North of Hokkaido lies the Okhotsk Sea which is famous for its cold arctic winters and drift ice during winter. In February, the drift ice flows right down to the coast of Hokkaido, adding a Russian winter feel to the already snow-covered cities along it. If you are traveling in Hokkaido, do not forget to watch this drift ice, sip sake and celebrate winter festivities.
Monbetsu is a city in the Okhotsk subprefecture facing the sea of Okhotsk. It is famous for its annual Drift Ice Festival which many people enjoy. There is an ice sculpture competition that happens at the main venue where sculptors make huge statues, buildings, castles and more out of ice. These will be lit up in the evening to make them look even more fabulous. You can enjoy delicious seafood such as crabs at the food stalls during the festival. Many visitors stand by the coast watching drift ice. Some even take an icebreaker cruise to enjoy the scenery.
There is a famous cruise called ‘Garinko 2’ which operates until March that offers an incredible drift ice experience to tourists who wish to see the beautiful white-covered waters of the Okhotsk sea. The ship is equipped with screws and long drills to break the ice and allow the ship to sail freely. If you are lucky, you will be able to see seals and sea eagles resting on the ice. The cruise lasts for approximately one hour with prices starting from 3000 yen or so per head.
Abashiri is a town located in Hokkaido along the coast of the Okhotsk sea. It is a fabulous place which gets covered by snow during winter. You can also see the drift ice here, enjoying ice sculptures and savoring delicious dishes like crab, sea urchin and salmon. There are also boat cruises available to enjoy the drift ice experience.
Be warned that sometimes, the drift ice might not arrive the coast of Hokkaido and you may have to go back home disappointed. So, it is advised to check the arrival of drift ice from the local tourist offices of Abashiri and Monbetsu. However, the cities would still have enough ice sculptures and many food stalls at the festivals to ensure that visitors have a lovely day! There are even cruises available to do a mini voyage along the sea of Okhotsk!
Both festivals take place around the same time. For 2016, the Drift Ice Festivals will be held from February 11th through the 14th. These are the two famous drift ice festivals of Japan. Book a ticket right now and have a perfect winter trip on the shores of Hokkaido.