In the middle of Daisetsuzan National Park, nestled in narrow scenic gorge flanked by cliffs,
abundant hot springs, powerful waterfalls,
and fantastic rock formation is a full-scale mountain resort town called Sounkyo.
It has become quite touristy because it is an excellent base for trekking and skiing around the National Park.
From late January to the end of March, the town hosts (you guessed it) the Sounkyo Ice Waterfall Festival (Sounkyo Onsen Hyoubaku Matsuri).
The highlight of this festival is the frozen waterfalls along with the man-made, multi-story high structures that have a maze like tunnels running through them, all built around the Ishikari River.
Snow domes and ice sculptures likewise scatter around the compound.
Heated quarters with warm drinks and food here.
And even if logic tells you to stay indoors due to the severe cold weather, make sure to be there at night
The Ishikari River runs through the festival.
or miss out on the spectacular lights that illuminate the whole place come sundown. On weekends, you’ll be lucky to witness fireworks too.
Us in an ice bar display
The best way to end the evening is to thaw off at one of the many hot springs found in town. At the Sounkyo Kanko Hotel, we went for the spacious outdoor bath at the back of the hotel. Crazy it may seem, but because this open-air bath is unisex, it was wonderful to be sharing this experience with the hubby. Getting ourselves to walk the short distance from the dressing room to the pool in skimpy clothes provided by the hotel was unimaginable, but once in the hot bath, it was nirvana. This being the last stretch of our Hokkaido winter holiday, it seemingly melted away all the frozen kinks in our body, accumulated over the past days.
Ahh… Always a good experience, this bathing in the snow.