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Hokkaido Ice Pavilion

Icicles at the Ice Pavilion in Kamikawa, Japan

The walls and ceiling of the pavilion are covered in giant icicles that have been growing for years.

One of the more notable characteristics of Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido, is that it’s cold. Like really cold. Except if you visit in summer of course. Fortunately the Ice Pavilion in Kamikawa lets you experience the full horror of a Hokkaido winter all year round.

On entry you pass through a tunnel of lights and a mirror maze before you get to the meat of the attraction. You then pick up a thick winter coat, and a wet towel, and proceed on to the -20°C zone. After passing through sealed doors, you come to a narrow tunnel, whose walls are covered in ice, and on into a room covered in giant icicles, many of which have been growing ever since the pavilion was built. Your wet towel will now stand up of its own accord, because it’ll be frozen solid.

If you’re brave enough, you can then proceed past a snowman and down some slippery steps to the really cold room. Here you can experience the coldest temperature ever recorded in Japan, the -41°C that was reached in the bitterly cold winter of 1902. You can blow bubbles here with soapy water and catch them again without them bursting due to the extreme cold. The air glitters with ‘diamond dust’, tiny ice crystals that form out of moisture in the air – a phenomenon that can be seen outside on really cold days in Hokkaido.

A snowman and giant icicles in the Ice Pavilion in Kamikawa

A snowman shows the way to the -41°C zone.

Now are you ready for the highlight of the whole experience? You can take the Ice Pavilion Challenge by stripping off and braving -41°C au naturel. If you get someone to take your photo, you’ll be able to join other fearless (or just daft?) heroes on the wall of fame.

On the way out, you’ll be given a much-needed cup of hot tea and a cookie. You can also take a look at a tank of ‘ice angels’ – beautiful semi-transparent sea slugs with delicate wings. They live under the drift ice in the sea north of Hokkaido, but they look more like they come from another planet.

The ice pavilion is open 8:30am to 5:30pm every day of the year, though there seems to be more point in going during summer. It’s twenty minute’s walk from Kamikawa Station, which is two hours and twenty-two minutes from Sapporo on a direct train. The official website is here.

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