17 Fascinating Things To Do In Japan In Winter 2024

Embrace the magic of winter in Japan, a season of snow-draped temples, exhilarating ski slopes, and steaming onsen baths.

From the glistening Sapporo Snow Festival to the serene beauty of Kyoto’s gardens in snow, discover a variety of activities that celebrate the chilly charm of Japanese winters.

Things to Do in Japan During Winter

The World Famous Sapporo Snow Festival

It takes place once a year in Hokkaido’s capital city, the best-known winter attraction in Japan.

snow sculpture

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.

Snow Sculptures

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.

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.

illumination in Asahikawa

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.

Monsters in mount ZAO

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.

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.

Traditional Festival in Kamakura

In Kamakura, two festivals occur.

One is called Yokote Kamakura Festival, which takes place in Yokote city, Akita Prefecture.

Kamakura Festival at Tochigi

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.

Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival

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.

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.

Sapporo white illumination

Suppose you are not willing to leave the capital city and are only looking for winter things to do in Tokyo.

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In that case, you can go to SHIBUYA Blue Cave, Midtown Hibiya, Odaiba, Yomiuriland Jewellumination, Roppongi Hills Christmas, and Marunouchi illuminations.

Sapporo white illumination

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.

January Activities:

Shrine & temples like Todaiji Temple, Kofukuji Temple, and Kasuga Shrine are involved with this feast.

Wakakusa yaki

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.

Attend The Otaru Snow Light Path Festival

Light on Otaru canal

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.

Otaru Snow Light Festival

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.

Icicle

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.

Shirakawago Village: One of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites

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.

World Heritage Site Shirakawago village

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.

Shirakawago Village in Winter

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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!!

Snow Monkey at Jigokudani

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.

Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

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)

This heavenly-looking pond is one of Japan’s unique places and has a mesmerizing aura to make you intoxicated.

Blue Pond of Biei

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.

Shirahige Water Falls

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!!

Penguin line up on snow, in Hokkaido

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Early View of Cherry Blossom at Kawazu City

As cherry blossoms usually flourish in March or April, many people assume that they can’t see them during winter.

Kawazu cherry blossoms

The truth is the first cherry blossom of the year is seen at Kawazu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, in early February.

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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.

Sumo January Grand Tournament

If you’re in Japan in winter of January 2024, 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. 

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.

ice skate

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.

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.

Tadami railway line and Tadami River

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.

Tadami Line Train

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.

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.

Nabemono

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.

Sukiyaki

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.

Grilled Food on Charcoal BBQ

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.

Pork BBQ Skewers

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.

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.

snow in Tokyo

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:

Costs:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
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Crowds:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  • Heat Pack

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

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.

Conclusion

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.

Things To do In 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.

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