Located in northernmost Japan, Hokkaido is the second-largest and least developed island in the country. Given its geographical location, Hokkaido’s winter is known for being harsh, with lots of snowfall, sub-zero temperatures and frozen seas. Despite the bleak weather conditions, as it is the least developed island in Japan, its unspoilt natural landscapes still make it an alluring tourist destination for many. If you are planning a winter holiday to the fascinating island soon, read on for some great tips on how you can survive a memorable Hokkaido winter trip!
1. Appropriate dressing to beat the frost!
The winter season in Hokkaido takes up about one-third of the year, i.e. a period of four months, from December to March. During this season, it is freezing cold with lots of snowfall, and temperatures frequently fall below zero, particularly from December to February. Therefore, it is crucial to dress appropriately for the season so that you do not fall sick when on holiday. But, before you think that bringing the thickest clothing you have will be the safest bet, stop!
The indoor heating is usually turned right up at indoor tourist attractions, shops, public transport etc, so as to protect people from the extreme cold outside. Hence, it is wiser to wear layers of warm clothing instead of just relying on a single thick piece which is hard to remove and put on when you move in and out. You should always be equipped with winter accessories such as cashmere gloves, scarfs and beanies.
Do pay attention to the type of shoes you wear in winter in Hokkaido too. Not only must they be thick enough to keep your feet warm, it is recommended that you bring winter shoes with non-slip cleats. Or you can also get these cleats fixed on the soles on your shoes at the shoe shop.
2. Allow yourself more time to spare on a cold wintry holiday
Never jam pack your itinerary when you are going on a winter holiday. This is because travelling time may be longer due to conditions such as excessive snow on the road. Thus, it is essential you do not try to maximise your trip by planning to do a lot every day. As much as possible, make good use of the well-connected subway and underground passageways in the Odori and Sapporo station area. Underground transport and passageways are typically less affected by snowfall or any drastic changes in weather. Furthermore, it is recommended that you always contact each facility before setting off, as you will not know whether there may be any cancellation to its opening hours due to bad weather.
3. Keep warm with the local’s delight, Soup Curry!
The Soup Curry is a popular local delight in Hokkaido. Unlike the usual Japanese-style thick curry sauce, soup curry is more runny like a ramen broth, served together with a variety of ingredients like meat and vegetables. While you can get this curry dish in many Japanese cities nowadays, Hokkaido is still the best place to enjoy Soup Curry due to the abundance of fresh farm produce. It tastes particularly good during winter when you desperately need some warmth from the biting cold outside!
There are numerous Soup Curry restaurants on the island, each offering their own unique curry theme. For first-time visitors, you may like to try Picante Sapporo Ekimaeten with several branches in Hokkaido. You can check out the branch just 5 minutes from Sapporo station by foot. For more recommendations of nice Soup Curry restaurants, please read Sapporo’s Local Delights: 15 Places For Top Ramen, Soup Curry And More.
Read also: The Best Sweets in Sapporo, Japan
4. Cheers to the best beer in Japan that warms your soul
Hokkaido is also the proud birthplace of Japan’s best beer, thanks to the superb quality of its water used in brewing beer. As you enjoy the winter paradise of snow and great food, complement your meal with a good beer to up that celebratory holiday mood!
A great beer inn to check out is Beer Inn Mugishutei (麦酒停), the oldest craft beer bar in Japan, offering more than 300 types of beers in the bar. Not only does the bar serve quality crafted beers, you can also try its yummy gourmet burgers. Besides, Phred, the friendly bar owner cum beer guru, will be more than happy to chat with you and provide great food recommendations in Hokkaido. There is also a nice beer factory and museum in town like the Sapporo Factory should you be keen to gain more insights into this delightful malt beverage. Great to know that they are housed indoors so you can seek some warmth inside as well!
Beer Inn Mugishutei (麦酒停)
Address: Minami 5 Jo Nishi 9, Chuo-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido
Price: food prices from 600 to 1,800 JPY (5.50 to 16.50 USD).
Opening Hours: 7pm - 3am.
Access: 4-minute walk from Nakajima Koen Station.
Contact: +81 11-512-4774
Website: Beer Inn Mugishutei, 麦酒停
5. Soak in the warm natural hot spring waters
Being the second-largest and least developed island in Japan, there is plenty of rugged nature to look forward to. In fact, Hokkaido boasts some of the best onsens (hot springs) in the country with its superb natural environment surrounded by volcanic mountains and spring water. During freezing winter time, one of the best experiences in Hokkaido is to soak in a warm natural onsen surrounded by awesome snowy sights.
Indulging in a relaxing onsen experience not only helps warm your body, it has excellent health benefits too, as it is said to treat illnesses such as rheumatism, neuralgia or gastro-enteric disorders. Popular onsens include Jozankei Onsen in central Hokkaido, Otaru Furukawa onsen in the west, or Ryounkaku onsen in Kamifurano north of Sapporo for a memorable onsen experience from the highest point in Hokkaido.
6. An excellent hotel stay to create wonderful Hokkaido memories
Superb holiday memories are dependent on many factors, such as tantalising food, lovely sights and experiences. Of course, we should not forget the importance of the accommodation you stay in, as it may make or break the deal. Location, value, service and comfort are essential attributes that make an excellent stay. Feel the great hospitality by the locals in Hokkaido by booking a stay in one of the best hotels in Otaru, or stay in one of these excellent hotels in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido.
Relish a perfect winter holiday in Hokkaido
A trip to Hokkaido during winter may sound daunting for those who are terrified of frosty weather. However, if you follow the above tips closely, it will certainly be an amazing winter adventure for you. There are a lot of unique attractions happening only in winter, for example, the fascinating Sapporo Snow Festival, on the island waiting for you to discover. Brace up and plan your travels to Hokkaido before winter is over. Have a fascinating time on the unspoilt island!
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