10 Amazing Places To Visit in Japan in Winter
Japan is a gorgeous country with distinctive seasons, so there’s something to feast your eyes on no matter when you visit. But while the cherry blossom viewing is the most popular, the winter season has its unique charm and beauty.
Japan is one of the biggest countries in the world, so you can’t expect to see the entire country in one visit. That’s why I created a list of the top 10 places you can’t miss, just like I did for South Korea Festivals. It always helps to have a roadmap, right?
Japan in December: Is it Worth a Visit?
It’s worth planning your dates in December as the days are clear and bright. This increases your chances of enjoying crisp views of the mountainous region.
- The weather is “just right” so you’ll only need a jacket to start sightseeing. But if you feel the chill, consider a dip in an onsen (hot springs).
- The food is amazing—and perfect for the cold weather. You can satiate your hunger with a nabe (hot pot) and bring warmth to your belly.
- There are fewer crowds, so lodging and airfare will be cheap. Public transport will also be quieter as travelers spend the festive season with their families.
- During winter, the country is decked with LED lights, creating a magical look.
Most importantly, it’s ski season!
So, as long as you pack warm clothes, you’ll be ready to enjoy Japan’s wintery slopes.
10 Places You Must Visit in Japan in Winter
Here’s a roundup of the best places to visit in the “Land of the Rising Sun:”
1. Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, Toyama
Explore the trail by train, cable car, ropeway, or tunnel/trolley bus while feasting your eyes on mindblowing views of the Tateyama Mountain range and Kurobe Dam. You can also start hiking from various stations as long as you’re in fairly good shape.
2. Yunishigawa Onsen, Tochigi
Explore this remote hot spring town during your trip. It offers the complete Japan winter trifecta:
- A well-preserved townscape that transports you to old Japan and its rich history—the community served as a hidden settlement for Taira refugees.
- Multiple opportunities to enjoy unbridled relaxation in restorative waters—and without the characteristic smell of sulfur.
- Various outdoor activities—each better than the next. So don’t be surprised if you have trouble deciding what to do!
Time your visit right (late January and early March) to see the place during the annual Kamakura Festival. It features hundreds of miniature igloo-like snow houses (Kamakura) that are lit by candles, giving them an unadulterated magical appeal.
3. Otaru, Hokkaido
Hokkaido’s Grand Northern City provides a nostalgic atmosphere that few can resist.
Take a walk alongside the Otaru Canal where artists present their masterpieces to passersby. Feast your eyes on modern and contemporary Japanese paintings at the Nitori Museum of Art. Tantalize your senses with delicious must-try local food in Japan. There’s a lot you can do to have a good time in this culture-rich country.
While we’re on the subject, I recommend scheduling your visit in February for the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival. The streets are illuminated with glowing snow statues and flickering lights, adding warmth to the bitter temperatures.
4. Zao Snow Monsters, Yamagata
Meet the “snow monsters” on the summit of Mount Zao—a complex cluster of stratovolcanoes. These spectacular figures are trees that have been enveloped with layers of snowfall. The Siberian winds and icy temperatures help preserve this phenomenon, which is also why you must dress warm or risk catching a nasty cold.
My advice? Book a spot at the Zao Kokusai Hotel. They’ll provide access to the “ice trees” via gondolas and ropeways.
5. Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano
Head to the Jigokudani Monkey Park to see Japanese macaques (also known as snow monkeys) in their natural habitat. Wear walking shoes because you have to take a mile-long hike to reach the spot. It’s the only place where the adorable monkeys bathe in steamy hot springs to escape the extreme weather. So, travel with a camera in tow to record the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
After all, how often do you get to see monkeys covered in a dust of snow on your trip to Japan? If you sign up for the Nagano day trip, you can have lunch and enjoy a sake-tasting session before going to see the monkeys.
6. Nabana no Sato Illuminations, Mie
This winter event in the family-oriented Nabana no Sato park in Mie Prefecture is an absolute dream. Over 5.8 million LEDs are used to transform the botanical garden into a twinkling work of art with its brilliant light displays. If you’re visiting with your significant other, take a walk through the Instagrammable “Tunnel of Lights” for a romantic side show.
Entry to the park can be expensive. But since you can get half the value of the entry fee as vouchers that can be used in restaurants and traditional shops, it’s definitely worth it.
7. Shirakawa-go, Gifu
This charming, rustic village was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.
Explore its centuries-old, immaculately preserved traditional houses featuring Gassho-zukuri (“hands in prayer”)—an architecture style with thatched roofs to combat the large amount of snow in the region. The snow-covered village takes on an ethereal look while decorative lights add to its beauty.
Some of the structures have been converted into inns and hotels. Book a room to turn back time, interact with the local community, and enjoy an authentic Japan winter experience.Booking.com
8. Sapporo Snow Festival, Hokkaido
This is the biggest snow festival in Japan started in the 1950s. Its popularity has since gained momentum, turning it into a weeklong event that features larger-than-life snow sculptures that can be found at three sites: Odori Park, Tsudome, and Susukino.
Expect to find extravagant sculptures from historical figures and landmarks to sculptures of Pikachu, Mickey Mouse, Buddha, and Donald Trump.
Throw in snow slides, an ice-skating rink, concerts, events, and top-tier food and drinks, and it’s easy to see why this festival attracts over 2 million visitors every year. Let its whimsical ambiance be the highlight of your trip. You won’t regret it.
While in town, you can book the Hokkaido: Asahiyama Zoo, Furano, Biei Blue Pond 1 Day Tour to meet the animals amid Furano’s snowy landscapes.
Pro tip: Finding decent accommodation or flights within your budget last minute can be challenging during winter so prepare your itinerary and book your tickets in advance.
9. Kenrokuen, Ishikawa
The name means “garden of the six sublimities.” It refers to the six qualities of the Kenrouken: abundant water, antiquity, artificiality, broad views, seclusion, and spaciousness. No wonder it’s one of Japan’s three most celebrated gardens!
Spread over 11.4 hectares, it has nearly 9,000 trees from 183 plant species that change with the passing seasons. It attracts a number of visitors with its iconic structures that include bridges, viewpoints, and traditional tea houses.
Plus, the garden is often lit up in Japan winter evenings, resulting in a serene space.
10. Kamakura Snow Hut Village, Nagano
This magical igloo village is a restaurant made up of 20 pop-up igloos that are open every winter for a limited time.
If you want to visit this stunning spot nestled in the snowy Japanese Alps, get a reservation in advance or you won’t be allowed to enter.
Each igloo can fit up to 4 people and offers food like Noroshi nabe (Iiyama’s traditional food), a dish made with a Nagano miso base and veggies.
When Is the Best Time To Visit Japan in Winter?
If you’re visiting Japan to experience its snow-covered beauty, book your flights from December to mid-March. The exact dates will ultimately depend on the festivals and events you want to attend, the activities you want to engage in, and the cuisine you want to try.
Don’t forget that it will be cold. Japan winter temperatures typically range between 30 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit so pack accordingly.
Japan winter may not be the most popular season for tourists but it’s still worth visiting during this time because it’s lovely in its own right. The snow-covered landscapes, festivals, lights, and displays—you’ll have to see them for yourself to fully understand their appeal.
Bring warm clothes, do a little research beforehand, and choose from my list of 10 must-see places. With some planning and the right itinerary, you’ll end up liking the Japan winter season just as much as the country’s springtime experience.
Your Japan Travel Checklist – Don’t forget this before you go!
- Travel Insurance: Get comprehensive travel insurance to ensure peace of mind during your trip. I always get World Nomads travel insurance.
- JR Japan Railway Pass: Opt for the JR Japan Railway Pass for convenient and cost-effective travel across the country.
- Travel Sim Card: Arrange for a reliable travel SIM card or data plan to stay connected throughout your journey.
- Best Japan Hotel Deals: Explore and book the best hotel deals in Japan suitable for your preferences and budget.
- Local Language Basics: Familiarize yourself with basic Japanese phrases for easy communication.
- Weather-Appropriate Clothing: Pack weather-appropriate clothing, especially if you’re visiting during different seasons.
- Itinerary and Maps: Plan your itinerary and download offline maps to navigate smoothly, even without an internet connection.
- Local Cuisine Exploration: Research and list down must-try local cuisines and dining spots in the areas you’ll visit.
- Emergency Contact Details: Save emergency contact numbers and addresses, including your country’s embassy or consulate in Japan.
- Travel Adapters and Chargers: Ensure you have the right adapters and chargers to keep your devices powered up during your stay. Recommended adapter for Japan here.
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