Japan: Snow in Hokkaido

Snow covered red temple in Hokkaido, Japan

Even though it’s May, the weather in Belgium is still below 15°C. We’ve had one week of real spring weather but it looks like the weather gods have decided we need more rain and grey skies. Being so stuck in winter weather, reminds me of our visit to Hokkaido. The main northern island of Japan was still covered in snow when we visited last March.


Snow was the first thing we saw when our Hokkaido Shinkansen emerged from the underground tunnel connecting central island Honshu with Hokkaido. While Tokyo was getting ready for spring, it seems like Hokkaido was still in its winter slumber.

Train station of Hakodate in the snow
Hakodate station
Snow in Hakodate station, Hokkaido Japan
Local train at Hakodate station

Coming from the vibrant Tokyo to the somewhat sleepy harbour city Hakodate, was quite an adjustment. The cold bothered me more than I like to admit. Even though I came prepared with lots of warm clothes and weather appropriate shoes, the cold wind and cloudy skies really dampened my mood.

However, once those grey clouds made way for clear blue skies and this beautiful view of snowcapped mountains, my mood quickly altered.

Mountain view from Hakodate harbour
Mountain view from Hakodate harbour


Sapporo was equally cold and snowy. But most of all, it was windy! May guess is that the skyscrapers of the Northern capital aid and enforce the wind to howl right through its boulevards. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I invested in a good rain and windproof jacket!

One can definitely notice how adjusted Sapporo (and all of Hokkaido) is to snow. Everywhere we went, the streets, bike lanes and pedestrians walkways were made clear of snow. The somewhat funny result is that snow is collected on the side of the road or anywhere else in large heaps. I can only image how high those snow piles must reach in peak winter season.

Biking through snow in Sapporo - Sapporo TV Tower in the background
Snow-free bike lanes in Sapporo – with Sapporo TV Tower in the background


Otaru was on our list of places to visit near Sapporo. If you enjoy handicrafts, sake or beer, then you’ll enjoy a day trip to Otaru too. This little city is known for its handcrafted glasswork and music boxes. They also have their own brand of Otaru Beer and there are a number of sake breweries located here.

I was looking forward to browse some of the glasswork shops but we first wanted to check out the iconic canal of Otaru. This little canal with European style street lamps looks quite romantic and it did remind me a bit of another canal-centred city closer to home: Bruges.

Otaru canal in snow
Otaru canal in snow

A sudden gust of snow forced us to search for cover. But not before I snapped some shots of the heavy snowfall. Alas, I was unable to get some glasswork souvenirs, as the snow made us decide to take a train to our next stop sooner than expected.

Otaru canal in snow - European style street lights
Otaru canal in snow – European style street lights


Our next stop was Yoichi, where you can find the Nikka Whiskey distillery. I’m planning to write a separate post on Nikka Whiskey and its distillery, but I want to give some focus on the beautiful winter landscape one can enjoy while waiting at Yoichi train station

Yoichi station with snowcapped mountains in the distance
Yoichi station with snowcapped mountains in the distance

Little side note: next to whiskey, Yoichi is also known for its apples. We enjoyed a delicious, freshly baked apple pie inside the station. We (or rather, I) could simply not resist the tempting smell of a steaming hot apple pastry to warm our bellies and our hands.

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