In Japan, we enjoy four individual seasons: summer, autumn, winter, and spring.
Each season has its own charm and characteristics.
But, the winter has something amazing that many people are missing.
There are countless winter activities and events that you can’t enjoy in another season in Japan.
When the temperature drops, the white snow transforms the country into a fairyland.
Just like a spin on the magical wand, the snowflakes start to drop like fallen stars!
I hope you can catch some and make a wish!
Well, rather than appreciating the snow, there are several fascinating things to do in Japan in winter.
So, tighten your seatbelt, as I will take you on a magical ride to explore some of the best places to visit and activities to do in Japan this winter through my writing.
20 Best Things to Do in Japan During Winter
Here I will let you know about some cool things to enjoy and seasonal events to attend in this country one by one.
Also, you will get to know about some delicious food which is a must-try item during winter.
Enjoy Snow Festivals & Events
The best thing about traveling to Japan in winter is to enjoy some fun and exciting snow festivals and events.
You will be able to see several ice sculptures, illumination, and phenomenal winter scenery.
The World Famous Sapporo Snow Festival
Yes, the famous Sapporo Snow Festival!!
It takes place once a year in Hokkaido’s capital city, the best-known winter attraction in Japan.
Each year, thousands of people come to witness this celebration. It is a multi-day event that takes place for over seven days in early February.
You will see multiple snow sculptures that cover up more than 1.5 km of the downtown parkway.
The number of statues is around 400 in total. You may get tired of watching them one by one.
But, it will be worth seeing something unique while roaming around the whole area.
Also, you can enjoy snow activities like sliding on the ice.
The main sites of the festival are Odori Park, Susukino, and Tsudome.
Personally, I like the view from the observation deck of the Sapporo TV Tower.
The view will blow your mind and make your jaw drop in WoW!
Soon after the dark, the festival lights are turned on, and you will find many international food stalls that offer some delicious meals.
As it’s an extremely popular event, hotel rooms in Hokkaido tend to sell out during this season.
So, if you are willing to attend this event, I will suggest you book a hotel room in advance.
Asahikawa Winter Festival
The Asahikawa winter festival is the second large snow feast in Hokkaido.
Many visitors attend both Sapporo and Asahikawa celebrations as they are held around the same time (early February), and these two cities are about 130 Km apart from each other.
During the feast, several ice statues and sculptures of different sizes and designs are displayed.
In my opinion, the main attraction comes at night with the beautiful illumination of these ice figures.
They also show fireworks and many special events are held too.
Watching Giant Zao Snow Monster
I think one of the thrilling winter adventure activities in Japan is watching the Zao Snow Monsters.
Zao is a famous hot spring and ski resort situated in Yamagata Prefecture. It is best known as “Juhyo” (ice trees).
The Zao Snow Monster Festival is held from late December to late February.
The trees on the Zao mountain slope are covered up with ice and make them look like monsters.
Maybe you will get reminded of Marshmallow, the snowman from the animated movie Frozen.
Well, don’t worry, they are not gonna chase you like the scene from the movie!!
You will find the best view of these Zao by taking the ropeway and watching them from above.
During this festival, several special events occur, such as lighting up at night that illuminates the hill with the hundreds of snow monsters (Juhyo).
Be informed that these ice monsters come to their full glory in February.
Besides, you can also enjoy skiing in this snow forest.
And, of course, while skiing you won’t be alone as these ice monsters will give you good company!!
Traditional Festival in Kamakura
In Kamakura, two festivals occur.
One is called Yokote Kamakura Festival, which takes place in Yokote city, Akita Prefecture.
This celebration features countless Kamakura huts and lanterns that are decorated throughout the city.
With hundreds of lanterns laid on the snow, you will feel like walking through the fireflies!!
You can also spend a romantic moment with your lover inside the snow made little houses there.
Inside the large Kamakura huts, you may enjoy traditional food like Mochi (soft rice cake) and other delicious drinks.
Another exciting celebration takes place in the Kanto region, and it is known as the Yunishigawa Onsen Kamakura feast.
This event lasts for a month, from late January.
Unlike the other one, it features hundreds of small and large Kamakura statues.
After the sunset, countless small lanterns with candles light up the traditional onsen town and create magical winter scenery.
If you want, you can make the Kamakura (snow huts) by yourself in Komyoji park.
Apart from that, you can experience snow rifting, eat mouth-watering food and see the illumination at night.
Attending Various Winter Illumination Event
One of the fascinating winter attractions in Japan is the light-up events held across the whole country.
Some of the events end after Christmas, but most of them continue throughout the whole winter season.
To name a few illuminations outside the capital city are Sapporo White Enoshima, Sagamiko, Ashikaga Flower Park, and Nabana no Sato.
Suppose you are not willing to leave the capital city and are only looking for winter things to do in Tokyo.
In that case, you can go to SHIBUYA Blue Cave, Midtown Hibiya, Odaiba, Yomiuriland Jewellumination, Roppongi Hills Christmas, and Marunouchi illuminations.
In a word, there are numerous such events during winter in Japan.
Hence, wherever you go, you are surely gonna have a great time.
Watch A Mountain Burn in Nara Prefecture
In the Kansai region of Nara, there is a festival that happens annually called Wakakusa Yamayaki.
During the ceremony, the grass on the hillside of Mount Wakakusayama is set on fire. When it’s fully alight, the fires burning the mountain can be seen from anywhere in the city.
This firework usually takes place on the 4th Saturday of January but can be delayed later if the weather turns bad.
Shrine & temples like Todaiji Temple, Kofukuji Temple, and Kasuga Shrine are involved with this feast.
Don’t you have a question in mind why do they burn a whole mountain?
Though its precise origins are still unclear, one theory claims that burning the mountainside started in the time of boundary conflicts between Nara’s temples.
While another belief is the fires were used to chase away wild boars.
Story aside, the main feast begins at noon, and you can enjoy various minor events here.
From 12.30 to 15.00, a rice cracker (sembei) throwing competition takes place.
Around 17.00, people involved in lighting up the hill start a procession from the Tobino area of Kasuga Taisha and make a stop at the Mizuya Shrine to light the torches.
Near 17.30, the procession arrives at the base of Wakakusayama and lit up a large bonfire.
Hundreds of audiences gather to view the spectacular event in this place, and a barrier is set to restrict them from getting inside for safety.
Also, some fireworks are held to light up the sky of the city at night.
Attend The Otaru Snow Light Path Festival
Yeah, Japan is a country with dozens of seasonal celebrations!!
Okay, I just answered a question that may have arisen in your mind, as I already mentioned about six feasts.
And there is another in the line-up!!
But, I couldn’t deprive you of knowing about one of my favorite celebrations known as the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival.
This fair is held every February in Otaru and lasts for ten days.
You will find lots of glittering lanterns decorated on the snow creating a pleasant atmosphere.
There are mainly two areas in the city, Unga Kaijo and Temiyasen Kaijo, where the light-up events happen.
As these two areas are within fifteen minutes of walking distance, you can easily explore both of them at once.
The Icicles of Misotsuchi
At the Chichinu area in the western Saitama Prefecture, a light-up event occurs after sunset.
The best time to see the icicles is between January and February, when they get bigger in size.
During the feast, colorful lights illuminate the icicles and turn them into fantastic art of nature.
Anyway, not only can you experience Japanese festivals, but you also can visit some beautiful places.
Now, I am going to give you a ride to these locations.
Best Places to Visit in Japan During Winter
Your winter vacation trip to Japan may remain incomplete if you don’t visit the places I am going to mention here.
So, be ready to add them to your list cause each of them is worth visiting.
Shirakawago Village: One of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Wanna have a glimpse of paradise on the earth?
Although I don’t know what heaven looks like, the night view of Shirakawago village can make you feel like living in one.
The houses of this village have a unique style of architecture, known as gassho-zukuri. And, these traditionally thatched houses are the reason that foreign visitors admire this place so much.
The whole village covers up in snow in the winter season, making it look like a dreamland.
Shirakawago village is situated in Gifu Prefecture.
At nighttime, when the lights are turned on in each villa, the stunning beauty of this town will indeed make you fall in love with the view.
However, Shirakawago is one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites, and hundreds of tourists come to Japan to have a glance at its elegance.
So, the place is always crowded, especially in the winter season.
Almost every year, I visit this village because it makes me realize how delightful the world can be.
Ohh, I forgot to tell you that various light-up events are held here occasionally during wintertime.
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Meet The Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani
One of Japan’s unique places is Jigokudani Monkey Park, where you will find monkeys taking a bath in the hot springs just like a human!!
Don’t you wanna see another creature enjoying their life and making facial expressions like a human.
Well, they even know the mannerisms!!
Although you can go to this park during summer, the place is much more photogenic and spectacular during winter, as you can capture the monkeys in white snow.
Jigokudani Monkey Park is situated in Nagano Prefecture.
The best period of time to pay a visit to this place is in January and February when the snow gets heavier.
Since monkeys are wild animals and the park tries to keep the surroundings as natural as possible, visitors are requested to follow some rules.
I recommend you to visit this site and check out the guideline.
Go on a day trip to Blue Pond, Shirahige Falls Light-up, and Asahiyama Zoo(Hokkaido)
You are coming to Japan and missing Hokkaido’s Blue Pond, No!! No!!, it can’t happen.
This heavenly-looking pond is one of Japan’s unique places and has a mesmerizing aura to make you intoxicated.
In winter, the lake’s water freezes and radiates an ethereal view.
Especially at night, the pond looks unreal with illuminated spotlights, and the color of the water reflects on the snow.
You know what, I can’t describe the beauty of this lake in words, and you will agree with me after exploring it in person.
On top of the blue pond, you will also witness the Shirahige Falls light up.
Another attraction of Hokkaido is Asahiyama Zoo, which allows visitors to get as close as possible to the animals.
One of the exciting things about this zoo is you can meet the cutie penguins here!!
If you meet them, don’t forget to take a video when they adorably walk on the snow, swinging left-right.
I am sure that whenever you see the video, an unconscious smile will appear on your face.
Besides penguins, you can meet with other animals in the zoo, so don’t forget to say hi to them too.
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Early View of Cherry Blossom at Kawazu City
Cherry blossoms in winter!! Is it even possible?
What if I say Yes, it is.
Well, you heard me right.
As cherry blossoms usually flourish in March or April, many people assume that they can’t see them during winter.
The truth is the first cherry blossom of the year is seen at Kawazu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, in early February.
After knowing about this fact, I think you can finally relax as visiting Japan in winter won’t deprive you of watching these pretty flowers.
Another notable thing is that these cherry blossoms last longer than most of the others in Japan, even for about a month.
Now, I will mention some fun activities that you can enjoy in Japan during winter.
List of Some Snow Activities in Japan Which is Worth Trying
If you are a fun-loving energetic person, snow sports can give you a ride of excitement.
So, let’s see what activities are waiting for you.
Sumo January Grand Tournament
If you’re in Japan in winter of January 2023, make sure you check out the sumo match in Ryogoku Kokugikan National Sumo Stadium in Tokyo.
The match goes on for about 3 days. It’s a huge sensation in Japan and is something that has been celebrated in Japan for centuries. It’s one of Japan’s oldest and traditional sports.
Check out the The Blue Pond, Biei, Hokkaido
As the name suggests the Blue Pond, Biei, Hokkaido is a man-made, blue colored patch of pond in Hokkaido. WHat give its colors is the chemicals in the pond that allow different hues of blue appear depending on the season.
If you’re in Japan this winter 2023 then make sure to visit this pond because this is one of the best places to visit in Japan in winter. It looks absolutely beautiful against the snow.
Skiing & Snowboarding
From December to March, many tourists come to Japan to enjoy winter sports like skiing and snowboarding.
The most popular area is Hokkaido because the ski resorts of this area have the finest quality snow powder.
Niseko, Rusutsu, Furano, Sapporo Teine ski resort are some of the places where you can consider going for experiencing these activities.
You may also visit Hakuba, Biwako Valley, and Meiho ski resorts if you don’t wanna go to Hokkaido.
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Have Fun with Ice Skating
It’s okay if you don’t want to go snowboarding and skiing as you can still have fun inside the town.
Tokyo has plenty of outdoor ice skating rinks open during winter. The good thing is they are in the central areas, so you don’t need to move far away from the city.
Some popular ice skating places in Tokyo are Urban Dock Lalaport Toyosu, Akasaka Sacas, TOKYO SKYTREE TOWN ICE SKATING PARK, Futako Tamagawa Rise, and Tokyo Midtown.
How About Catching Fish in Ice?
When winter descends in Hokkaido, many locals and foreigners try to catch fish in Ice-covered Shinshinotsu Lake.
With the freshly captured fish, you can eat tempura-ed on the spot.
Are you afraid that what if you can’t catch one?
Even if you don’t manage to catch anything, you can still fill your stomach at the grand buffet.
By the way, one notable thing to do in Japan in winter is soak yourself in hot spring after enjoying different snow activities.
Though you can relish Onsen (hot spring) whenever you want, it feels amazing when you are exhausted and want to relax for some time.
Onsen in the northern area of Japan is relatively special than the other region because this location is covered in snow. And, while taking a hot bath, you can view the beautiful surrounding scenery.
Outdoor Activities That Can Refresh Your Mind And Body
Here I will mention outdoor winter activities that you can relish.
Ride on A Boat in The Sea of Okhotsk
Sailing on a boat in a freezing sea is only for those who can withstand the cold well.
But, if you gather courage and do it, you will surely love the fun ride.
First, you need to go to Abashiri, Hokkaido, where the Sea of Okhotsk is located.
There you can take a boat trip to the sea by the Aurora Sightseeing Boats (ice breaker) and see the stunning drifting ice called Ryuhyo.
These boats depart from the Abashiri port, and the whole journey may take at least an hour.
Although the drifting ice reaches the coast around Abashiri from mid to late January, you will get the best view near the second half of February.
Make sure to wear heavy winter clothes as the temperature on the sea is freezing cold.
Train Ride Via The JR Tadami Line
The JR Tadami Line is a railway service that runs for over eighty miles through the Fukushima and Niigata prefectures.
When the Japanese countryside gets covered up with thick snow, the view from the train will literally take your breath away.
This rail service connects Aizuwakamatsu and Uonuma city and travels through mountain valleys that are covered with pine forests, rivers, and bridges.
As the train moves slowly, you will have enough time to capture the outer beauty with your camera through the window.
One of the top sights on Tadami Line is Mishima, a small town famous for its handicrafts and Tadami River Bridge Viewpoint.
This viewpoint is one of the most photogenic sights on the journey, so don’t miss capturing the scene too.
Try Some Mouthwatering Dishes
Japan is widely known for its delicious foods and even has a broad history behind these cuisines.
So, roll the sleeves of your shirt or cloth, as we are gonna explore these dishes now.
Eat Fresh Crab
Happy tummy with yummy crab!!
I recommend you try some crab in Japan, as this country offers some of the best crab dishes in the world.
And the best place to eat fresh crab is none other than Hokkaido.
Yet, you will find some great restaurants and food stalls in Tokyo where you can eat this delicious food.
To name a few restaurants are, Kita no Kazoku Yasukuni Dori, Tarabaya Kichijoji, Luxe Dining Hapuna , Daishucho Akihabara, and Marugoto Hokkaido Asakusa.
Warm Yourself with Nabe (Hot Pot): Sukiyaki
Nabemono (shortly nabe) is a traditional Japanese hot pot dish that is especially consumed during the cold season.
Local people like to eat them in a group sitting around a table when the dish cooks on a gas burner.
One of the most famous hot pot dishes is Sukiyaki.
Usually, it is prepared by cooking beef, tofu, onion, and other ingredients in a soy sauce-based soup.
The ingredients of this dish may differ according to the various regions of the country.
By any chance, if you search Sukiyaki on the internet, a song by Japanese singer Kyu Sakamoto may pop in the result.
Don’t blame me if for a moment you think I may suggest you eat a song!!
Winter BBQ in Japan
When the temperature is minus degrees Celsius, how can you not eat some BBQ?
I frequently eat beef BBQ while watching the snowy sky, and I think you should try to do so.
You will thank me for suggesting this after doing it yourself!!
Either you can arrange a BBQ party outdoor or grab them from a restaurant, whatever you want.
In Tokyo, some trendy BBQ spots are 10th story Shibuya Sakuragaoka, CAFE; HAUS GARDEN BBQ, Hatsushima Island, and WILD MAGIC The Rainbow Farm.
Besides all my mentioned dishes, there are other foods that you can try in Japan, such as mochi (rice cake), Yudofu, Nikujaga, Shabu Shabu, Okayu / Zosui, etc.
Now, traveling to Japan in Winter needs some preparation. You should have knowledge about the weather and what things to pack before heading toward your destination.
Then, who will give you this information?
Well, don’t look for someone else, as I am here, your ultimate travel guide!!
Look below to gain some essential information.
Useful Winter Travel Guide in Japan
Officially the winter in Japan starts from December and stays until February. Yet, it depends on which region of the country you are in.
Winter Temperature in Japan
During this season, the weather usually remains clear and pleasant. As Japan is a collection of many islands, the temperature varies depending on the region.
Big cities like Tokyo and Osaka don’t have a lot of snowfall.
In Tokyo, the temperature in winter is around 2 to 12 degrees Celsius.
Okinawa (Naha) is the warmest place in Japan in winter, with an average temperature between 15 to 20 degrees Celsius.
In the mountain area and the Northern part of Japan, the average temperature is around 0 degrees.
As the snowfall is heavier, the streets look like a white carpet.
In Hokkaido, the temperature drops below 0 degrees Celsius, and it is one of the coldest regions in Japan.
Costs and Crowds in Japan During Winter
Costs and crowds in Japan during winter can vary depending on the specific location and timing of your visit. Here are some general factors to consider:
- Accommodation: Winter is considered the peak season in popular winter destinations, so accommodation prices can be higher compared to other times of the year. It’s advisable to book in advance to secure better rates.
- Transportation: While transportation costs in Japan remain relatively consistent throughout the year, the expenses for traveling to and within winter destinations may vary. For example, flights to Hokkaido or other northern regions may be more expensive during peak winter months.
- Activities: Costs for winter activities such as skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing can add up. Ski resort fees, equipment rentals, and lessons should be factored into your budget.
- Popular Destinations: Japan’s popular winter destinations, such as Hokkaido and major ski resorts, can experience increased crowds during peak winter months. This is especially true during holidays and weekends. It’s advisable to plan your visit during weekdays or consider less crowded alternatives if you prefer a quieter experience.
- Timing: The level of crowds can also vary depending on when you visit during the winter season. Early or late winter months might be less crowded compared to the peak of winter, which typically falls around December and January.
Things You Need to Pack For Japan In Winter
To make your trip warm and cozy, you need to pack carefully while leaving out unnecessary things.
It is wise to layer your clothes. If you wear multiple layers of clothes, you can always take off something when it gets too hot.
Now, I will mention some goods that are worth buying before your tour to Japan.
In Japanese, heating pads are also known as Kairo. It can warm up your hands and feet from the frizziness.
You can purchase them from any convenience store or supermarket in Japan.
Also, you can take them from your own country. But, I think it’s inconvenient to carry them all the way.
Yet, if you want, you can purchase them beforehand.
Winter Jackets & Innerwear
It’s okay if you take leather jackets, but I suggest you pack at least one insulated coat as they are more effective against the cold.
Whether you stay in the capital city or go to the Northern parts, a well-padded jacket will ensure that you do not catch a cold and can enjoy traveling to the fullest.
Don’t forget to take one or two sets of innerwear too.
Hand Gloves & Socks
You can take either full or fingerless gloves according to your preference.
However, fingerless gloves are convenient when you need to snap a photo with your phone or camera.
You can even hold a cup with much ease and enjoy your coffee, which is a must to reduce the chill.
Also, take some warm socks as you need to take your shoes off often in Japan.
There is a Japanese tradition of taking the shoes off before entering someones’ house, also in temples and shrines.
So, be sure not to forget about packing socks.
Sunscreen in winter!!
You may think I am out of my mind!! Right?
Well, even on cold days, your skin can be damaged by the ray of the sun.
Especially when you will ski, your face will be exposed to harmful UV rays.
So, I would like you to take good care of your precious and beautiful face!!
Boots Or Sneakers
If possible, take both high boots and casual sneakers. High boots are more reliable while walking on snow.
On the other hand, you can wear sneakers while sightseeing around cities.
Okay, I have nothing left to let you know as I have already mentioned each information that is needed.
So, I am gonna wrap it up now.
By now, I hope you have fixed which things to do in Japan in winter.
Whatever you end up doing, only a wide smile will remain on your face while leaving this country.
And, my job is to make your trip happy and memorable each time you visit Japan.
Japan In Winter: FAQs
Is it worth visiting Japan in winter?
It’s absolutely worth visiting Japan during the winter season. Even if you don’t like skiing or snowboarding, you can enjoy several festivals and activities here.
You can walk through snow-covered forests, slurp hot soup and soak in a hot outdoor bath.
As Japan is relatively less crowded in winter, you will have a great time exploring the beauty of this country.
But, remember that winter holidays in Japan usually start from 29th December and end on 3rd January, and during this time tourist spots may be crowded by local people.
What is special about winter in Japan?
The winter season represents a time of celebration and fun in many places of the world. And Japan is not an exception.
Several cities of this country are covered up in white snow and bring out the true beauty of winter.
You will see lights hanging up throughout the city streets in December, and many festivals are held during this time that leaves an unforgettable memory in your mind.
Is it cheaper to go to Japan in the winter?
Since fewer people visit Japan during wintertime, the prices of hotel rooms slightly drop compared to other seasons.
Hence, if you are eager to spend less money on this expensive destination, you should visit Japan during this season.
And, of course, you won’t miss watching the famous Sapporo Snow Festival, which occurs only during this period of the year.
Which part of Japan is best for winter?
Hokkaido, Tohoku, Nagano, and Gifu are the best parts of Japan for winter. They offer stunning winter landscapes, ski resorts, hot springs, and unique cultural experiences.