Sapporo is the largest city and the capital of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. The city is especially famous for its Snow Festival (雪まつり/yukimatsuri in Japanese) with its snow sculpturing contest and the White Illumination Festival with its German Christmas market. However, there are also several other fantastic festivals and events arranged in Sapporo all around the year.
In the late spring and early summer visitors can enjoy the Sapporo Lilac Festival and the YOSAKOI Soran festival. Later in summer starts the one-month-long Sapporo Summer festival and some shorter events, such as the traditional Hokkai Bonodori and the spectacular firework displays. In the fall, it is time for the mouthwateringly delicious Sapporo Autumn festival. In addition, there are more traditional Japanese festivals: Hokkaido Shrine Festival, Susukino Festival, and Kamokamo River Nostalgia.
In this blog column, you can read about the variety of festivals and events in Sapporo outside the snowy season. Read on to find out what is your favorite Sapporo festival!
If you want to know more about the winter festivals in Sapporo, head to our other blog column Sapporo: Winter Festivals with Snow Sculptures and Christmas Decorations. You might also want to read our earlier blog columns Sapporo: A Metropolis Close to Nature and Sapporo: The Capital City of Hokkaido.
The four seasons in Sapporo
Sapporo is known for its long and snowy winter, but the city is worth visiting any time of the year. The snowy season lasts from about mid-December until early April. During the winter, especially in January and February, the temperatures might get as low as -20°C (-4℉), so it’s better to take extra-warm clothes with you or prepare to go and shop some as soon as you arrive. Sapporo gets yearly snowfall of about 4 meters (about 13 feet) and it’s one of the largest cities in the world getting such a huge amount of snow.
The spring in Sapporo starts in March when the snow slowly starts to melt away with occasional blackthorn winter spells here and there. The snow is mostly gone by April which also marks the start of cherry blossom season. Sapporo welcomes the cherry blossoms usually in late April to early May. The temperatures in March and April are still quite low, but there is a lot of variation between the daytime and nighttime. The weather can also change a lot from day to day. I’m writing this in early May and today it has been mostly sunny but the temperature has been only about +10°C (50℉). The forecast, however, says it’ll be +23°C (73℉) after a couple of days. In May, the days can be quite warm but at night it can still be quite chilly.
The summer in Sapporo starts usually with relatively cool weather in June and it gets warmer and warmer towards in July and August. It is said that there is no rainy season in Hokkaido but surprisingly there is often a rainy spell lasting about 2 weeks in early June. After that follows usually many weeks of nice weather with occasional rain here and there. The marathon and race walk competitions of the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020 were moved to Sapporo because August is so sultry and hot in Tokyo that it might have impacted negatively the athletes’ performance. However, when the Sapporo marathon was about to start in early August 2021, Sapporo had a heatwave and the temperature was around 30°C (86℉) both during women’s and men’s competitions. Luckily, it does not get humid as in southern Japan here, so that kind of high temperature is still bearable.
The autumn in Sapporo starts with warm weather in September. The weather gets cooler by October with warm days and chilly nights. In November, the temperatures fall around +10°C (50℉) to 0°C (32℉). Autumn leaves in Sapporo are usually at their peak in late October to mid-November in the lower lands of the city. Up in the mountainous parts of Sapporo, for example at Jozankei onsen town and Hoheikyo Dam, the peak is one of the earliest in Japan, from mid-September to early November.
Odori Park: the main stage for Sapporo festivals and events
Before introducing the actual festivals and events in Sapporo, let me introduce the main venue of most of the events: Odori Park (an outbound link). Odori Park is a 1.5-kilometer-long (0.94-mile-long) park a little bit to the south of Sapporo railway station in the heart of the city. On the eastern end of the park stands the iconic Sapporo TV tower (an outbound link), whose observation deck offers a spectacular view over Odori Park and the whole of Sapporo city. The park is a pleasant walk during any season with beautiful snowy scenery in the winter, cherry blossoms in the spring, colorful flowers in the summer, and vibrant autumn leaves in the fall. And of course, during the festivals, the park is bustling with people and interesting festival activities.
The spot where the TV tower is located plays an important role in the Sapporo address system: it’s the starting point for a grid system that divides the city into north-south running lines called ‘jo’ and east-west running lines called ‘chome.’ The areas formed by the grid of jo and chome can be comprised of 2 to 5 city blocks, so their size is quite irregular. Since the park stretches from east to west, the park itself is divided into several chome, too. The eastern end, where the TV tower is standing, is 1-chome and the westernmost block, where Sapporo Archives Museum is located, is 13-chome. During the festivals and events, each block is usually designated for a specific activity, so it’s useful to know which end to head for smaller chome numbers and which end for larger numbers.
Now that we know Odori Park and the chome-system, we are ready to learn more about the festivals and events in Sapporo.
Spring festivals in Sapporo
Since the spring months are still quite chilly in Sapporo, there are not that many outdoor festivals and events arranged. However, wearing warm enough clothes, it’s comfortable to spend some time outside, too.
From the beginning of April until mid-May
Jozankei is an onsen hot spring town on the southwestern outskirts of Sapporo, up in a mountain gorge, and very well-loved both among the locals and visitors as well. Koinobori are carp-shaped streamers that are traditionally flown in Japan during Children’s Day on May 5th. Jozankei Koinobori (an outbound link) (定山渓鯉のぼり) event makes use of carp streamers for an extended period from the beginning of April until mid-May. To celebrate the start of the spring, about 400 colorful carp streamers are flown in Jozankei gorge, and it’s a delight to stroll around the picturesque onsen town under the fluttering streamers.
Hanami cherry blossom viewing
From the last third of April to early May
When you say spring in Japan, the first thing to come into your mind is of course the beautiful and fleeting cherry blossoms. Sapporo and Hokkaido are up in the north, so the cherry blossoms season is later in the spring than in the southern parts of the country.
Hanami (花見) or cherry blossom viewing parties are arranged all around the country when the cherries start blooming. And by the party, I mean simply having a picnic in a park with blooming cherry trees. So, hanami can be enjoyed by anyone without any special arrangements—just go and find a beautiful cherry tree to look at and have a picnic there—but the larger parks have some arrangements for the blossom viewers. For example, in Maruyama park in Sapporo, the party goers can rent a barbeque set (the set needs to be reserved beforehand) and the Hokkaido Shrine next to the park has some vending stalls selling food and drinks set up to cater to the visitors.
Sapporo Lilac Festival
The last week of May
Sapporo Lilac Festival (an outbound link) (さっぽろライラックまつり), started in 1959, marks the start of long-awaited series of festivals held at Odori Park during the spring, summer, and fall months. When the festival was established, the lilac was named the designated tree of Sapporo. There are several hundreds of lilac trees in Odori park and one thousand lilac seedlings are given out to people by lottery to grow in their gardens.
At the Sapporo Lilac Festival, the visitors can taste local food and wines sold at the food stalls erected in the park while enjoying the flowers and other events, such as music performances and tea ceremonies. The festival is arranged in two venues: Odoro Park 5-7-chome and Kawoshimo Park, which can be reached by a short train trip from Sapporo station.
Summer festivals in Sapporo
The summer is the peak time for festivals and events in Sapporo. Here is an outline of the festivals in Sapporo in the summer. The exact dates of the festivals change of course a bit yearly, so confirm the dates before you book your trip!
・Jozankei Nature Luminarie (定山渓ネイチャールミナリエ), June 1 until late October
・YOSAKOI Soran Festival (YOSAKOIソーラン祭り), around the second week of June
・Hokkaido Shrine Festival/Sapporo Festival (北海道神宮例祭 or 札幌まつり), from June 14 to 16
・Hokkaido Makomanai Music Fireworks Festival (北海道真駒内花火大会), at the beginning of July
・Sapporo Summer Festival (さっぽろ夏まつり), from the last third of July to mid-August
・Tanuki Festival (狸まつり), from the last third of July to mid-August
・Doshin & UHB Fireworks Show (道新・UHB花火大会), in the last third of July
・Hokkai Bon Odori (北海盆踊り), mid-August
・Susukino Festival (すすきの祭り), the first weekend of August
Jozankei Nature Luminarie
Enter the enchanted night forest to marvel at the beauty of nature at Jozankei Nature Luminarie (an outbound link). Jozankei Nature Luminarie is a night park that combines the stunning Hokkaido nature with amazing light art. The event is arranged in Jozankei (an outbound link) from the beginning of June until late October and it’s open every day. The theme and the setup of the event change yearly, so it’s worth visiting every time you visit Sapporo during summer or fall.
YOSAKOI Soran Festival
YOSAKOI Soran Festival (an outbound link) starts the summer festival season in Sapporo. It is a dance festival that has been taking over the streets of Sapporo in early June since 1992. The name of the festival combines Japanese and Hokkaidoan traditions. Yosakoi refers to an energetic dance style performed in festivals all around Japan. Soran comes from Soran bushi, a folk song that is said to be sung first by the Hokkaido fishermen.
The dance groups create their unique choreography, design their outfits, then practice their performances for months, and finally dance on the streets of Sapporo to their hearts’ content. There are two rules for the dance performances: 1) the dancers must use naruko or wooden hand clappers in their choreography, and 2) they have to use phrases from Soran bushi in the music/song they dance to.
Hokkaido Shrine Festival
Hokkaido Shrine Festival (an outbound link), also known as Sapporo Festival, is a traditional Shinto festival with portable shrines (omikoshi 御神輿) carried through the streets of Sapporo and vending stalls lined up and selling food, sweets, and drinks. It’s the main festival of Hokkaido Shrine and among the top 10 big shrine festivals in Japan.
The venues of the festival are Hokkaido Shrine in Maruyama and Nakajima Park south of Sapporo station and Susukino entertainment district. On the final day of the festival, there is a huge parade of people dressed in traditional costumes processing from the Hokkaido Shrine to the city center. Hokkaido Shrine Festival is arranged yearly from the 14th to 16th of June and it overlaps with YOSAKOI Soran Festival, so you can kill two birds with one stone by coming to Sapporo during Hokkaido Shrine Festival.
Sapporo Summer Festival
Sapporo Summer Festival (an outbound link) is a well-loved Sapporo festival that started in 1954. Originally the festival was held in Nakajima Park but it was moved to Odori Park in 1957. The festival lasts about one month from mid-July to mid-August. The festival does not just cover one event but is an umbrella event for several other festivals and events with a shorter duration.
During Sapporo Summer Festival, Odori Park has been hosting an open-air beer garden since 1959. The beer garden has been growing and growing and the current huge beer garden with 13,000 seats covers the park from 5-chome to 11-chome, which makes it the largest beer garden in Japan. At Sapporo Odori Beer Garden (an outbound link) (official name Fukushi Kyosan Sapporo Odori Beer Garden), the visitors can sample different local and foreign beers and of course, have some tasty snacks and dishes to go with them.
Other events and smaller festivals that are part of the Sapporo Summer Festival are Tanuki Festival, Susukino Festival, Hokkai Bonodori, and different fireworks shows.
Tanuki Festival (or Tanuki Matsuri) (an outbound link) takes place in Tanukikoji shopping street located in the Susukino entertainment district at the end of July. During the festival, the street is decorated from the floor to the ceiling, especially with its mascot raccoon dog (tanuki is Japanese for raccoon dog) and there are vending stalls and live performances.
Susukino Festival (also known as Susukino Matsuri, すすきの祭り) is a traditional festival held on the streets of the Susukino entertainment district in early August. The festival was started first in 1951, was held three times, suspended for a couple of years, and then revived in 1965, which is considered the actual starting year of the festival. The main and the most popular event of the festival is the procession of courtesans (oiran dochu, 花魁道中). Oiran were the high-rank courtesans of Yoshiwara red-light district in Edo (today known as Tokyo) and they walked the streets of Yoshiwara in processions to advertise the houses they worked for. Since Susukino has also started as a red-light district, the arranging committee of the festival wanted to have oiran dochu performed also at Susukino Festival to appreciate the history of the area. The procession was so popular that it became a staple part of the festival.
On the last day of the Susukino Festival, portable shrines (omikoshi 御神輿) are carried around the streets of Susukino, as in any proper traditional Japanese festival. A festival wouldn’t be a festival without vending stalls and Susukino Festival has over 100 of those. There are also taiko drum performances and other traditional music performances as well. In addition, the visitors have a chance to see the dance performance of the Hokkaidoan Yosakoi dance team which was ranked the highest in the YOSAKOI Soran Festival earlier in June. For a bit more modern touch, there is a street disco called Susukino Night Fever that also ends the festival.
Hokkai Bon Odori
Japanese Obon or Obon festival is one of the most important traditional Japanese festivals and its purpose is to honor the spirits of ancestors between the 13th and 15th day of the lunar calendar, which sits around mid-August on the Gregorian calendar (there are, however, some regional differences). In Hokkaido and Sapporo, it is celebrated from the 13th to the 15th of August. During Obon, the spirits can return to this world. The families of the deceased welcome their ancestors to their homes and offer them food and prayers. However, Obon is not just something to celebrate within families, but there are also public festivities with street food and dance.
Obon dance or Bon Odori is performed throughout Japan in different locations, from shrines to parks, to welcome the ancestral spirits back home. Every region has a special kind of variety of dances and songs to dance to. In Sapporo, Hokkaido Bon Odori (an outbound link) is celebrated around the city in smaller events, and in Odori Park 2-chome is a larger event that lasts for a week in mid-August.
The dance is performed around a wooden scaffold called yagura, on which the musicians and the leading singer are standing. Many of the dancers wear yukata (a casual cotton summer kimono) and have a fan in their hands while dancing, but dressing up is not necessary. The dance itself is slow and easy to learn and everyone can join, so if you want to get a hands-on traditional Japanese cultural experience, Hokkaido Obon is the place to go for you. Children, too, can join the dance, and many parents bring their children along early in the evening to learn the dance.
Fireworks shows & displays
Fireworks (花火/hanabi, literally ‘fire flowers’) have been an essential part of Japanese summer since the 18th century and they are especially enjoyed during the summer holidays in July and August. They were originally used to drive off evil spirits but now they are more of an aesthetic experience and there is no special reason to enjoy fireworks. There are numerous firework shows arranged all over Japan and Sapporo is no exception. The larger shows are magnificent spectacles, launching awe-inspiring rockets one after another for hours and making the night sky look as if it was blooming.
In Sapporo, the three biggest fireworks shows are the Hokkaido Makomanai Music Fireworks Festival at the beginning of July, the Doshin & UHB Fireworks Show at the last third of July, and the Moerenuma Art Fireworks at the beginning of September. Hokkaido Makomanai Music Fireworks Festival (北海道真駒内花火大会) (an outbound link, in Japanese only) is arranged at the beginning of July in Makomanai park in Makomanai, at the southern end of Nanboku subway line. At the festival, about 22,000 fireworks are launched accompanied by music. This is a pyrotechnical art show you don’t want to miss!
Fireworks shows in Japan are often arranged by river banks to guarantee the best view of the display. Doshin & UHB Fireworks Show (道新・UHB花火大会, also known as Toyohira River Fireworks) in Sapporo is held at the banks of the Toyohira river flowing through the city of Sapporo. Doshin & UHB Fireworks Show is the most long-lived fireworks display in Sapporo; its history goes more than a half-century back in time. The show is held in the area between Toyohira Minami Ohashi and Horohira Hashi bridges and it has about 4,000 fireworks launched during the evening.
Moerenuma Art Fireworks (モエレ沼芸術花火) (an outbound link, in Japanese only) has been held since 2012 in Moerenuma Park in eastern Sapporo. The wide park offers an unobstructed view of the night sky full of sparkling beauty. The fireworks display is a collaboration between pyrotechnics and music, which together create an immemorable show. The video below is from the 2021 fireworks display at Moerenuma Park.
Moerenuma Art Fireworks is arranged at the beginning of September, which brings us to the next season of Sapporo festivals: the fall.
Fall festivals in Sapporo
The fall is also a season of several festivals and events in Sapporo. The main event is Sapporo Autumn Fest in Odori Park and towards the end of the season, different festivals and events related to the autumn leaves are arranged.
September / October
・Moerenuma Art Fireworks (モエレ沼芸術花火), at the beginning of September
・Jozankei Nature Luminarie (定山渓ネイチャールミナリエ) continues
・Sapporo Autumn Fest (さっぽろオータムフェスト), from early September to the start of October
・Kamokamo River Nostalgia (鴨々川ノスタルジア), during a weekend on the first third of September
・The Five Great Autumn Foliages at Jozankei (定山渓五大紅葉), from late September until the end of October
・Sapporo Art Stage (さっぽろアートステージ), from November 1st to November 30th
・Hokkaido University Golden Leaf Festival (北大金葉祭), the last third of November
Sapporo Autumn Fest
Sapporo Autumn Fest (さっぽろオータムフェスト) (an outbound link) is the main festival of the season in Sapporo. The festival starts every year around 10th September and ends at the beginning of October. Sapporo Autumn Fest is the festival to go for foodies. It turns almost the whole Odori park into a huge restaurant with foods and drinks of different themes. The vending stalls of a specific theme are grouped within one chome, so it’s easy to find the type of food or drinks you want to taste. Most of the foods served are made of local Sapporo or Hokkaido ingredients and also Hokkaido breweries and wineries are strongly present at the festival. Sapporo Autumn Fest is hugely popular among both locals as well as tourists and it gathers together more than 2 million gourmands each year.
So, what kind of delicacies there is to offer? Well, the selection changes somewhat from year to year, but one thing is sure: there is one chome with a German Oktober fest beer festival. Munich—the German city, where the Oktober fest originally comes from—is the sister city of Sapporo, so it is only appropriate to have an Oktober fest also in Sapporo. You can try here the official Oktober fest beer as well as numerous local Hokkaido craft beers. And of course, there are German dishes such as sausages and lamb chops to go with.
Other things you can expect to find at Sapporo Autumn Fest are local Hokkaido specialties, for example, Jingisukan grilled mouton with vegetables, soup curry, Hokkaido ramen, and deep-fried zangi chicken. When there is one chome dedicated to beer, there must be also one dedicated to wines and sakés, too. When it comes to desserts, soft ice cream in several different flavors is especially popular from year to year, so do try some!
Kamokamo River Nostalgia
Kamokamo River Nostalgia (an outbound link) takes place on the first third of September at Nakajima park and the temples in the Susukino entertainment district. The name of the event refers to the Kamokamo River that flows along the side of Nakajima park and into Susukino connecting the Toyohira and Sosei rivers. If you want to experience Japanese culture firsthand, Kamokamo River Nostalgia is the event for you.
The participants in the event spend a day in the Buddhist temples of the area: Higashi Honganji Temple (東本願寺), which is the oldest Buddhist temple in Hokkaido, and Shinzenkoji Temple (新善光寺). Some of the workshops or experiences offered are tea ceremonies, Japanese papermaking, paper cut art, temple yoga, and personal seal carving. There are also music performances of traditional Japanese music and Ainu music.
The Five Great Autumn Foliages at Jozankei
Jozankei is not only famous for being one of the best onsen hot spring towns in Hokkaido, but also for offering amazing views of autumn leaves. The Five Great Autumn Foliages at Jozankei offers a bus tour to the five most scenic autumn leaves spots in the area. Jozankei is part of Toya-Shikotsu National Park, so the nature in the area is mostly untouched by the human hand.
First of the five great views of autumn leaves is Jozankei onsen town and the red Futami Tsuribashi suspension bridge. Probably the most famous of the views is the Hoheikyo Dam and its surroundings in the middle of the mountains. Sapporo International Ski Resort offers not only wonderful scenery of autumn leaves but also a view all the way to Ishikari Bay if you take the gondola up to the mountain. At the Orchard Garden at Jozankei Farm you can enjoy the late-blooming flowers as well as the autumn-colored trees. Last but not least, the 498-meter-high Mt. Hakkenzan offers a beautiful view over the colorful forests as well as the outskirts of Sapporo city.
Hokkaido University Golden Leaf Festival
Another opportunity to admire the beautiful autumn leaves in Sapporo is the Hokkaido University Golden Leaf Festival (北大金葉祭) (an outbound link, in Japanese only) at the campus of Hokkaido University just a bit north of Sapporo station. Here in the central Sapporo autumn leaves come out later than up in the mountains of Jozankei.
The Hokkaido University Golden Leaf Festival is arranged during the latter half of November at Ginkgo avenue in the middle of the campus. The avenue is lined with rows of huge ginkgo trees on both sides and during the fall, these trees get a beautiful yellow color; the contrast with the bright yellow trees against the clear blue sky is amazing. At the festival, the beauty of trees can be enjoyed also during the night, because trees are lit up. There are also handicraft workshops for children, stage performances, and other entertainment designed by the Hokkaido University students.
Sapporo Art Stage
Sapporo Art Stage (an outbound link) has brought forth music, theater, and visual arts to bright up the dark November streets of Sapporo since 2005. The event brings together artists of all ages and walks. For example, Sapporo School Music Festival in Kitara concert hall opens the stage for school children’s brass bands, Theater Go Round boasts stage works of over 30 performance groups, and Art Street at Sapporo Ekimae-Dori Underground Walkway exhibits a variety of artworks by artists from all over Japan. On top of that, there are art displays made for and by children, art book fares in libraries around the city, live music performances, and much more.
Festivals in Sapporo in 2022
As you can see from above, Sapporo festivals are not just for watching and observing but for becoming part of the festivities. There are numerous ways to enjoy the festivals: eating, drinking, dancing, and hands-on experience. Most of the visitors to Sapporo festivals have noticed that when they visit a Sapporo festival once, they feel an urge to come back the following year, and the year after that. So, be careful, if you come here once, you want to go again the next year!
The dates for some of the Sapporo festivals in 2022 have been already decided and here is a list of them for you:
・Sapporo Lilac Festival 2022
・Odori Park: May 18 – 29, 2022
・Kawashimo Park: May 28 – 29, 2022
・Jozankei Nature Luminarie 2022: June 1 – October 23
・YOSAKOI Soran Festival 2022: June 8 – 12
・Hokkaido Makomanai Music Fireworks Festival 2022: July 9
・Sapporo Summer Festival 2022: July 22 – August 17
・Susukino Festival 2022: August 4 – 6
・Hokkai Bonodori 2022: August 11 – 17
・Sapporo Autumn Fest 2022: September 9 – October 1
・Sapporo Art Stage 2022: November 1 – 30
So, which one of these amazing Sapporo festivals would you like to visit? Let us know and get your personalized travel plan by contacting us through the inquiry form.