The 3 Must-See Illumination Events in Hokkaido This Winter 2016-2017

  • While most of Japan is just entering or in the midst of autumn, northern Hokkaido is already making preparations to welcome the onset of its famous freezing winter. Usually, the date of the first snowfall for the winter is seen as an indicator of the season’s arrival. This year, winter seems to have come earlier than usual as the first snowfall in Sapporo happened on 20 October 2016! As you travel around Hokkaido in November, how about checking out these three illumination events for some added sparkle and dazzle to your winter nights?

    1. Lake Toya Onsen Illumination Street and Illumination Tunnel (洞爺湖温泉イルミネーションストリート&イルミネーショントンネル)

    First up is the Lake Toya Onsen Illumination Street. In front of the Toyako Steamer Headquarters building (洞爺湖汽船本社), the 70 meters onsen street leading to the lakeside will be lit up with 12,000 LED lights. From 1 November 2016 to 31 March 2017, you can see these glittery lights from sunset (varies depending on the season) to 10:00 pm every night. Entrance to the illumination area is free of charge. To get to the event venue, you can take a Donan Bus (道南バス) from JR Toya Station (JR洞爺駅) to the Toyako Onsen (洞爺湖温泉) Bus Terminal and walk for another 5 minutes.

    Beginning slightly later in November is the Lake Toya Onsen Illumination Tunnel which started in 2007, about 200 days before the 2008 Toyako G8 Summit. Due to rave reviews, this became an annual event during the winter. For 2016-2017, it has been extended in terms of the event period and duration per day. It will take place at Nigiwai Hiroba (にぎわい広場) located opposite the Toyako Manseikaku Hotel Lakeside Terrace (洞爺湖万世閣ホテルレイクサイドテラス) between 7:00 pm and 10:00 pm from 11 November 2016 to 5th March 2017. The centerpiece of this event will definitely have to be the 70-meter-long tunnel and a dome with a diameter of 9 meters decorated with more than 400,000 LED light bulbs.

    Lake Toya Onsen Illumination Street Website
    Lake Toya Onsen Illumination Tunnel Website

    2. Sapporo White Illumination (さっぽろホワイトイルミネーション)

    The Sapporo White Illumination is an annual winter highlight in Sapporo which has been held for the past 35 years. Back then during the first edition in 1981, the event was held at the Odori Park 2-chome Plaza with just 1,000 light bulbs. Over the years, the scale of the event has grown in terms of content and exhibition space. In the 36th edition this 2016-2017, there are three main event venues which will all begin showcasing their illuminations from 18 November 2016 but with differing ending dates:

    1. The Odori Park area (大通会場) spans from 1-chome to 8-chome and will display light works such as the Love Tree (ラブ・ツリー), Munich Christmas Market (ミュンヘン・クリスマス市), Snow Crystal (スノークリスタル), Jewellery Palace (ジュエリーパレス), Christmas Garden Cafe (クリスマスガーデンカフェ), Forest Art (フォレストアート), Happy Circle (ハッピーサークル), and Creative Theatre Dome (クリエイティブシアタードーム) until Christmas Day, 25 December from 4:30 pm to 10:00 pm (hours extended to 12:00 midnight between 23 and 25 December).
    2. As for the area in front of JR Sapporo Station (駅前通会場), the trees on the central divider will be covered in a variety of LED lights from the Kita 4-Jo to Minami 4-Jo streets until 12 February 2017.
    3. Last but not least, the gingko trees at the Minami 1-Jo area (南一条通会場) extending from Nishi 1-chome to 3-chome will also be covered in LED lights until 14 March 2017.

    During the festival, there will be a number of events which you can take part in or look out for:

    • The light-up ceremony will take place at the Odori Nishi 3-chome area at 4:30 pm on 18 November 2016.
    • There will be a daily re-lighting called “TWINKLE NIGHTS” by the hour at 6:00 pm, 7:00 pm, and 8:00 pm taking place at the event areas in Odori Nishi 1-chome, 2-chome, 3-chome, and 4-chome until 25 December 2016.
    • There will be an Illumination Parade which will take place from 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm on 17 December 2016. Participants are required to bring something which will emit light and gather under the Sapporo TV Tower 15 minutes before the start of the parade which will end at the event space in Odori 8-chome. There is a limit of 300 people for this parade and you don’t have to pay anything to join it.

    The illumination event aims to be environmentally friendly through the use of LED light bulbs and natural sources of energy. For example, the event spaces at Odori 1-chome to 4-chome will be powered by bio-diesel fuels made from waste cooking oil contributed by families and companies. During the event period, there will be a collection box set up at 2-chome which will allow the city’s residents and companies to donate their used cooking oil. Similarly, at the 2-chome event space, the city government plans to use oil made from rape blossoms grown at their refuse landfill sites as power for the light works.

    During the event period, you can also hear the collaboration songs for the year. In past editions, popular singers and bands such as MARIA, Kawamura Ryuichi (河村隆一), BONNIE PINK, Shibasaki Kou (柴崎コウ), DREAMS COME TRUE, SPITZ, Matsutoya Yumi (松任谷由実), Saito Kazuyoshi (斉藤和義), GACKT, and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (きゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ) had contributed their songs for this event. This 2016-2017, Uno Hikari (宇野光) will be singing the collaboration songs so you will probably hear these being played when you go around the event spaces.

    Sapporo White Illumination Website

    3. Otaru Snow Story (小樽ゆき物語) and Yoichi Snow Story (余市ゆき物語)

    The Otaru Yuki Monogatari i.e. Otaru Snow Story is a significant winter event taking place along the Otaru Canal (小樽運河) which has two parts showcasing different views. During the first stage of the event period i.e. 12 November 2016 to 31 January 2017, there will be “Ao no Unga (青の運河)” i.e. “Canal in Blue” where 10,000 blue LED lights will be lit around the Otaru Canal from sunset to 10:30 pm every night.

    By 3 to 12 February 2017, the “Yuki Akari no Michi (雪あかりの路)” i.e. Snow Light Road will feature candles lit up along the banks of the canal.

    In the 2016-2017 edition of the event, the Wine Glass Tower (ワイングラスタワー) will also be displayed in Otaru until 12 February 2017. Visitors to the event can get a Machigohan Passport (まちごはんパスポート – Japanese only) i.e. Town Meals Passport from the Otaru Canal Tourism Information Office which contains a list of the dining places near the event space that offers discounts when you dine there. Last but not least, a Glass Art Gallery exhibit (ガラスアートギャラリー) will be displayed until 31 January 2017 in the JR Otaru Station (JR小樽駅).

    In conjunction with the Otaru Yuki Monogatari, neighboring town Yoichi-cho (余市町) is also holding its own edition of the illumination event from 12 November 2016 to 12 February 2017. As the town is known for being the origin place of Nikka whisky, the Yoichi Snow Story’s theme will be “Dream of the Amber (琥珀色の夢)” which color resonates with the image of the whisky. Maple-gold colored illuminations will be displayed along the Rita Road and Yoichi Ekimae Park located outside the JR Yoichi Station (JR余市駅) between 4:00 pm and 10:00 pm every night. Just like the Otaru edition, the Machigohan Passport will also be provided to visitors so you can explore various dining options around the event area.

    One distinguishing factor of the Yoichi event from the Otaru event is the showcasing of the town’s roots in whisky making. If you’ve watched the NHK morning drama Massan (マッサン) before, you will know that the story was set in Yoichi. As such, there is a Massan Memorial Zone at the Massan Yoichi Information Center (よいち情報館) from 21 November 2016 to 21 February 2017 featuring the costumes worn by the cast in the drama so this should be interesting for the drama’s fans.

    During the event period, you can also take part in a night factory tour organized by Nikka Whisky Yoichi Distillery where you can get access to usually restricted areas within the factory and be able to sample hot whisky and toddies. Note though that you would need to make advance reservations at the Yoichi Tourism Association as there are only 40 slots per night for this free 40-minute tour taking place from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm on 17 December, 24 December 2016, 14 January, 21 January, 28 January, and 4 February 2017.

    Snow Story Website *Japanese only
    Otaru Access / Yoichi Access

    After reading all about these illumination events, do make plans to check them out and experience winter early in November!

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    A Brief on What to Expect if You are Traveling to Japan in Winter!

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