Hokkaido is Japan’s Siberian north. Home to some truly polar temperatures that plunge way below zero, Hokkaido is home to prime snowboarding as much as some of the wildest, most remote slices of nature to be found in Japan.
If you are wondering when the best time to visit Hokkaido is, we’ve got the answers for you. Whether you want to hike under clear skies or throw yourself down a ski slope, we’ve got you covered with our handy guide.
The Best Time to Visit Hokkaido, Japan
Weather in Hokkaido in January
Hokkaido in January is cold. In fact, it’s the coldest month that Hokkaido experiences. Visiting the island during January means that you are going to really feel that biting chill.
The temperature barely gets above minus figures. Let’s put that into relative terms: the average temperature is -4°C. Freezing. Eastern Hokkaido sees even colder temperatures.
Snowfall is pretty high, with central mountain area Daisetsuzan seeing the most.
Sapporo, Asahikawa, Hakodate – all of them see a lot of snow and ice. Coastal areas like Abashiri – where the sea actually freezes – get sea gusts that make it feel even colder. Expect to see meters-long icicles hanging from the side of buildings. Roads and paths will be frozen, so watch your step.
Multiple layers, thermals, gloves, hats, scarfs – you’ll need all of these things to stay even remotely comfortable during Hokkaido’s January.
Weather in Hokkaido in February
The first half of February is some of the coldest weather you’ll experience in Hokkaido. Sidewalks will be piled high with snow as it gets cleared every morning. The days are short (only four hours of sunshine a day), and temperatures range from -7 to -4°C.
The Okhotsk Sea freezes over in places like Abashiri, too, which is cool to see but definitely shows you just how cold it is.
Don’t expect rain, but do expect snowstorms; February is peak snow time. When it isn’t snowing, however, days can be pretty clear and sunny, making this the perfect time of year for skiing and snowboarding. Furano, for instance, is a famous place to hit the slopes near the city of Asahikawa.
Weather in Hokkaido in March
As much of Japan starts to get warmer, so does Hokkaido. But not nearly as warm as the rest of the country. The average temperature is a mere 1°C. It’s still very, very cold. Snow will still be packed on the sidewalks, and the roads will be icy.
Ski/snowboard season is still going strong in March, with mountain areas being much colder than cities. World-famous Niseko is great during this time of year.
Towards the end of the month, things will start warming up a little more. And while on the Japanese main island of Honshu the cherry blossom starts to bloom in late March, you’ll be a month too early for that in Hokkaido.
Weather in Hokkaido in April
In April, Hokkaido starts to show signs of spring actually arriving. The snow gradually starts to melt. In fact, the average daily temperatures across the island begin to creep up to 7°C (nights remain chilly, at around 3°C).
April sees the end of the ski season, with the first week or so of the month being okay, but with the rest of it seeing ski resorts shut their doors. Don’t worry; with the lack of snow and ice, you’ll be able to explore some of Hokkaido’s choice national parks, like Akan National Park, for example.
The very end of the month might see the cherry blossoms come out to play, but more than likely, you’ll have to wait a couple more weeks for that. Usually, it will be in peak bloom in…
Weather in Hokkaido in May
Yes. Finally it is springtime on this northernmost Japanese island. Now that the snows are melted, it’s hard to believe that the whole place was a frozen wonderland.
That’s because the hillsides are showing green grass, spring flowers are starting to come out, and in the first week of May (usually), the cherry blossoms show up. All in all, things are becoming more alive.
Temperatures are in the mid-teens, which is a big increase on April, and nighttime temperatures are around 7°C. You’ll still need to wrap up warm, we’d say, especially after dark.
Weather in Hokkaido in June
Though this is the first slice of summer, the temperatures hover around the late-teens and maybe just above 20°C. You may even be able to leave your jacket or sweater at home as June kicks off.
While tsuyu – or Japanese rainy season – is pelting the island of Honshu to the south, Hokkaido is basically unaffected by either the downpours or the high humidity, remaining pleasant. Even the sea temperatures are around 14°C. Hokkaido’s lakes also start opening for the tourist season. Hiking and splashing around in water become suitably acceptable.
This is when the flowers really start to look incredible in Hokkaido; head to Biei for row upon row of colored petals at its flower farms.
Weather in Hokkaido in July
Temperatures in Hokkaido in July are around the low-20s, making this a welcome alternative to the high humidity of the rest of Japan. It’s one of the best times to visit Hokkaido; escaping the sweaty cities of Tokyo and Osaka and heading to the fresh climate of this northern island is blissful.
Hiking is good in July. You’ll be sharing the path with locals out to see nature coming back to life. Once a frosty expanse, Furano now boasts incredibly purple fields of lavender.
At the end of July, however, things change. Heat begins to actually be a thing, with temperatures of around 30°C not unheard of. Rainy days can occur, too, but it’s not all that frequent.
Weather in Hokkaido in August
This is easily the hottest month of the year in Hokkaido, but it’s still much more bearable than the rest of Japan, which is in August a hot, humid mess. The average high in Hokkaido during August is 25°C. While it is a bit humid, it’s nowhere near the tropical levels going on down south.
With school vacations, the summer crowds also peak in August. Biei’s flower gardens become very, very busy.
This is a good time of year to visit the remote Shiretoko National Park, up in the northeast of the island. Practically inaccessible during winter, the Shiretoko Peninsula is a forested area of lakes and mountains that’s asking to be explored.
Weather in Hokkaido in September
The temperatures start to drop a little in September as the summer winds down, and fall begins to creep in. In the north of Hokkaido, the trees start to turn into the fiery fall foliage that’s so famous in Japan – the so-called koyo (literally ‘Red Leaves’), which is the fall equivalent to cherry blossom.
The south of the island is quite rainy at this time of the year as typhoon season begins to affect all of the Japanese islands (yes, even the Siberian-influenced Hokkaido).
It’s still around 18°C in Hokkaido, and it can still get up to the mid-20s. We’d say this is one of the best times to visit Hokkaido: crowds disperse, the weather’s still good, what’s stopping you?
Weather in Hokkaido in October
This is the proper start of fall in Hokkaido, with reds, oranges, and yellows exploding through the countryside, towns, and cities of the island. Photo opportunities during this time of year are dictated by that beautiful fall foliage, that’s for sure.
Daytime temperatures still climb up to the high-teens, but nights can be cold. However, toward the end of October, the temperature begins to drop quite significantly; below 10°C is a pretty normal low for this time of year.
That said, it’s a pleasant time of year to visit. Gone is the heat of summer, and the freezing winter is yet to arrive. There are plenty of dry days – perfect for exploring the cities and nature of Hokkaido. Hiking in Noboribetsu is pretty cool in October, for example.
Weather in Hokkaido in November
Fall is left behind, and winter starts to come into the picture in November. The fall foliage is all but gone by the middle of the month.
Northern Hokkaido and the central highlands start to see the first snows of the year. It starts getting a lot colder. Temperatures can be in the mid-teens, but usually, they’ll hover just under 10°C.
Nighttime lows start to get really cold though (how does 1°C sound?) and by now, you’ll have to be wearing extra layers. Outdoor activities become less and less of an option. Skies are clear, but hours of sunlight start to dwindle.
Weather in Hokkaido in December
Winter has its full grip on Hokkaido right now. Snow will be falling a lot – pretty much everywhere – blanketing the countryside and mountains.
It’s in mid-December that the ski season starts up again. Places like Furano, and local resorts around Sapporo, open their doors for the skiers and snowboarders among you.
The air is dry, and the rainfall is at its lowest level in December. Gloves, hats, and scarfs become a must once again, as the average high flatlines at about 3°C. Our tip? Head to onsen (traditional Japanese hot springs) to warm up.
Festivals in Hokkaido
Winter Festivals in Hokkaido
It’s all about winter festivals in Hokkaido!
Founded in 1981, Sapporo White Illumination – held at Odori Park from late November to late December – sees hundreds of thousands of lights adorning trees and sculptures of the park. Eat, drink, and be merry in the glow of the lights.
The main event has got to be Sapporo Snow Festival, taking place in early February. Hundreds of snow and ice sculptures dot the city, ice bars pop up, there are ice slides and food stalls – it’s a super fun time of year.
About the same time is Otaru Snow Light Path, where lanterns dot the canal and former railway line of Otaru (near Sapporo). Asahikawa, in the mountains, also plays host to a Snow and Ice Festival in February. It comes complete with sculptures, food, a maze, and even a stage with a light show and music to top it all off.
There’s also Chitose’s Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival, which has been running for over 40 years. From January (to mid-March) is Sounkyo Hyoubaku Festival, which even features traditional Ainu (indigenous people of Hokkaido) dancing.
Spring Festivals in Hokkaido
Spring sees snows melt – albeit gradually – across Hokkaido, with flowers blooming and festivals associated with that new, colorful life springing up all over the place.
Not as famous as cherry blossoms but just as beautiful, plum blossoms can be viewed when they come out in April. Plum-blossom viewing at Hiraoka Park’s Ume Matsuri (literally ‘Plum Festival’) is a lot of fun. You can even eat soba or buckwheat noodles complete with plums in the broth.
Moss Phlox Festival takes place at Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park (early May) with a carpet of fuschia-colored plants making for great photo ops.
Though not an ‘official’ festival, cherry blossoms come out in early May. One of the best spots to see them is in Matsumae Park, with many different variations of cherry trees to soak up. Hokkaido-Jingu is another excellent location.
Held in late May, Sapporo Lilac Festival, started in 1959, marks the end of winter and the start of ‘summer’ in Odori Park. Four hundred lilac trees in full bloom is a pretty cool sight to see!
Summer Festivals in Hokkaido
Noboribetsu has some of Hokkaido’s best hot springs, but at Noboribetsu Jigokudani (Hell Valley) – where the water constantly steams and bubbles – the skies are lit up with plentiful fireworks every Thursday and Friday (June-August).
In Sapporo, Yosakoi Soran Festival sees over 30,000 dancers come together for a dance festival that takes place June 6-10. In mid-June, also in Sapporo, Hokkaido-jingu celebrates its own matsuri (festival), when the portable shrines from the main building are taken on a journey to the center of town. Traditional food stalls abound, and there’s a lot of sake involved.
Sapporo Summer Festival, from July to August, means beers in the park and an all-round lively atmosphere. This is also when Obon – a Buddhist veneration of ancestors – takes place.
Shiretoko Shirai Neputa is a sight to behold. In mid-July, illuminated floats go on a procession through the streets – to much applause and merrymaking, of course.
But this has to be the best summer festival in Hokkaido: Furano hosts the very quirky Belly Button Festival (late July) when people paint their stomachs to look like faces.
Fall Festivals in Hokkaido
September sees the city of Kushiro put on a Ramen Festival. You get to try all sorts of different ramen from around Hokkaido during this festival, which sounds pretty tasty to us.
From early to mid-September, Sapporo plays host to Sapporo Autumn Fest, a festival that celebrates fall with plenty of local food and drink served up.
Also in Kushiro, or more precisely at Lake Akan, there’s the Marimo Matsuri. It’s a three-day celebration of the weirdly spherical submarine grasses that grow in the lake, complete with Ainu dances and a torchlit procession.
When is the Best Season to Travel to Hokkaido?
High season (June-Early September and December-February): Hokkaido is honestly great any time of year. However most view the high season as winter and summer. If you’re an avid skiier or snowboarder you’ll want ot visit Hokkaido in the winter. The island gets epic snowfall and resorts like Niseko and Furano and prime ski vacation hot spots. However prices are high at ski resorts, even higher than usual for Japan. Also prices on accommodation rise during the holidays. See what it cost to travel around Japan here.
Summer is another popular time to travel to Hokkaido, especially for the mainland Japanese who want to delve deeper into nature!
Shoulder Season (March-May, Mid September and October): Spring and Autumn are a great time to visit Hokkaido. In the spring the flowers come in full bloom and during the autumn the leaves change beautiful colors. Since it’s the shoulder season you’ll find moderately priced accommodation as well!
Low Season (November): Since Spring, Winter, Autumn, and Summer are all prime seasons in Hokkaido there really is no “low” season. However like anywhere in the world November would be the worst time to travel to Hokkaido as it’s between seasons.
Best Time of Year to Travel to Hokkaido?
As a snowboard lover my favorite time to travel to Hokkaido is in the winter. The sweet JAPOW starts to fall in December and is pretty consistent until March. Winter in Hokkaido is what Japan is all about – peaceful, zen, and quiet.
That being said, summer is also a prime time to visit Hokkaido. It’s a wonderful time to walk through the rainbow meadows of Furano, explore Otaru, or see all the beautiful wildlife. Spring and Autumn are also stunning times for nature and outdoor lovers.
I guess what I’m trying to say is – there really is no bad time to visit Hokkaido.
When is the Cheapest Time to Visit Hokkaido?
The cheapest time to visit Hokkaido is between March and June when the skiing is almost over and the summer crowds haven’t come in yet.
Best Places to Visit in Hokkaido in Winter?
Hokkaido has so many great places to visit during the winter. My favorites are Noboribetsu Onsen, Ningle Terrace in Furano, Sapporo (for the Snow Festival!), Niseko, Rusutsu, and pretty much everywhere!
Quick Travel Tips for Japan
- Capital: Tokyo is the capital of Japan while Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido.
- Currency: The Japanese Yen(¥) is the currency of Japan. Most places in Japan do not accept credit card and it’s always advisable to have cash on you.
- Visa: Most visitors can enter Japan visa-free for 90 days – check with your embassy.
- What to Pack: It all depends on when you visit Hokkaido. See our full Japan packing list here.
What to Pack for Japan?
Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend picking up a Lonely Planet to get you through the wireless nights.
You’re going to need something to carry your belongings in while you’re traveling around Japan. Even if you’re not doing extensive hikes you need at least something small for day trips. My favorite daypacks are from Camelbak.
If you’re wondering what travel necessities to bring to Japan then good walking shoes should be your top concern.
It is considered rude to wear your shoes inside in Japan so most places will give you slippers to walk around with once you take your shoes off at the door. However, I never found these slippers comfortable and would rather have my own from home.
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