I love winter, but not everybody will be on the same page as me on this. Not a lot of people like winter. This chilly season is more often wished away than greeted. It can bring moods down and keep doors shut.
However, winter in Japan is simply magical. It’s more like a fairytale land than anything else. Trees and slopes in northern Japan are coated with snow. Illuminations take over the streets in the city. Markets pop up just about everywhere on this island nation. Long story short, Japan goes all out during this season.
So instead of avoiding winter in Japan, why not take a shot at it? There are various fun things to do during Japanese winter, and here, we list the top 7 ones that will definitely get you interested!
1. Attend winter festivals
What’s a Japanese winter without a few festivals? Heck, what is Japan without festivals all year round? December is one of the most festive months in the year, in fact. You get everything from winter festivals to special Christmas markets. And the best part is that you can find at least one in any town in Japan!
The best cities to go to for winter festivals are up north in Hokkaido. One of the most popular winter festivals is the Sapporo Snow Festival, where you get to witness everything from crafted ice sculptures to special winter performances. Over two million visitors travel up north for this occasion alone!
Alternatively, you can head down to the Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival. Thousands of traditional Japanese igloo line up and light up in orange, twinking glows. These dome sculptures are one of a kind!
2. Play winter sports
Whether or not you’re a sports person, winter sports in Japan shouldn’t be missed. It’s arguably one of the best places for skiing and snowboarding. The snow in Japan is as soft as a pillow, so it’s the best place for beginners to try these sports out. One ski resort can have slopes accommodating all levels of skiers and snowboarders, from beginners to advanced.
If you have the time, stay at Zao Ski Resort. This ski resort is known for its ice-coated trees that are nicknamed “snow monsters”. You guessed it, they look like snow monsters! The best part is that you can zoom past and in between them. What a way to elevate your winter sports experience!
3. Visit an onsen
If you don’t already know it yet, Japan is famous for its hot springs, or onsen (温泉). There’s no better way to keep yourself warm than by dipping your entire body into hot springs water. It’s like getting the warmest hug in the world. You can find an onsen at a standalone establishment or attached to traditional ryokans (旅館).
One of the best places to go for onsen is Ginzan Onsen. It’s an onsen town tucked away in the middle of the mountains. Every corner is full of nature. If you’re looking for the most authentic onsen experience, this place is your best bet.
Another onsen establishment that’ll no doubt give you a unique onsen experience is Kowakien Yunessun. There’s everything from pools of coffee and green tea to red wine and Japanese sake!
4. Enjoy the winter illuminations
I’m a sucker for illuminations, and Japan does not fail when it comes to their winter illuminations. Thousands and millions of tiny bulbs light up streets and decorate cities. Walk down any street of Tokyo and you’ll definitely stumble upon a few trees wrapped with twinkling lights.
A city not far from Tokyo has a Dutch theme park called Huis Ten Bosch that hosts one of the best winter illumination events. Over 13 million light bulbs decorate the park in rainbow colours! Nagoya’s Nabana no Sato is also another location that has an illumination event not to be missed. It’s originally a flower park, so can you imagine these beautiful florals being highlighted even more with magical twinkle lights?
5. Travel to Japan’s exclusive winter sites
Japan is full of nature, and when winter comes, some of them are even more beautiful than normal. These exclusive winter sites in Japan are worth the travel, as you can only witness these sights at this specific time of the year. One not too far away from Tokyo is the Jigokudani Monkey Park. Wild Japanese macaques dip in their own little onsen pool in Yokoyu River.
Shirakawago Village is also another winter site in Japan that’s popular. It’s actually a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll get to witness the Gassho-zukuri farmhouses draped in snowfall, and if you’re lucky, snag some tickets for their exclusive illumination light show event.
6. Go ice skating in town
It’s hard to pack in a lot of activities in just a short holiday trip to Japan. If you don’t have time to travel to various places for some winter activities, the big towns have a surprise for you: outdoor ice skating rinks. When December rolls around, cities like Osaka and Tokyo open up outdoor rinks for you to show off your skating skills.
Places to recommend are Tokyo Skytree Town Ice Skating Park and Yokohama’s Art Rink in Red Brick Warehouse. I’ll have to warn you, these places get really crowded, especially on the weekend. Try to drop by during the weekdays to avoid the crowd.
7. Shop at Christmas markets
Another Japanese winter activity you can find in the bigger cities in Japan is Christmas markets. Christmas is one of two huge celebrations in the country. Special markets pop up as early as the start of December. If you’re lucky, you might even catch some opening up at the end of November.
One of the most famous ones is Roppongi’s annual Christmas Market that brings in the crowds every year. You get your usual Christmas goodies, but you can also munch on some German delicacies and shop for some German Christmas decorations. It’s like being in two countries at once!
Which Japanese winter activity is your favourite?
Even though there are only seven activities on this list, there’s actually so many more things you can do in Japan. The list can quite literally be endless. Winter in Japan is pretty awesome. It doesn’t get too cold. It doesn’t rain most of the season. The sky is pretty clear. Start planning your Japanese winter holiday now!