Love snow and winter sports? February is the perfect time for you to visit Japan! The powdery snow and towering mountain ranges attract ski and snowboard lovers from all of the world. In fact, Hokkaido hosted the Winter Olympics in 1972 and Nagano hosted them again in 1998. If you’re not big on sports, February is the season for joyous festivals, relaxing in a natural hot spring, and even cherry blossoms!
Here are our top picks for things to do in February.
Sapporo holds this festival every year in February, and it’s an occasion you must experience at least once in your life! International artists, local students, and even members of the Self Defense Force from the nearby Makomanai base all participate in building giant snow and ice sculptures. The main part of the Sapporo Snow Festival takes place just a few blocks from Sapporo station in the Odori Site. Snow statues taller than buildings dominate the city blocks from the Sapporo TV Tower to the local courthouse where the international snow sculpture contest takes place. In between, massive ice sculptures double as stages that host traditional dance performances and J-pop idol concerts. Along the way, don’t pass up hot Sapporo beer, warm Otaru wine, or some of Hokkaido’s giant scallops straight from the shell. In nearby Susukino Site— the entertainment district—smaller ice sculptures lit by flashing neon above line the streets. Most are just for show, but some, like the ice bar for adults and ice slides for children, double as attractions.
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At the same time as the Sapporo Snow Festival, the neighboring town Otaru holds the Snow Light Path. Volunteers sculpt thousands of snow lanterns around the small port city and light the lanterns with candles between 17:00 and 21:00. Otaru is a town frozen in time, retaining its 1950s charm and most of its architecture. During the festival, hundreds of these lanterns line the road along the Otaru Canal, and candles float on the canal itself, giving this nostalgic town an elegant effervescent glow. The snow lanterns stretch for about a kilometer on the decommissioned tracks of the Temiya railway lines, and the path includes serene sights like a snow tunnel adorned with candles. The atmosphere of the tranquil Otaru Snow Light Path significantly differs from both the lively Sapporo Snow Festival and Asahikawa Winter Festival.
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The Asahikawa Winter Festival also runs around the same time as the Sapporo Snow Festival. In 1994, a giant sculpture of Suwon Castle—a Korean fortress—made it into the Guinness World Records as the most massive structure made from snow. The Asahikawa Winter Festival is more family-friendly compared to the Sapporo Snow Festival, but more exhilarating than the Otaru Light Path. Every year, children participate in the giant snowball tournament, and they’re encouraged to help decorate the town with snowmen. There’s also a snow maze, a 100-meter ice slide, and small amusement park-like rides for children. At night, the ice and snow sculptures come alive with projection mapping and music!
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If you love sports but skiing, snowboarding, and ice climbing aren’t for you, you might try ice fishing! Wakasagi smelt (a tiny fish similar to delta smelt) fishing is a favorite Hokkaido pastime. There are many lakes in Hokkaido where you can try ice fishing, but Lake Akan is one of the best places to try it. Lake Akan has multiple tents set up around several holes, and you’ll find all the equipment you’ll need to catch your fish inside, along with a heater to keep you warm! After you’ve had enough fishing, you can head over to a separate area and have your fish cooked on the spot. Wakasagi smelt is usually eaten grilled or battered and fried like tempura. They’re so small that the bones are soft, and you can eat them whole! They also go well with a large glass of beer.
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Japan’s winter won’t get in the way of you seeing iconic cherry blossoms! Although most species of Japanese sakura begin to bloom sometime in April, the kawazu zakura variety’s season begins around mid-February. The Kawazu Cherry Blossom festival is held annually along the Kawazu River as the sakura hit their peak bloom. During the festival, you can shop for souvenirs or sample a variety of fresh local treats from one of the many food stalls along the bank. Generally, the best time to see them is during the last two weeks of February, but the exact dates can change each year due to weather conditions. Interestingly, since the kawazu zakura variety’s season is longer than most sakura types, the flowers tend to bloom at a much slower pace. If your trip includes seeing Kawazu’s cherry trees, you’ll have a large window of opportunity to attend.
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Japan’s winter season might be chilly, but there are boundless opportunities that will make your trip worthwhile! If you plan to stay in Japan from February to March…