It is not cherry blossom petals drifting in the air but large snowflakes! Spring in Hokkaido is definitely unlike anywhere else in Japan.
There is a massive difference in the temperature and climate compared to the main island of Honshu and places further south, which may seem incomprehensible to tourists coming to Japan. Hence, it is advisable to get information and make preparations in advance.
Spring in Hokkaido is also an excellent time to enjoy not only the sights but also the cuisine. At that time of year, all sorts of famous seasonal dishes are available, which makes it all the more reason to do some preparation to get the most out of your travel experience! Here we share some of the best tips for visiting Hokkaido in spring.
1. You will need to pay special attention to footwear because there is still snow on the ground in April
For most parts of Japan spring begins in March when flowers begin to bloom, but in Hokkaido spring arrives in April. Keep in mind, though, that spring arrives slowly in Hokkaido and even in early April it can snow!
Snow remains in many flat areas in Hokkaido up until the middle of April, so you need to give thought to footwear. As long as you do not go into the mountains or highlands you will not need snow boots, but you should wear shoes that have non-slip soles, if possible. Melting snow fills the roads with slush, so the shoes you wear should also be waterproof.
2. You also need to be careful about being splashed by cars driving through the slush
In Japanese, such splashed slush is called yukihane! Cars driving along the road splash that muddy slush often with such force that it can even cover a pedestrian from head to toe (most drivers will try to slow down but still being splashed with slush is often unavoidable).
Hokkaido residents have learned to move away from the road as much as possible when they hear the sound of a car approaching. If you rent a car during your stay in Hokkaido at this time, please be careful to slow down when approaching pedestrians.
3. Hokkaido in April is as cold as Tokyo in the middle of winter! Dress warmly
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Naturally, if there is still snow on the ground the temperature will be much lower. The average temperature in Sapporo in April is 7.1℃, which is the same for Tokyo in the middle of winter.
Even so, you will not see many residents of Sapporo wearing down jackets and heavy coats, probably because they are accustomed to the weather.
For outerwear, a nylon jumper that keeps out the cold wind or a light coat that has a removable liner is convenient. Long-sleeved garments are good for innerwear, and because the temperature sharply drops at night, it is good to have at least one heavy cardigan as well.
By May, the weather becomes more spring-like, but it is still a good idea to have a spring coat or jacket to be safe.
Also note that the northern and eastern parts of Hokkaido tend to be much colder so you will need to have clothing that protects you from the cold. If you're planning on outdoor activities, or if you're going to be in a colder place, such as the mountains or highlands, make sure you are properly prepared for that as the weather is winter-like.
4. You can enjoy skiing even in May!
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While spring being cold in Hokkaido does present certain challenges, there are some advantages such as being able to still enjoy skiing and snowboarding!
Even in central Hokkaido, which is warmer than other parts of the prefecture, many ski resorts stay open until the middle of the Golden Week, a string of holidays in May. But in years when there is not much snow, the season ends earlier, so it is a good idea to check in advance whether snowing would be possible or not.
5. It doesn’t rain much at all
Spring is the time of year when it rains the least in Hokkaido. It is a pleasant season with a lot of fine weather, but after the snow melts, dry soil and dust are blown up by spring breezes. When traveling and sightseeing outside urban areas, especially in the countryside, it is a good idea to have a face mask and sunglasses with you.
6. Carefully check the hours of operation of leisure facilities
Many sightseeing and leisure facilities in Hokkaido are closed during the winter season and don't open until late April at about the time of Golden Week.
Another thing to keep in mind when planning your itinerary is that some of the facilities that were open in winter will be closed for a certain period before the start of the summer season in April.
For example, the popular Asahiyama Zoo is closed from April 8 to 28 (* FY2020). If you were planning a trip during these dates the zoo would be closed! For that reason, it is a good idea to check these things beforehand.
In addition, short holidays occur immediately after the summer season, and traffic around popular spots tends to be congested. So, when planning your itinerary be sure to carefully check dates to see whether you can do all that you want to.
7. If you plan on driving, check to see if any roads will be closed
There are some roads that are closed during the winter season, such as those going through mountain passes or in places where there is lots of snowfall in winter. One such famous place, the Shiretoko Overland Road, which runs through the Shiretoko Pass, is closed until late April.
Many of the roads that were closed begin to be reopened between April and May, so you should check those dates if you are planning on renting a car. Even on roads that are not closed, in early spring, they can be as dangerous as winter roads, so be careful to drive safely.
There is lots to discover in Hokkaido in spring!
The image most people have of sightseeing in Hokkaido is one of a snowy wonderland in winter and broad expanses of natural beauty blessed by sunny days in summer. Perhaps for that reason Hokkaido in early spring may not be so well perceived. There are, however, attractions that can only be enjoyed at this time.
Umiake, which literally means "opening of the sea", is used to refer to when the ice floes disappear from the sea of Okhotsk and marks the beginning when once again hauls of delicious crab resume.
Sea urchins taken from the Hidaka region are another spring delicacy in Hokkaido, and from train or car windows while traveling through central Hokkaido you may even see newly-born foals called tonekko.
Cooler temperatures make walking outdoors more comfortable and you just might discover a side of Hokkaido that you had not expected.
Text by: Minna no Kotobasha