Winter Festivals in Hokkaido 2023-24

  • By Tsuyuki

While you're revelling in the powder snow on Niseko's slopes, don't miss the chance to explore the vibrant array of events and festivals in and around Niseko. These local festivities, often illuminated with captivating lights, offer the perfect escape for a few hours to half a day, providing you with a unique and unforgettable experience.

Hokkaido’s winter festivals, known as "Matsuri," each boast their own distinctive characteristics. Whether it's the awe-inspiring ice cube castles, intricate snow sculptures, mesmerising snow candle lantern displays, or enchanting snow tunnels, you'll be captivated by their artistic expression and diverse colours concepts. Most of these enchanting celebrations occur in February when the extraordinary snowfall of "Japanuary" gradually gives way to clearer skies and more frequent glimpses of the sun.

Exploring these Niseko winter festivals promises a magical and immersive experience that perfectly complements your snowy adventures on the slopes.

In Niseko

Christmas and New Year Celebrations 

As Niseko enters the heart of its winter season with a steady blanket of snow, visitors from around the world flock to this snowy paradise to celebrate the holidays. Christmas and New Year in Niseko are truly special, with a host of events to entertain and delight. It's not unusual to spot Santa Claus making appearances on the slopes, at the resort's base, or in the local restaurants and hotels.

Yukitopia (Snow Festival)

Image Credit: Experience Niseko

Yukitopia is a delightful winter event that spans two days. This festival boasts a variety of activities, including snow tubing, snowman building, snow sculpture exhibitions, the thrilling pond skim contest, and an exhilarating tube race. Food enthusiasts are in for a treat with BBQ and an array of food stalls offering delicious local cuisine. For a more authentic experience, explore the diverse food stalls near the Hirafu intersection. Don't forget that Setsu Kutchan shuttles to Kutchan station are available for your convenience.

  • Dates: Mid February 2024
  • Location: Asahigaoka Ski Area in Kutchan Town
  • Distance from Setsu: 10-15 mins drive
Niseko Town: Scenic Night

Image Credit: Niseko Scenic Night Facebook Page

Immerse yourself in the local culture and warmth of Niseko town during the Scenic Night event. This large, open-air winter BBQ party is a true representation of Hokkaido's authentic style. But what sets it apart and gives it its name? It's the enchanting candles that illuminate the night and the dazzling fireworks that light up the sky towards the event's end.

Outside Niseko

For those looking to embark on a day trip from Niseko to explore Sapporo and other nearby destinations, here's a list of must-visit festivals and events in the vicinity. To maximise your Hokkaido experience, consider planning a few nights' stay in Sapporo either before or after your Niseko adventure.

Sapporo White Illumination
Image Credit: Sapporo Travel

Immerse yourself in the magical world of Sapporo White Illumination, where the city comes alive with a vibrant display of colours. Against the backdrop of snow-covered trees and buildings, the lights take on an enchanting quality, creating a uniquely atmospheric beauty.

Sapporo's German Christmas Market

In a heartwarming display of international camaraderie, Sapporo, a sister city of Munich, hosts its very own German Christmas Market. From late November until Christmas, the city comes alive with a festive atmosphere. Numerous food stalls and craft stores set up shop, offering a delightful array of treats and treasures. Visitors can savour hot wine, German cuisine and snacks, and explore the world of Christmas crafts, all within the enchanting backdrop of the Sapporo White Illumination that runs simultaneously.

  • Dates: 22 November - 25 December, 2023
  • Hours: 11:00 - 21:00
  • Location: Odori Park 2 chome, Sapporo City
  • Distance from Setsu: 120-150 mins drive
  • More Information: Here
Sapporo Snow Festival
Image Credit: Sapporo Snow Festival

Japan's most renowned winter festival takes centre stage in Sapporo, the snowiest large city in the world. The Sapporo Snow Festival is a mesmerising celebration that showcases snow sculptures of varying sizes and styles. While the large sculptures are impressive works of art, painstakingly recreating famous buildings, sceneries, or animals, the smaller ones, crafted by citizens, exude a uniquely Japanese charm. You'll find characters from popular anime, making this festival a delightful experience for families with children.

  • Dates: 4-11 February 2024
  • Locations: Various venues throughout the city
  • Distance from Setsu: 120-150 mins drive
  • More Information: Here

Otaru Light Path Festival
Image Credit: Sapporo Travel

Among all the winter festivals in Hokkaido, the Otaru Light Path Festival stands out as a favourite among international visitors. Its picturesque location along the Otaru city canal provides an authentic and culturally rich atmosphere. As you stroll the snow-covered streets surrounding the Otaru canals, you'll be enchanted by the warm, nostalgic glow emanating from candles made of snow, casting their soft light on the historic buildings.

  • Dates: 10 - 17 February 2024
  • Hours: 17:00 - 21:00
  • Location: Otaru Canal and various venues throughout the city
  • Distance from Setsu: 60-75 mins drive
  • More Information: Otaru Light Path Festival

Shikotsu Lake Ice Festival
Image Credit: Shikotsu Ice Festival

Shikotsu Lake, a popular stopover between the airport and Niseko, hosts the annual Shikotsu Lake Hyoto Festival, a mesmerising winter attraction. This event showcases the incredible craftsmanship and dedication of its creators, who build an ice castle along the tranquil shores of the expansive Lake Shikotsu, nestled amidst the grandeur of majestic mountains.

  • Dates: 28 January - 23 February 2024
  • Hours: 10:00 - 20:00 (with evening light-up from 16:30 - 20:00)
  • Location: Lake Shikotsu Visitor Center
  • Distance from Setsu: 90-120 mins drive
  • More Information: Here
Lake Toya Illumination Festival
Image Credit: Lake Toya Tourism

Lake Toya, just an hour away from Niseko, is a pristine destination perfect for a half-day trip. Amid its scenic beauty, you'll discover a small yet enchanting illumination tunnel that captivates visitors.

  • Dates and Hours:
    • November 1, 2023, to February 29, 2024: 17:00 - 22:00
    • March 1, 2024, to March 31, 2024: 18:00 - 22:00
  • Location: Nigiwai Hiroba in front  of the Hotel Lakeside Terrace
  • Distance from Setsu: 60-75 mins drive
  • More Information: Lake Toya Illumination Festival

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