Frozen Beauty at Dawn and Dusk: Hokkaido in Midwinter
Hokkaido Prefecture in mid-winter is a frigid land of snow and ice, where temperatures can drop below minus 20 degrees Celsius for weeks on end. But this is the perfect time to see wildlife and natural phenomena that can only be glimpsed at this time of year. And, of course, it's a paradise for winter sports and other outdoor activities. This episode is presented by Bill Sullivan, the narrator for Journeys in Japan. He loves Hokkaido and the great outdoors. Right now, he can't make any trips, due to the coronavirus pandemic. But he hasn't stopped making travel plans. So this time he introduces 3 places and activities that are on his wish list, all in Hokkaido.

Kushiro Marshland

The largest wetland area in Japan lies inland from the port city of Kushiro, in eastern Hokkaido. It's famous as the breeding ground for red-crowned cranes, a species that has been designated as a special natural treasure of Japan. About 1,000 of the birds come to spend the winter there. Otowa Bridge in Tsurui Village offers spectacular views of the cranes in the early morning. Visitors can also book canoe tours to view the snow-bound scenery alongside a river that runs through the marshland.

Niseko

This international resort attracts skiers and snowboarders from around the world who come to enjoy the superb powder snow on the nearby slopes. Besides winter sports, visitors can also join in outdoor programs at a converted elementary school that offers nature tours and a hands-on introduction to Japanese culture.

Hakodate

Looking out over the Tsugaru Strait, Hakodate boasts an excellent natural harbor. This was one of the first places in Hokkaido to be opened to foreign visitors, and many historic buildings still remain from that era. During the winter season, this port city is lit up with illuminations, giving visitors the opportunity to stroll down brilliant corridors of light.

Access

Flights from Tokyo's Haneda Airport to Kushiro take about 90 minutes. From there, a half-hour drive will bring you to the Kushiro Marshland. To reach Niseko from New Chitose Airport, allow 2 and a half hours to get there by bus. Continuing on to Hakodate, the train takes about 3 hours.