How to Enjoy Winter in Japan

Winter in Japan certainly isn’t for everybody. But just because it’s not for everyone, doesn’t mean that you should avoid winter for travelling Japan. In fact, there are countless amazing opportunities all across the country for you to enjoy winter in Japan. From skiing, to relaxing in outdoor onsens, there is no shortage of things to do. Here are some ideas that should hopefully get your excited and wanting to plan your next trip to Japan in the winter months.

 

Japan is located in the Northern Hemisphere, so the winter months begin in late November through until February/ March depending on where you go in Japan.

1. Ski on Japans greatest slopes

Due to the geological and geographical nature of Japan, there are places that receive snow. And then there are places that receive a lot of snow. 

Ski fields are plentiful around the winter seasons and the ski fields are immaculate with pristine snow conditions and stunning views. The best ski fields can be found in the northern region of Tohoku, but there still are seasonal ski fields that can be found close to Tokyo and Osaka/Kyoto.

Hakuba is one of the most famous ski regions in Japan, which was where the 1998 Nagano olympics were held for the most part. The Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort, the Hakuba Goryu Snow Resort and the Hakuba Iwatake Ski Field are the best of the ski fields surrounding Hakuba and certainly are worth checking out if you are into skiing and snowboarding.

Niseko(Not to be confused with the popular Japanese anime series, Nisekoi) is another ski area, but Niseko can be found in Hokkaido, and boasts a completely different skiing environment, and is officially ranked as THE BEST ski resort and destination in the country.  There are 4 different ski fields found in Niseko, and all offer a variety of difficulty to suit skiers and snowboarders of all levels of expertise. Here you can enjoy skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, heli skiing and cat skiing. For a twin bed lodge room, you can expect to pay about 7,000JPY for a night here, with rentals for equipment from 4,500JPY. There are pretty standard pricing and you can expect to pay a similar price at any ski field across Japan.

It’s no wonder some that the Japanese tend to perform very well at the Olympics with quality snow slopes that can be found around the country. 

 

2. Be amazed by winter illumination festivals

The Japanese are no stranger to putting up a good show. Winter illumination festivals in Japan are something else, usually with massive displays that last well after the Christmas period has passed. Light shows of half a million lights are not uncommon across Japan, with some of the best illumination festivals using over 8,000,000 fairy lights to create an immaculate display that will surely set the mood for the winter season. 

Winter illumination festivals are some of the best things to do in japan in january

While some of these illuminations come at a small entry fee, there are others that are free, usually put on in public places, meaning that almost everywhere you go during the winter period, you are almost certainly going to run into some form of winter illumination festival. 

We’ve included a small list of the more notable festivals across the country below.

  • Sagamiko Illumination (Pictured)

    Address: 1634 Wakayanagi, Midori Ward, Sagamihara, Kanagawa 252-0175, Japan

    Entry Fee: 1,000JPY

  • Shirakawa-go Winter Illumination

    Address: Shirakawa-go, Gifu Prefecture, Japan

  • Nabana no Sato

    Address: Nagashimacho Komae, Kuwana, Mie 511-1144, Japan

    Entry Fee: 450JPY

  • Marunouchi Illumination

    Address: 1-3 Marunouchi, 1 Yuraku-cho Chiyoda-ku

  • Caretta Shiodome

    Address: 1 Chome-8-2 Higashishinbashi, Minato City, Tokyo 105-7090, Japan

3. Enjoy Winter Attractions

Sometimes, places are just better in the winter. The Winter atmosphere just creates a unique experience in some places. For example, the Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano prefecture, where monkeys can be seen bathing in hot water as snow gently falls on their head, which makes the monkeys look especially relaxed. While this park is open year round, it is best enjoyed in the winter as that’s where the hot water creates the largest amount of steam in the frigid winter air. 

Winter also has a number of snow attractions that open up, like Ice Fishing, or an activity where you get pulled behind a snowmobile in a rubber dingy and slide all across a frozen lake – sounds like fun, doesn’t it? That’s just the tip of the iceberg for winter activities in Japan. For your convenience, we have included some really cool (pun intended) experiences and things to see during the winter in Japan – There’s a good range of experiences that should just about appeal to everyone.

 

 

4. Sit back and relax in an outdoor onsen

Onsens (Japanese baths) are great no matter what time of year you visit, but outdoor onsens will give you a particularily relaxing experience in the winter time, as much like the monkeys, steam dances off the water as your enjoy the 40+°C waters with snow gently falling on your head. It’s incredibly soothing, and taking a dip in an outdoor onsen during the winter should certainly be on your to-do list on your winter trip to Japan.

outdoor onsens are best enjoyed in January in Japan

A lot of Ryokans (Japanese style hotels) will have an onsen in them, but very few will have an outdoor onsen, so if you are wanting to enjoy the convenience of having the outdoor onsen at your hotel, then make sure you search for your hotels on Booking.com, you can filter types of hotels in Japan, and you can also filter what kind of hot spring they have in their facility, making Booking.com the best tool for booking your accommodation in Japan.

5. The Sapporo Snow Festival

The Sapporo Snow Festival is possibly one of the most iconic snow festivals in Japan, attracting millions from around the world to gaze upon the marvelous snow creations over a 2-3 week festival. The Sapporo Snow Festival is one of the main attractions for the city of Sapporo, and as such Sapporo is much busier come winter time then it is during summer, it’s almost like a different city during the snow festivals duration. Most people who visit Hokkaido during the winter at least make an effort to explore the wonders this festival have to offer.

The festival takes place at various venues across the city, and it’s highly recommended that you check out the snow festivals website to see what part of the festival is taking place where and when. 

Snow Festival Website

The dates for the 2020 Sapporo Snow festival are as followed: Friday, January 31st 2020, through until Wednesday, February 12th 2020. 

The dates for the 2021 festival are yet to be released.

Are you planning a trip to Japan soon? Then you really should consider purchasing a JR Rail Pass, especially if you are planning on hitting all the major tourist cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, and Sapporo. 

The JR Rail Pass makes getting around the country easy, and can save you several hundreds in travel expenses. All you need to do is just show your pass at the ticket gate, and you have access to any and all JR rail lines across the country, and not just the standard commuter trains, but luxury trains, and even the world famous Shinkansen (Bullet Train). A JR Rail Pass is an essential item for any visitor to Japan. Buy your pass today by clicking here now!

6. Enjoy Shorter Queuing times at theme parks and other attractions

If you don’t mind riding roller coasters in the frigid weather, then going to a major theme park in the winter isn’t such a bad idea as the queues will be significantly lower, as the volume of guests to the park is so much lower in winter. Even aquariums or other local attractions will have far less people as winter isn’t the main tourist season – there will still be lines, but for the most part they won’t be anything in comparison to the lines you can expect to see in the busier tourist seasons.  

In the summer and special holiday periods such as golden week, you can expect queues for rides and major attractions to be hours. Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan are notorious for long queue times, with queues for an average roller coaster taking upwards of 3 hours, whereas in winter you can expect to see the same ride with a queue less than 30 minutes.

7. Pack warm clothing

dressing warm is key to enjoying winter in Japan

A key tip to enjoying the winter in Japan is simply being prepared for the weather. Even if you aren’t planning on doing wintery activities, it’s still important that you pack some good, warm clothing for the duration of your trip. While snow is pretty uncommon in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, temperatures still do get pretty low, with temperatures hanging just over 5°C on a good day, and below 0°C on a bad day.  Come prepared with the right clothing and the right equipment so that you don’t freeze upon arrival.

Some good articles of clothing to pack include: A scarf, a warm hat, long pants, long sleeve tee shirts, thermal underwear, wool socks, gloves of some form. If you need to buy any of these items before you go, we have put a link to where you can go and buy them from the Amazon store. They wont be super expensive, but they will do the job.

Heat packs are actually quite common in Japan as well, you simply shake them to heat them up and it’s a good idea to keep a few stored in your backpack in case you need it throughout the day. You will especially need one if you are traveling around in more remote areas on the train, as snow can quickly pile up on the tracks, causing the train to derail slightly or lose connectivity to the power – bringing the train to a standstill for hours on end. While this is a rare occasion, it does happen, and it has happened to me. It’s good to keep a portable heat pack on hand. You can get them from pretty much every convenience store and Daiso in Japan.

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