Japan (Nippon) is an island country consisting of an archipelago extending more than 3,000 km (1,900 miles) in the Pacific Ocean in East Asia. The Land of the Rising Sun, as it is lovingly called, has an enthralling history and culture that draws millions of international travelers each year. Summers are always a busy time with families taking advantage of the school holidays. The most popular time to visit Japan is the spring (sakura) season when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. However, a wintertime trip to Japan can be especially magical. Travelers can experience a different side to this deeply traditional and strikingly beautiful country in the winter season.
There’s so much to see and do in Japan in the winter. Visit Shirakawa-go and Gokayama in the remote mountains of Gifu Prefecture. Designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, these traditional villages look like scenes from a Christmas card in the wintertime. Visit the roof of Japan at Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route and walk through awe-inspiring 20-meter high snow walls. Find your spiritual self on a meditative hike on the sacred Kumano Kodo trails that connect several Shinto-Buddhist shrines near Osaka. Enjoy a full day of fun in the snow at Mt. Fuji. Experience the essence of Japanese winter by going strawberry picking and eating snow crabs on a day-tour from Tokyo. Or, see some unique wildlife such as red-faced monkeys soaking in an onsen (hot springs) at the Snow Monkey Park (Jigokudani Yaen-koen). Book a comprehensive 15-day tour of Japan to see everything this amazing country has to offer. Need more inspiration? Here are 5 reasons to visit Japan in winter.
Celebrate an Unusual Christmas and New Year’s Eve
Christmas is a western import into Japan and less of a family-oriented holiday than North America and Europe. Turkey may be unheard of, but the yuletide spirit is everywhere with beautiful decorations and lighting. Many busy areas in Tokyo have lavish displays and Ueno and Roppongi Hills have some of the best illuminations. On Christmas Eve, it’s not unusual for Japanese couples to go out for a romantic dinner at a fancy restaurant in glitzy Ginza in Tokyo. Another great place to see fantastic winter illuminations, mysterious snow-covered scenery, and beautiful blue waterfalls and lakes is Sapporo with a one-day Winter Hokkaido tour. New Year’s Eve and the first few days of the new year are a popular time for the Japanese people to visit shrines, many of which hold special events. A winter holiday in Japan is a great way to celebrate Christmas and ring in the New Year in a somewhat unusual but very festive manner.
Hit the Slopes in the Japanese Alps
Japan has a fair share of mountains and winter sports enthusiasts are spoilt for choice with world-class facilities at more than 600 resorts. By mid-December, the renowned ski destination of Hokkaido is buzzing with activity. The abundance of powder snow, a welcoming après ski culture, and a variety of delicious foods including the most incredibly fresh sushi create a winter vacation experience that is difficult to replicate anywhere else in the world. The best time to find the deepest powder is in late January and early February, but earlier in the season, if the snowfall is scarce, many resorts use artificial snow to compensate. Not into skiing and snowboarding? Many of Japan’s ski resorts double as hot spring (onsen) resorts. Here you can marvel at the snowy landscape, travel down a ropeway with panoramic views, and ride a heated boat. It doesn’t get more romantic than taking a relaxing dip in the steaming waters of a natural hot spring with spectacular views of Mt. Fuji. And it’s said to cure every illness except lovesickness.
Try Some Wintertime Comfort Food
In recent years, Japanese cuisine, with its boundless variety of gastronomic delights, has taken the world of food by storm. Japan takes its food seriously and loves seasonal specialties. Some foods are only available in the coldest months of the year. It’s not uncommon for restaurants to specialize in only one type of dish. A surefire way to beat the winter chills is to indulge in some wintertime comfort Japanese food in Tokyo’s Ueno Food Market. Sip on some hot sake at an atmospheric drinking hole or try some oden, a hot snack made from vegetables, tofu, and meat braised in soy, at a mobile food stand. Go on a self-guided tour of Japan with the flexibility to truly immerse yourself in Japanese cuisine. And if you’re a die-hard foodie, make a trip to the Ramen Expo in Osaka where more than 40 noodle vendors offer their fares. In Kobe’s Chinatown, the Nankinmachi Lantern Festival held in December is a visual delight with hundreds of red lanterns and a chance to sample traditional Japanese flavors.
Visit the Snow Festival in Sapporo
A snow and ice festival (Yuki Matsuri), held in Sapporo in February, is one of the most popular events in Japan in winter. The festival traces itsroots to 1950 when a group of school students created a few snow sculptures in the city’s Odori Park. Today, the Sapporo Snow Festival is a spectacular event that attracts more than 2 million visitors each year. Held at three sites in the city, the festival is a chance to see awe-inspiring snow sculptures, some towering to 25 meters. For a bird’s eye view, go to the observatory deck of the Sapporo TV Tower (ticketed) to watch the brilliantly lit ice and snow displays. There’s a lot of fun to be had with snow slides and snow rafting. There’s also an indoor dome with a stage for events and a variety of food stands.
Experience Japanese Culture
Early in the new year, usually on January 2, a traditional Japanese New Year custom takes place. Grab bags called lucky bags or fukubukuro go on sale everywhere in Japan. Locals go crazy for them and line up for hours outside the most popular stores. The draw is that the lucky bag contains something worth more than what you pay for it. What’s the catch? You don’t get to choose what’s inside, so you could end up with something you don’t like or need. It’s a fun custom to participate in, and even if you end up buying some random stuff, you can be sure it’s at a ridiculously discounted price. There are other ways to experience Japanese culture too. Wear a traditional Japanese samurai costume and learn martial arts. Or, enjoy a somemono (happiness color mat) experience that is steeped in Japanese tradition.
The end of the calendar year brings a turn of the season, but don’t let thoughts of cold weather discourage you from traveling to Japan in winter. Weather conditions can vary throughout the country. More southern areas like Kyushu are warmer while mountainous regions like Hokkaido dip into sub-zero temperatures. Tokyo is cold with afternoon temperatures of around 12 degrees Centigrade (54 degrees Fahrenheit), but there is no rain or snow and the days are usually sunny.
Book a trip to Japan today. You will be rewarded with an unforgettable and unique vacation. Winter is a great time to escape the madding crowds of summer and see this breathtakingly beautiful country in a different light. We have a range of Japan tours and packages from 1 to 15 Days so you can see as little or as much of Japan as you want this winter.