Japan’s icy northernmost island is famous for its world-class powder snow, natural hot springs, delicious seafood, and much more. Much of the island is wild and unspoiled, making it a paradise for nature lovers and travel photographers
Hokkaido is an all-year-round destination, but winter brings many travel photography opportunities 🤩.
My short article is by no means an exhaustive review of the many wonders of Hokkaido but aims to flag five stunning places not to miss during a winter trip there
Ebisu and Daikoku rocks
Around 60 km Northeast of Sapporo (2 hour’s drive in winter 😢), you’ll find near Detaribira Fishing port the stunning Ibisu and Daikoku rocks
Clearly, those images are not black and white, just the result of the -18 °C snowstorm when I was there 🥶. The Torii Gate is … red
Ebisu Iwa and Daikoku Iwa in Yoichi Cho are Shintai (meaning physical entities) of the god of Fisherman (left) and the god of Wealth (right). Locals say that the rook looks similar to the gods (not sure about that but beautiful anyway 😂)
Both should bring you good fortune, even if they did not bring weather fortune the day I was there 😂.
Otaru, a port city situated about 40 km northwest of Sapporo (on the way toward Ebisu and Daikoku rocks above), has preserved its historic and picturesque canals lined with brick warehouses and gas lights.
The city was flourishing during the Meiji and Taisho periods as a herring fishing center. The old warehouses/shipping and trade companies’ office buildings give Otaru’s city center a special character.
It is sometimes known as the “Venice of Japan,” (including a recent focus on glassblowing in the city 😊).
Beyond the canal, there is honestly not much more to see but it is a great fairytale photography twilight spot…
… and for black and white photography as well…
Biei snow landscapes
Biei area, in Kamikawa Sub-prefecture (in the center of Hokkaido), is famous for its beautiful snow-scapes
The most popular game there is to look for minimalist images of lonely trees ….
Some treens are famous on the net, like the so-called Christmas tree below
So, I practiced minimalism photography to the full. I’m sure a smarter critic could find a deep meaning to the image below if I was a famous photographer (which I’m not 😂)
More seriously, the area is beautiful with many minimalist pure image opportunities …
Some cool isolated farmhouses …
… some lost Torii gates in the middle of nowhere
…. And some with people passing by 😊
… many tourists collecting images for their social media profiles …
There are as well beautiful views over the Biei river.
Do not miss as well the Shirahige frozen waterfall!
So, the Biei area is worth investing one, or two days, shooting (and some serious winter clothes 🥶)
Kushiro Red-crowned cranes
Birdwatchers are coming from around the world to see the magnificent Tancho (Japanese red-crowned crane) in Hokkaido
Those beautiful birds can be found in the eastern of Hokkaido, in the Kushiro Marshlands, in the region of Kushiro Shitsugen National Park
Those animals are huge. Adult cranes grow up to 160cm tall, with wingspans that can measure up to 2.5 meters!
The cranes can be seen all year around but with an increased probability to see them in winter as there are during that’s season feed in several sanctuaries (the most famous being the Tsurui-Ito)
They are considered in Japan as a symbol of fidelity, as the red-crowned cranes mate for life
The dances during the seduction games and male “fights” is really a show on its own, with choreographies at National ballet levels…
… and Olympics games level for martial arts competitions😂 …
It is good to get to the sanctuary twice, first in the morning, when the Cranes are the most active …
…and again around sunset where you might have a golden light gift from Mother nature …
Just not to leave it unsaid, you’re unlikely to be alone with the birds there 😢
But this is a wonderful and fun experience to observe those stunning big birds 🤩.
Lake Kussharo Whooper swans
Lake Kussharo is the largest Caldera Lake in the Akan National Park and is about an hour’s drive from the Tancho Crane Reserve described above. Around 300 beautiful Whooper swans can be found here in winter …
They rest (and care about each other) by some sandy beaches, where geothermal springs prevent the lake from icing fully.
The whooper swan is a migratory Northern Hemisphere swan. It arrives at Lake Kussharo every year in winter from the cold Russian Siberian area
For completeness, the lake is also known as Japan’s Loch Ness with a monster called Kusshii. Is it sound like a copy of Nessie’s name, I could not photograph it, just the peaceful & beautiful swans 😊
so, here are some places I would recommend seeing (not exhaustive) if and when you visit the beautiful island of Hokkaido during the freezing and beautiful winter. Don’t hesitate to connect if you wish to know more 😊. Marc