Hokkaido University Botanic Garden & Ainu Museum - Free
  • Sapporo - Sapporo Winter Sports Museum - JPY600
  • Sapporo - Historic Village of Hokkaido & Hokkaido Museum - JPY1200
  • Sapporo - Clock Tower (Tokeidai) - JPY200
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Your 'Japan Winter Festivals' adventure comes to an end today. You're free to depart the accommodation before check out time, and your leader can assist you with any onward travel plans you may have.
Meals Included
  • Breakfast

Meals

7 breakfasts, 2 dinners

Transport

Local Train, Public Bus, Subway, taxi

Accommodation

Hotel (7 nights)

Included activities

  • Sapporo - Sapporo Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri)
  • Sapporo - JR Tower Observatory T38
  • Otaru - Snow Light Path Festival (Yuki Akari no Michi)
  • Otaru - Tanaka Sake Brewery
  • Otaru - Glassware workshop
  • Otaru - Music Box Museum
  • Otaru - Walking tour
  • Sounkyo - Ice Waterfall Festival (Hyobaku Matsuri)
  • Sapporo - Beer Museum tasting
  • Sapporo - Beer Museum
  • Sapporo - Nijo Market

Dates & availability

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Important notes

1. A Single Supplement is currently not available for this trip due to limited rooms at many of our properties.
2. This trip does not include a Japan Rail Pass. You will need to buy your own train tickets for any independent rail travel you wish to do in Japan.
3. Due to the rapid increase in tourism in Japan and in the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics it has been necessary to go outside our traditional tour leader sources. As a result our passionate, professional and trained tour leaders may be local Japanese or long term foreign residents in Japan.
4. We are currently unable to book pre or post tour accommodation at our start & finish point hotels due to limited room availability. We recommend booking a hotel of your choice through an online booking engine if you are planning to stay longer in Japan.
5. It's best to pack a light backpack because the street can be very slippery or get muddy because of the snow and a suitcase can get very wet and difficult to pull through the snow.

Essential trip information

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Essential Trip Information provides a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what's included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

Reviews

Our Japan Winter Festivals trips score an average of 4.71 out of 5 based on 7 reviews in the last year.

Japan Winter Festivals, February 2018

Graeme Thorburn

Japan Winter Festivals, February 2018

Maria Clarissa Tomeldan