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Sapporo Snow Festival

Japan - Trip code JIF Festival
Days 13
Price from Call us
Flights not included

Why book this trip?

This exciting journey takes us to the far north of Japan where we make the most of the winter temperatures, taking an ice-breaker cruise in the Sea of Okhotsk before spending time admiring the incredible snow sculptures at the annual Sapporo Snow Festival. We also explore ultra-modern Tokyo, discover tranquil Zen gardens in ancient Kyoto and visit the snow monkeys at Yudanaka.

  • Odori Park - Home to huge snow sculptures and dramatic ice carvings
  • Otaru Lantern Festival - Stroll along the banks of the canal, lit by thousands of tiny candles and snow lanterns
  • Kyoto - See the traditional side of Japan, stunning temples and immaculate Zen gardens
  • Included meals

    Breakfast: 12

    Dinner: 5

  • Trip staff

    Explore Tour Leader

  • Transport





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    12 nights comfortable hotel

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    Trip pace:

    Full on

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    Group Size:

    10 - 16


Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.

Day 1 - Join tour in Tokyo

The trip begins in Japan's action-packed capital city of Tokyo.

For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6.30pm for the welcome meeting. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Tokyo at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Haneda Airport (HND) or Narita Airport (NRT). The city centre is around an hour away from Haneda Airport and an hour and a half from Narita. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.

If your flight arrives earlier in the day, we recommend taking the train one stop or walking along the Sumida River and then crossing over to see the Edo Tokyo Museum (it takes approximately 20 minutes to get here). This fascinating architectural structure gives a great history of Japan's capital and it is next to the sumo stadium so there is the chance to spot a sumo wrestler in the area. Also nearby is the Hokusai Museum which displays woodblock prints of Japan's most famous artist. Alternatively you can wander around the Asakusa area and explore the back streets. You will find sword shops, street food, goldfish scooping, rickshaws and plenty more just a few minutes' walk from the hotel.


Grade: Comfortable Hotel

Single room available

Meals Provided: Dinner

Day 2 - Visit ancient Asakusa Temple and modern Harajuku

It is said that over one quarter of Japanese live within a 50 km radius of the centre of Tokyo. The result is a bustling and exciting city, the economic powerhouse of Asia. Our first introduction to this unique culture is when we take a walking tour of the city highlights. We visit the Meiji shrine and Shinjuku area, where the latest electronic gadgets can be seen in neon-fronted shops before making our way to the traditionally styled Hamarikyu gardens. The gardens are located in central Toyko and feature several seawater ponds which change levels as the tides rise and fall. We then board a boat for a short journey along the Sumida-gawa river to the Asakusa Temple, Tokyo's oldest temple. This journey offers a totally different perspective of Tokyo, as we sail past high rise apartments, secluded gardens and busy warehouses.


Grade: Comfortable Hotel

Single room available

Meals Provided: Breakfast

Day 3 - Fly to Abashiri; discover the Meiji-era Prison Museum

This morning we leave the capital and after a short transfer we take a flight to Abashiri, located on the Okhotsk Coast. The town is most famous for the Kangoku, a prison opened in 1892 with a fearsome reputation for harsh winter conditions. Nowadays the prison has been transformed in to an interesting museum which we will visit, with chance to test out the cells if only for a few minutes.


Grade: Comfortable Hotel

Meals Provided: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 4 - Cruise on the Sea of Okhotsk; scenic train to Sapporo

Abashiri is Japan's northern most major city located at 44 degrees north latitude. From mid-January to late March the waters here are covered in drift ice and we will be taking a cruise through the Sea of Okhotsk to get to the main drift ice areas. A variety of wild animals can be seen including seals and sea eagles resting on the ice. From the ship you can sometimes spot fox and deer on the coast. The boat ride takes about one hour in total depending on ice conditions. We take the afternoon train to Sapporo, a scenic route with views across the snow covered landscape.


Grade: Comfortable Hotel

Single room available

Meals Provided: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 5 - View snow sculptures at Sapporo's annual festival

We spend the full day exploring the annual Snow and Ice festival. The festival first began in 1950 but gained worldwide recognition in 1972 when Sapporo hosted the winter Olympic Games. We will see all of the main venues that have snow statues and ice sculptures including Odori Park, Tsudome dome and the main street in Susukino, Sapporo's entertainment quarter. We will also take time to stop at one of the many ice bars that pop up during the festival. In the evening there is an option to visit the Sapporo Brewery for a tour.


Grade: Comfortable Hotel

Single room available

Meals Provided: Breakfast

Day 6 - Explore the beautiful seaside town of Otaru

This morning we have some free time to further enjoy Sapporo and its surroundings. A great option is to take a bus to the Hill of the Buddha, a striking shrine which features and 13.5 metre high statue of the Buddha which is surrounded by an artificial hill which is covered with Lavender plants. In the late afternoon we take the train to Otaru, a small town set along the Otaru Canal. The town is best known for the Snow Light Path festival when the snow-covered streets are decorated with small snow statues adorned with lights, particularly alongside the canal, and often there are small floating candles in the water. The festival usually coincides with the Sapporo Snow Festival but a walk around the down is delightful at any time. If our visit does not coincide with the festival we'll visit one of Otaru's famous beer halls, returning to Sapporo by train in the late evening.


Grade: Comfortable Hotel

Single room available

Meals Provided: Breakfast

Day 7 - Take the train to old trading port of Hakodate

Leaving Sapporo we take the train to Hakodate located on the south-west corner of Hokkaido Island. Hakodate was one of the first ports to open to foreign trade and as such has a distinct blend of Japanese and Western architecture. We wander through Motomachi which gives an insight in to how the traders lived and how the cultures merged. In the evening we take a trip to Mount Hakodate for spectacular views down across the city.


Grade: Comfortable Hotel

Single room available

Meals Provided: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 8 - Discover the morning market; flight and train to Kyoto

We rise early this morning to visit the Hakodate morning market. Starting at 6am in the winter the traders sell fresh seafood including crabs (kani) and sea urchins (uni) as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. There are plenty of opportunities to snack as we wander through the stalls. After the market we make our way back to the airport for the short flight to Osaka and then travel on to Kyoto, the old Imperial capital. Kyoto is the cradle of all things uniquely Japanese and the only large city to escape bombing in WWII. It was the Imperial capital for more than 1000 years and was at the heart of the events that shaped Japan's destiny. Signs of the past are visible throughout the city in its grand temples and palaces and also the many traditional shops selling wares that have been produced for centuries. This afternoon we visit the Kiyomizudera Temple and the Gion Geisha district.


Grade: Comfortable Hotel

Single room available

Meals Provided: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 9 - Walk through the temples and zen gardens of Kyoto

Kyoto is regarded as the place to see everything you expect to experience in Japan, with more than 2000 temples and shrines, many set in manicured landscaped gardens. But it is also a modern city. We spend a full day exploring including a visit to the temple of the Golden Pavillion, Arashiyama Bamboo grove and the nearby Ryonji temple with its beautiful zen gardens.


Grade: Comfortable Hotel

Single room available

Meals Provided: Breakfast

Day 10 - Free day to explore Kyoto. Option to visit nearby Nara

Today is a free day to explore Kyoto at your leisure. You may wish to take a trip to nearby Nara, home to the Todaji Temple, Big Buddha and the Kasuga Shrine. Your Tour Leader will be on hand to give you tips on where to visit and make the best of your time in this beautiful city.


Grade: Comfortable Hotel

Single room available

Meals Provided: Breakfast

Day 11 - Take the bullet train to Nagano

Today we take our first journey on the Shinkansen, Japan's bullet train. Travelling at speeds of up to 300km per hour, with quiet carriages and departures running to a strict timetable this is the ultimate in train travel. We combine this with a slightly slower local train as we make our way to Nagano.


Grade: Comfortable Hotel

Single room available

Meals Provided: Breakfast

Day 12 - Reflect at Zenkoji Temple before meeting Yudanaka's snow monkeys. Take the bullet train to Tokyo

After breakfast we pay a visit to the nearby 7th century Zenko-ji temple complex. We can experience the daily workings of temple life, with a chance to watch the monks taking their morning prayers. After a stop for lunch we head to Yudanaka, home to the famous 'snow monkeys'. During the cold winter months these clever simians take to the hot springs to keep warm. There are plenty of onsens (shared baths) which we can try out as well, all monkey free. In the late afternoon we board the Shinkansen and make our way back to Tokyo for our last night in this incredible country.


Grade: Comfortable Hotel

Single room available

Meals Provided: Breakfast

Day 13 - Tour ends in Tokyo

The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Tokyo.

There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Tokyo at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel, while you head out for some last minute shopping or sightseeing. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Haneda Airport (HND) or Narita Airport (NRT).

Meals Provided: Breakfast

Trip information

Climate and country information



Japan's climate is mostly temperate, with five distinct seasons. Summer is from June to September with temperatures reaching 30°c, although it can vary from warm to very hot. after mid-July. July and August can be humid. Spring and Autumn are mild throughout Japan. Winter, October to April, is cold with snowfall. The main rainy season is June. Japan can be prone to short, tropical cyclones in August to October. October / November although cooler is a great time to see the Autumn colours. For trips that visit the Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani Onsen, you're very likely to see them all year around, aside from in October/November when there is enough food in the forest to prevent them coming down to the baths. You may still see some at this time but not in the numbers found during the rest of the year.

Time difference to GMT



2 Pin Flat


Buddhism, Christian and Shinto



Budgeting and packing

Optional activities

The following excursions and/or activities are usually available and may be arranged locally. Estimated costs are provided below for guidance only, are on a per person basis unless shown otherwise, and may depend on the number of participants. Prices quoted are correct as of the date these tour notes were originally issued but may change at any time due to currency fluctuations. Please note: These activities are booked and paid for direct with the supplier and do not form part of your Explore holiday contract.

Sapporo Brewery visit - 3000 Yen per person including dinner
Day trip to Nara - 2250 Yen per person


Rain gear is essential. You will need warm clothing for this trip as both daytime and night time temperatures are cold. Expect it to be around -1 degrees centigrade during the day and sinking to minus 8 during the night.


Comfortable walking boots with good grips for walking around the ice festival. There will be plenty of snow so good waterproof footwear is a must.



Luggage: On tour

One main piece of baggage and a daypack. We recommend a compact suitcase with wheels or good quality rucksack. While in Japan we will make use of their efficient luggage transfer service to transfer your main bags between Sapporo and Kyoto and from Kyoto to Tokyo. For the nights spent in Hakodate and Nagano you will need to bring overnight items in your daypack as there will be no access to your main bag.

It's important to mention that passengers intending to bring baggage with overall dimensions of over 160cm (taken by adding the height+width+depth measurements) will need to reserve a seat with an oversized baggage area. There is no additional cost for this seat, but availability cannot always be guaranteed. These overall dimensions are around the same for which oversized baggage fees are charged on international airlines, so it's unlikely that you will be bringing a suitcase of this size. However, it is worth checking the dimensions and then repacking with a smaller case if necessary. You can find the full details of this policy here:


Bring a water bottle to save on purchase of plastic bottles and a small torch. Hairdryers are provided at all the hotels.


Explore leader
Tipping isn't compulsory, and we work hard to ensure that our leaders all receive a fair wage. You may however, want to recognise a leader that's done a great job or really added to your trip by giving them a tip. We're often asked about the recommended amount. It's a tricky one, and down to personal preference, but we'd recommend between £15 to £20 per person per week as a guideline.
Local crew
Although entirely voluntary, tipping is a recognised part of life in this region of the world. Some local staff will look to members of the group for personal recognition of particular services provided. Accordingly you should allow £20 for tips.

In order to make things easier for you, the Tour Leaders may organise a group's tips kitty and if this is the case, they will account for it throughout the tour.


Food and drink

The costs for meals may vary depending upon location, type of restaurant and number of courses eaten and so the prices given are an average guide. Local restaurants located off the beaten track may be less expensive, whereas an upmarket restaurant located in the centre of a major city may charge more.

Lunch price
Dinner price
Beer price
Water price
£1.00 - 2.00
Foreign Exchange
Local currency
Recommended Currency For Exchange
It is preferable to take money in Yen or traveller's cheques.
Where To Exchange
Most major towns - your Tour Leader will advise you on arrival.
ATM Availability
All post offices have international ATMs. Some other ATMs do not accept Western bank/credit cards. Your tour leader will advise you locally.
Credit Card Acceptance
In major restaurants and stores.
Travellers Cheques
It should be noted that outside of the major cities it is difficult to change traveller's cheques. Where available it takes 30-45 minutes, the best places to exchange them is at the airport on arrival.
Transport, Accommodation & Meals

Transport Information

Bus, Boat, Flight, Train

Essential Information

Government Travel Safety Advice

We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice click here.

For more information from Explore about travel advice, click here

Under 18 immigration guidance

Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.

Price Guarantee

Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions

Visa and Passport Information

Japan: Visas are not required by UK, Australian, New Zealand, US and Canadian citizens.

Other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office.

If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.

It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.

Booking conditions

Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.


Find out more about Trip Transfer Terms and Conditions before you book.

Booking a land only package with Explore

Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information. 

You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.

Joining Tour Abroad

Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.

The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.  

Free transfers are not available for Self-Guided, Polar, Tailormade or Tours for Churches customers.

If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.  

For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here


It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.

Flight information

Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.

Flight Information

You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.


Booking a flight inclusive package with Explore

We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.

On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.



Nothing compulsory. We recommend protection against typhoid, tetanus, infectious hepatitis and polio. The use or possession of Vicks inhalers and some other common prescription and over-the-counter medicines (e.g. for allergies and sinus problems or even certain mild painkillers, such as those containing certain levels of codeine) are banned under Japan's strictly enforced anti-stimulant drugs law. Customs officials may not be sympathetic if you claim ignorance about these medicines. If in any doubt about customs procedures for such items, you should check with the nearest Japanese Embassy before visiting Japan. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.

Additional Information

Why book this trip

From food to festivals, scenery to sledding, history to hilltops this is a varied tour where you will be well and truly off the beaten tourist path. This tour is ideal for anyone wanting to learn more about Japanese culture whilst experiencing the unique Sapporo Snow Festival.

Dates, prices and booking

All trips are subject to availability and prices are subject to change


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