15 Enjoyable Things to Do in Japan in January

A bright & chilling start to the year!

Now tell me, what are you planning for this Christmas holiday?

I guess you are looking forward to doing something crazy and fun. Then, I will say, visiting Japan in January will be a great way to start your year. 

So, what are you waiting for? Just pack your bag and come to our country.

Wait! Wait! Do you know about the best things to do in Japan in January?

Well, take it easy, as I will help you in this regard.

Just go through the whole writing and find out all the fun activities Japan offers you in January.

15 Most Delightful Things to Do in Japan in January

One of the common questions that some of my foreign friends asked me: Is January a good time to visit Japan?

And I assume that every traveler has this query in their mind.

That’s why I will give you an answer to this, first.

Okay, the month of January holds a special place in Japanese culture as it is the start of the year with new expectations and fresh beginnings.

From the new year celebration Shogatsu to many fun winter activities, yes, January is one of the best months to visit Japan.

Alright, it’s time to know what events are waiting for you, so let’s move to the fun part.

1. Celebrate The Japanese New Year

New year or Shogatsu in Japanese is the major holiday season in this country.

And in this time, you are going to experience the traditional and cultural side of Japan.

Shogatsu has been celebrated on 1st January since 1873, when the country adopted the Gregorian system (new calendar style) over the previously used lunar cycles.

It is believed in Shinto culture that kami (spirit gods) come to peoples’ houses at the new year.

And everyone should greet them with a clean house, all the debts repaid, and any arguments settled if they want to receive great fortune and success from the gods.

Most of the people here spend their holiday (typically from 29th December to 3rd January) with families and watch the famous music program “Kohaku Uta Gassen” that is telecast on New Year’s Eve.

Also, Japanese people eat the traditional New Year dish called Osechi during this time.

New Year Food Osechi

So, if you have never tried this dish before, I will suggest not to miss the opportunity to taste it while traveling to Japan in January.

Anyway, the Imperial Palace in Tokyo also opens its entrances on 2nd January for visitors to look inside the ground.

Note that they only open the gate twice a year for locals, so don’t miss the opportunity anyway.

Even the emperor greets everyone by waving from the balcony on this day.

Some people choose to participate in a countdown event, especially held in many locations in Tokyo.

New year fire works in tokyo

Thus, it will be great if you take part in one. Just count from 10 to 1, and welcome a glorious year.

If you are here with your partner, I would recommend watching the fireworks hand in hand, which will create a moment to remember.

You can also get on your knees in case you have a plan to propose her. It will be a great beginning to your new year as well as life.

2. Enjoy The Sanjusangendo Archery Contest

The second Monday of January is the Coming Age Day in Japan.

During this time, ceremonies are held across the country for young people who turn 20 years old and become an adult.

You will see the young girls wearing kimonos and men in suits for the occasion.

Young girls wearing Kimono

There is an event linked to this Coming of Age Day called the Sanjusangendo Archery Contest that takes place in Kyoto on 14th January.

This contest is also known as Ohmato Taikai, which dates back more than 400 years and is held annually at the Sanjusangendo Temple.

Each year about 2,000 seasoned archers and new 20-year-olds gather around here to celebrate and compete by firing the first arrow of the new year.

Rows of young women dressed up in bright kimonos are the main highlight of the feast.

Japanese archery

These youthful girls celebrate their new status as adults by hitting targets standing 60 meters away.

Exploring this competition will be a spectacular and unique sight that you can only experience during January in Japan.

Not to mention, seeing beautiful girls competing is surely a scene that you can never forget if you are a man!!

3. Take Part in Hatsumode

One of Japan’s most regular New Year activities is having the first visit to a temple or shrine, which is known as “Hatsumode.”

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From midnight of new year’s eve, Japanese people start to visit the temples or shrines to pray.

Japanese temple

It is considered a great start of the year by getting the blessings of God. You can choose to pray as well or explore the areas.

Some of the famous shrines that are worth visiting are Meiji Shrine (in Tokyo) and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu (in Kamakura).

But, expect a huge crowd to these shrines as thousands of travelers visit them in January while already being packed with local Japanese.

Japanese religious item (darumi)

Moreover, you will find many vendors and shops in these temples selling amulets and other religious decoration pieces to purchase.

While you get hungry, there are lots of food stalls available that can shut the growling of your tummy!!

4. Soak in A Winter Hot Spring

When the weather is cool, it’s high time to become hot!!

What? Did you think something will make your appearance hot and sensual?

Well, actually, I am talking about bathing in an onsen.

Whether you are in a traditional ryokan, a beach resort, or even outdoors in the forest & mountains, nothing can compete with the absolute relaxation provided by the onsen.

Hot onsen in japan

There are countless hot spring resorts in Japan where you may head to feel the hotness in your body & blood.

Who knows, you may become as hot as Tom Cruise or Scarlett Johansson!!

Okay, joke aside.

Ginzan Onsen in Yamagata is very famous in January and also Takaragawa Onsen is highly recommended.

Ginzan Onsen in winter

You are probably thinking, why should I go to a place just to soak in hot water.

But, the bonus fact is, Ginzan was the real-life inspiration for the beautiful onsen town in the animation film “Spirited Away”.

Therefore, if you are a fan of this masterpiece, don’t miss visiting Ginzan.

You can reach there by taking the JR Yamagata Shinkansen (railway service) from Tokyo to Oishida Station.

From there, you will find buses that leave for Ginzan Onsen every 60-90 minutes.

outdoor onsen

In case you want to enjoy the winter scenery with snow everywhere, an outdoor onsen will be a perfect treat for your desire.

To name a few outdoor onsens with a spectacular view is Lake Toya Onsen (Hokkaido), Lake Kawaguchi Onsen (Yamanashi), Maguse Onsen (Nagano), Tamatebako Onsen (Kagoshima), and Matsudai Shibatoge Onsen Unkai (Niigata).

5. Meet The Cute Snow Monkeys in Jigokudani Park

You may have seen monkeys hanging from trees and jumping from one branch to another.

But, did you see them taking a bath in hot water just like a human!!

I guess no.

Then you should head to Jigokudani Monkey Park in Yamanouchi City, Nagano Prefecture.

Although the park is open throughout the year and you can meet the monkeys anytime, the only season you are gonna capture them soaking in a hot spring like a human surrounded by white snow is during winter.

Jigokudani monkey park

And, the best time to go there is indeed January or February when the snow gets thicker.

You may wonder why the monkeys drench themselves in the hot onsen, right?

Well, don’t you think they have the same right to warm up in the cold weather just like us?

Yes, of course!!

So, hurry up and put this place into the bucket list of your January activities in Japan.

monkey in snow

To know the park’s opening hour, admission fee, and rules & regulations, visit their official site.

6. Be A Part of The Tradition “Dondo Yaki”

Dondo Yaki is an event that takes place at the thousands of shrines in Japan, usually on 14th or 15th January.

The event involves burning the last year’s lucky items such as Omikuji or Daruma dolls at a large bonfire.

As you have already learned, during Hatsumode, people buy various religious decoration items, usually keeping them for a year.

Daruma doll burning

And then, instead of throwing them away in the garbage, which is considered bad luck, they burn the lucky charms in a bonfire of the Dondo Yaki ceremony.

You can watch other people throwing their items in the fire or add your own ornaments as well.

Since this feast is held in most of the shrines in Japan, you don’t need to go to any special place.

However, if you are staying in Tokyo and looking for a specific location where you can enjoy this festival, then head to Torigoe Shrine (in Taito city) or Oyama Dairi Park (in Machida).

Although the celebration varies from shrine to shrine, it always includes a large bonfire.

At some shrines, people roast daidai fruit and mochi on the fire with a stick and eat them.

Mochi grill

Therefore, you can try out roasting a stick for yourself and taste it too.

7. Watch An Entire Mountain Set on Fire!!

Did you get confused by the title?

I mean, why would someone burn a mountain, right?

Well, it’s just a festival, and nothing harmful will happen to you while going there.

And the name of this fiesta is Wakakusa Yamayaki which usually takes place in Nara on the 4th of January but can be postponed to another date due to bad weather or other circumstances.

Mountain burn Nara

The mountain located at the eastern side of Nara park is set on fire during the celebration.

When it’s alright, the fire can be seen from anywhere in the city.

Todaiji Temple, Kasuga Shrine, and Kofukuji Temple are all engaged with this ceremony.

See also  18 Interesting Things to Do in Japan In Fall

Now the real question is, why do they do it?

Okay, one theory claims that the burning procedure started during boundary conflicts between Nara’s temples, while another says the fire was set to drive the wild boars away.

Now back to the main point, the actual event starts at noon with a rice cracker throwing competition from 12:30 to 15:00.

Around 17:00, people who are involved in lighting up the hill begin a procession from the Tobino area and make a stop at the Mizuya Shrine to light up the torches.

About 17:30, the march arrives at the bottom of Mount Wakakusa and lights up the much-awaited fire.

Wakakusa Yamayaki

Hundreds of visitors gather around to watch this spectacular event, and for safety, there is a barrier.

Also, at night, the city’s sky lights up with several fireworks.

I will say this event is one of the reasons why Nara is one of the best places to visit in January.

8. Attend Some Winter Illumination Event

The Japanese winter illumination starts from the Christmas season. Many of the events can still be enjoyed in January, even till the cherry blossom season of March.

As the days are short in January, the night gets brighter with all the lighting illuminations.

In case you are staying in Tokyo, you have numerous options inside the capital city.

Winter illumination japan

To name a few illumination events in January are Yebisu Garden Place, Marunouchi illumination, Meguro River Minna no Illumination, Shinjuku Southern Terrace Winter Illumination, Nihonbashi Illumination, Tokyo Midtown Hibiya, and Yomiuriland Jewellumination.

And when you are willing to attend a lighting event outside the capital, then consider going to Sapporo White Illumination, Jewel of Shonan (Enoshima Island), Toki no Sumika (Gotemba City), Nabana no Sato (Mie Prefecture), and Tobu Zoo (Saitama).

In short, there are countless such events that I can’t mention all here, but you will surely find one wherever you are.

Whichever you end up attending, I can assure you will be mesmerized by the eye-catching lighting effects.

9. Skiing & Snowboarding

From December to March, many travelers come to Japan to enjoy winter sports like Snowboarding and Skiing.

As January is the coldest month in Japan, you will find the best snow powder in the Japanese mountain area.

You will find the best ski resorts at the northernmost land of Japan, like Hokkaido.

Skiing at Hokkaido

For example, Niseko, Rusutsu, Furano, and Sapporo are some of the famous ski resorts in Hokkaido.

There are also several ski resorts that can be visited from Tokyo like GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort (Niigata), Hakuba Ski Resorts (Nagano), Snowtown Yeti (Shizuoka), and Naeba Ski Resort (Niigata).

Now tell me, do you wanna go to Mount Fuji?

Well, if you are in Japan, it is one of the best places to see in January, as the snow covers the whole mountain, making it look unearthly.

So, when you want to enjoy skiing or snowboarding with this breathtaking view of Mount Fuji, Fujimi Panorama Resort, and Fujiten Snow Resort is your way out.

10. Kitami Yakiniku Festival

A winter BBQ in the freezy environment!!

Yes, you heard me right.

If you think BBQs are common everywhere and can be relished anytime in parks, gardens, beaches, or hills, then think again.

What can be a better way to heat up in the chilly months than eating mouth-watering BBQ food outdoors.

And that’s how Japanese people came up with a winter food festival in Kitami, Hokkaido.

beef BBQ in japan

It is one of the many food festivals that you can choose from.

During the fiesta, people from all over the city gather around to grill their own BBQ.

You will see about 100 or more tables where people sit in groups and enjoy the moment by chit-chatting and eating the freshly made BBQ.

So, get ready with your chopstick and head to Kitami.

The outdoor feast usually occurs when the temperature drops to -10 degrees Celsius.

I suggest you check their site to know when the event will occur as the date may vary from time to time.

If you miss it, you can attend an event held on the 29th day of every month in the Yakiniku restaurant.

Yakiniku restaurant

Besides this, several other winter dishes in Japan include crab, nabe (winter hotpot), and oden (Japanese fish cake stew), which you may consider trying.

11. Drop By The Shirakawago Village

Did you watch the animation movie “Frozen”?

In case you did, you know how beautiful Elsa’s village looks.

Although Shirakawago Village is not the exact replication of the movie’s town, the picturesque view of it is no less either.

The moment you see this traditional Japanese village, you will be stunned by its visuals.

Shirakawago Village

You won’t believe in your eyes and feel like watching an actual fairyland on earth.

Yes, that’s why it was able to take place on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Shirakawago is situated in Ono District, Gifu Prefecture, Japan.

Even though this place displays magnificent scenery every season, I must say that the winter (especially December, January, February) has the best panorama than other periods of the year.

winter night in Shirakawago village

Several light-up events are held in January and February when the snow covers up the entire village.

Kindly check their website to ensure the light-up event schedule and other travel guidelines.

See also  15 Most Lively Things to Do in Japan in August

12. The Icicles of Misotsuchi

The Icicles of Misotsuchi is one of the best vistas, which is created by nature.

As it is placed in the Chichibu area of the west part of Saitama Prefecture, you can easily travel there from Tokyo by train.

Anyway, the gigantic icicles become about 30 m wide and 10 m high during January and February.

Icicles of Misotsuchi

Hence, traveling there during this period will give you the best view.

Also, a light-up event of the icicles takes place at night, turning the ices into an incredible art of nature.

So, a day trip to this place is recommended when you are in Japan in January.

13. Don’t Miss The New Year Sales!!

Shop til you drop.

No, don’t think I am talking about the American Game Show!

Here I am referring to shopping from the new year’s biggest sale that is held in many shops in Japan.

On 2nd and 3rd January, various stores like clothing and electronics offer a great deal on their items.

The most special thing you can grab is the mystery bags (Fukubukuro in Japanese) filled with discounted goods, which are only sold in the New Year.

Lucky bag japan

Even the fun part is, you can’t know what is inside the bag before buying it.

Thus, opening the bag after purchasing is like a surprise for you.

But don’t feel like you will be scammed, as the items usually cost more than what you pay for.

Therefore, when you are gonna travel to big cities like Tokyo or Osaka, I will suggest not missing a chance to hunt for the big new year’s sale.

14. Witness The Rising Sun (Hatsuhinode)

Hatsuhinode is another seasonal event that Japanese people love so much.

It is also renowned as the first sunrise of the year. It might sound a little strange, but there are many spots where people go to witness the first sunrise of the year.

And, undoubtedly, you will get the best view of the rising sun from a mountaintop.

sunrise view from Mount Fuji

As it is considered good luck, many locals and tourists climb up to a high place to see it on 1st January.

The most popular destination is, of course, Mt. Fuji, so expect a lot of crowds there.

15. Toka Ebisu Festival

One week after the new year celebration, Toka Ebisu Fest takes place for five days, where thousands of people come to pray to Ebisu (the God of fortune).

Lucky items hanging from bamboo branches are sold for prosperity and good luck.

lucky charm

This feast is held in many shrines throughout Japan; one of them is Imamiya Ebisu Shrine in Osaka.

You may take the Kodama and Hikari trains on the Tokaido Shinkansen lines to reach Osaka from Tokyo.

Okay, I have finished talking about all the fun activities to do and places to go in Japan in January.

However, an important fact is yet to be discussed, which is the weather condition of Japan during this month.

Here, I am going to talk about it now.

The Weather of Japan in January

Japan’s weather varies a lot from region to region. Yet, January is the coldest month of the year.

In Hokkaido, the average temperature is around -4° C.

While in Sapporo, expect an average high of -1° C and a low of -8° C.

Hokkaido city in january

The larger cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, are relatively warmer, but some snowfall can be seen.

The average high temperature in Tokyo during January is 10.2°C (50°F), and the average low is 1.8°C (35°F).

However, on the island of Okinawa, the weather is mild.

Naha, the capital of Okinawa, experiences a high of 19° C and a low of 14° C.

Moreover, the rainfall is usually low in January, and it typically falls in the form of snow.

List of Things You Should Pack While Coming in Japan in January

Since you are traveling in the peak wintertime, pack the below items to keep yourself warm.

  1. Thick sweaters, jackets, or coats.
  2. Long sleeve tops.
  3. Long trousers and pants.
  4. Boots and trekking shoes.
  5. Woolen gloves and socks.
  6. Ear warmers.
  7. Heat pack.
  8. Woolen scarves.

Crowds & Cost

Compared to other months, tourists visit Japan less in January due to the country’s cold temperature.

However, since it is high time for skiing and other winter sports, you will see more crowds in Hokkaido and central Honshu.

On the other hand, Sapporo’s Snow Festival is held in early February, and many travelers start coming to this place in late January.

That’s why the accommodation cost will be a bit higher in Hokkaido and Sapporo at this time.

I will ask you to book your flights and hotel in advance if you are willing to stay in these two cities.

Other destinations such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima are not much packed with tourists in January.

Therefore, you will find relatively less crowd there.

Well, we are at the edge of our writing.

Let’s wrap it up here.

Conclusion

Today, I have included the top 15 things to do in Japan in January that can make your trip full of joy and cheerfulness.

If possible, try out all the things.

I can assure you that only remarkable memories will stay in your mind at the end of your tour.

And lastly, have a nice day…