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There are few places in the world that look as stunning as Japan during the cold season. Snow enhances the beauty of its traditional architecture and turns its pretty hamlets into winter wonderlands. Mountains dazzle in their first coat of snow after winter sets in while colorful lights are hung up around its cities in festive cheer. From whizzing down the slopes at one of the country’s ski resorts to observing some of the most famous winter illuminations in the world, winter in Japan is the perfect season to visit during this time of the year.
Winter in Japan lasts from December to mid-March, although the exact duration depends on the location. It can get frigid in Japan during winter, with temperatures averaging from -1° C to 7° C across the country and dropping well below the freezing point in the country’s mountain ranges. The areas that see heavy snowfall during this time include the northern island of Hokkaido. However, despite all its inconvenience, it is also the perfect time to skip the crowds in major tourist hotspots like Tokyo, as it is a low season in the country. More detail for the entire year can be found in our travel guide about the best time to visit Japan.
Traveling to Japan in winter is the best way to beat the madding crowds that descend into the country annually. We have selected a few of the best places to visit in Japan in winter. Take a look at them below.
Regarded as Japan’s great north, the northern island of Hokkaido is home to some of the country’s finest ski resorts, where powdery snow blankets mountain slopes and chalets during the cold season. Along with that, Hokkaido also hosts world-class events like the famous Sapporo Snow Festival. Visit the island in winter and you can wander through Odori Park while gazing at the festival’s spectacular winter lights.
- Hike the serene routes in Hokkaido Nature Trail.
- Visit the traditional yet mesmerizing Sapporo Snow Festival.
- Feel the adventure and ski down the world-class slopes of Niseko.
- Spot majestic wildlife at Shiretoko National Park.
Hordes of wild macaques descend down the forests of the Jigokudani Valley in winter to bathe and warm their frigid, snow-covered bodies in Monkey Onsen, a natural hot spring. Feel the crunch of fresh snow under your feet as you trek through the scenic trails of the valley and see wild monkeys along the trail.
- Take a relaxing dip in Yudanaka Onsen.
- Fill the adventure at Ryuoo Ski Park.
- Visit the Sake Storehouse Art Museum.
- Take it slow by taking a private tour at Jigokudani Monkey Park.
A converted Zen Buddhist temple, KinKakuji radiates calmness and tranquility all year round. However, it is in winter that this place comes to life. Also known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, it is one of the most spectacular temples in Kyoto and is even more magical during winter months as soft-white snow matches beautifully with the golden tint of the temple. You also are blessed with the views of snowy pine trees reflected in the icy waters of its lake during this time of the year.
- Visit the serene golden temple and experience the stillness of the quiet landscape.
- Try your luck with the coin toss and attract fortune your way.
- Get your fortune read at temple areas and buy tablets to write down your wishes.
- Tackle your sweet tooth with soft-serve ice cream.
Traveling to the historic village of Shirakawago and its spectacular Unesco World Heritage site is a must-do when visiting Japan in winter. Shirakawago is great for winter hiking and snowshoeing, with a variety of phenomenal trails to explore. Take the Shinhotaka ropeway to enjoy some of the most astounding views of snow-capped mountains in the country.
- Experience the sight of the traditional agricultural village in gassho-zukuri style.
- Travel to see the snowy village and its simple illuminations.
- Taste the exquisite local mouth-watering cuisine.
- Visit different temples with hot springs to relax under the winter sky.
Home to incredible winter illuminations spanning over eight million LED lights, Nabana no Santa is one of the most impressive light festivals in the world and an amazing spectacle during an otherwise chilly winter evening. One can see a variety of breathtaking features during the light festival, including the tunnel of lights, the flower garden, and the cloud of lights.
- Experience Japan's famous tunnel of lights at the Nabana no Sato winter illumination.
- Visit various restaurants, shops, and onsen.
- Watch the stunning scenery with a bird's eyes view from "Island Fuji".
- Immerse your eyes in the beautiful botanical garden.
Although not on the bucket list of most travelers, a trip to Japan during winter offers chances to soak up its jaw-dropping natural beauty and be part of incredible events and festivities. With a huge variety of activities available, there is something for everyone even during this time of the year. Adrenaline junkies can whizz down the slopes of the Japanese Alps while nature lovers can watch wild monkeys dive into natural hot springs. Alternatively, those looking to explore and soak up the atmosphere of one of the cities during winter in Japan can do so without being overwhelmed by hordes of noisy travelers during this time of the year.
Travelling to Japan? Chat with a local travel specialist in Japan who can help organize your trip.
Katrina Cao Travel Expert in South Korea & Japan
Jeff Aasgaard Travel Expert in Japan
Alan Williams Travel Expert in Japan