Winter in Japan: 10 things to do in Hokkaido

Kara Santos

Posted at Dec 29 2018 10:36 AM

SAPPORO, Japan -- Hokkaido is Japan’s northernmost island and the country’s snowiest region. Known for its volcanoes, natural hot springs and ski resorts, Hokkaido offers a perfect winter holiday destination. 

Philippine Airlines recently launched non-stop flights from Manila to Sapporo, the capital and largest city of Hokkaido. With direct flights, travelers coming from Manila can now spend more quality time exploring this winter wonderland. 

Here are just a few things you can do there:

The View from Mt. Usu Ropeway. Kara Santos

1. Marvel at the view from Mt. Usu Ropeway

Mount Usu (“Usuzan” in Japanese) is a large active volcano in Hokkiado, with a mountaintop station accessible to all visitors via a ropeway/cablecar. Visitors can get stunning views of Mt. Showa-shinzan, one of Japan’s youngest mountains, as well as Lake Toya, a volcanic caldera lake within the Shikotsu-Toya National Park.

Visitors gather at Noboribetsu Hell Valley. Kara Santos

2. Hike around Noboribetsu Hell Valley

Noboribetsu Hell Valley is an old crater created by a volcanic eruption around 10,000 years ago. Walking trails take visitors up close to surreal volcanic sights like steam rising from the mountains, active geysers and sulfurous streams. The spring water here supplies many of the natural baths of nearby hotels and Japanese-style inns.

Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura is a cultural theme park. Kara Santos

3. Visit a Ninja village

Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura is a cultural theme park devoted to Edo-period history, with traditional village scenery, performances, food and games. The village recreates a samurai town full of merchant shops, samurai residences and ninja houses. 

Be sure to catch the Ninja shows, which features action-packed battles set within a house full of tricks. Visitors can also dress up in elaborate costumes of samurai lords and princesses for special studio photos. Samurai and ninja costumes for adults and kids are available for rent to wear while sightseeing around the park.

Visitors try horseback rididng at Northern Horse Park. Kara Santos

4. Ride a horse at Northern Horse Park

If you’re traveling with kids, be sure to stop by the Northern Horse Park, just 15 minutes from the New Chitose Airport. This vast ranch offers various activities for the whole family. Take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, try horseback riding or enjoy a round of mini-golf in their beautifully landscaped grounds.

Skiers get ready for night skiing at the Niseko Mountain Resort Grand Hirafu. Kara Santos

5. Visit ski resorts

The town of Niseko, near the dormant volcano of Mt. Yotei, is Hokkaido's premier ski destination. International visitors flock here for its incredible powder snow and winter sports activities like skiing and snowboarding. Niseko Mountain Resort Grand Hirafu offers ski and snowboard rentals, a variety of courses for familes to experts, a kid’s park, and even night skiing. A gondola station brings visitors up to Mt. Yotei to the top of the ski slopes.

Visitors enjoy Niseko Milk Kobo ice cream in the snow. Kara Santos

6. Hunt down Hokkaido food specialties

From fresh and surprisingly sweet seafood, to hearty soup curry, to the freshest dairy products, the northernmost island of Japan offers some of Japan’s best cuisine. 

Hokkaido’s cold climate and expansive countryside make it ideal for dairy farming, resulting in high quality milk, ice cream, cheese and other dairy products. Niseko Milk Kobo serves the most delectably creamy soft serve ice cream that comes in a variety of flavors.

Enjoy a fun meal with friends or treat yourself and your family to an amazing teppanyaki steak dinner with delicious Hokkaido ingredients at Cairn Annex at the center of Sapporo. Watch chefs as they cook up top-quality marbled beef and seafood, perfectly paired with wine.

Kokoro no Sato Jozan is a footbath and lounge. Kara Santos

7. Soak in some hot springs

Japan has thousands of onsens or hot springs scattered throughout all of its major islands, ranging from outdoor to indoor baths. 

During winter months, soaking in an onsen is a great way to warm up from the chilly weather. Kokoro no Sato Jozan is a footbath and lounge set within a Japanese-style garden. Visitors can relax and lounge about while dipping their feet into any of the 8 footbaths fed by natural hot springs, take refreshments at the healing lounge or read in their library which houses 800 books. 

Visitors go on a tour of the Nikka Whisky Yoichi Distillery. Kara Santos

8. Go on a whisky tour

Masataka Taketsuru was a leading expert of whisky in Japan. After his studies in Scotland, he chose the town of Yoichi near Otaru for brewing. Nikka Whisky Yoichi Distillery is now one of Japan's top whisky makers, offering tours that follow the distillation process. The tour ends at a tasting room where visitors can sample various Nikka whiskies. There is also a restaurant and a gift shop.

The Fushimi Inari Shrine in Sapporo is one of the filming locations of 'Kita Kita.' Kara Santos

9. Visit the filming locations of 'Kita Kita'

Pinoys may be familiar with spots in Sapporo, as it was the main setting for the 2017 Philippine romantic comedy film “Kita Kita” starring Alessandra de Rossi (who plays Lea, a Filipino tour guide living in Japan who goes blind) and Empoy Marquez (a fellow Filipino who she meets). 

Filming locations include Odori Park, the Clock Tower, the Sapporo TV Tower, and the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Sapporo as well as the Otaru Music Box Museum and the Otaru Canal in Otaru.

Be sure to stop by Mount Moiwa, which offers an amazing night view overlooking the streets of Sapporo, Ishikari Bay and the Shokanbetsu Peak. Couples usually pledge their love by attaching a padlock and ringing the bell at the observatory deck.

The Sapporo Beer Museum is the only beer-related museum in Japan. Kara Santos

10. Drink Sapporo Beer

No trip to Sapporo would be complete without sampling the local brew. Sapporo is the oldest brewery in Japan, founded in 1876 by German-trained brew master Seibei Nakagawa for the Kaitakushi Brewery. Visitors can satisfy their thirst for knowledge and enjoy beer samplers at the Sapporo Beer Museum, Japan’s only beer-related museum. 

Be sure to look out for “Sapporo Classic,” a canned variety available only in Hokkaido, made from 100% malt with no other added ingredients.