Winter in Japan is the envy of the world. The country is home to some world-class snowfall and has hosted several Winter Olympic Games. As well as many great locations for winter sports, Japan has many unique artistic and cultural events centered around winter. 

Winter in Japan, especially in the north, can be quite harsh and long, so many traditions have grown to help people get through the cold part of the year.

Where to travel in Japan in winter? There are in fact so many options for different tastes and preferences, but these winter destinations of Japan shown below are good ones for a lot of reasons.

If you plan on visiting Japan in winter but don’t know where to go for the best winter experiences, be prepared to witness some amazing areas that can fulfill your lifelong dreams.

1. Niseko, Hokkaido

View of Mount Yotei from Niseko Grand Hirafu Ski Resort.

The most famous ski resort in Japan, the powder at Niseko is incredible. There is also plenty of backcountry skiing and snowboarding facilities available, offering something for everyone.

The resort is a favorite for English-speaking tourists, especially Australians, so it’s a great option for those who do not speak Japanese.

There are kilometers of ski runs at Niseko. Besides the trails, you can also enjoy some the facilities to enjoy during and after your day on the slopes.

There are three major resorts in Niseko that cover most of the area: Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village, and Annupuri. You can access all three with a Niseko All Mountain Pass, Just take the shuttle bus between the resorts.

If Niseko sounds an expensive area for a ski holiday, then find some other alternatives here.

2. Nagano

Japanese macaque at Jigokudani, Nagano. Photo Credit: manginwu at Flickr.

Nagano hosted the 1998 Winter Olympic Games. The town still retains a lot of the Olympic facilities, which is part of what makes sit such a great winter experience. Nagano is great in any season, but in winter it is something special.

There are places to enjoy a variety of winter sports but you can also visit some of Nagano’s unique cultural treasures, including a ninja museum as well as temples and shrines.

In winter, you can visit the famous snow monkeys of Jigokudani that bathe in hot springs to keep warm not far from town.

If you are in Nagano on January 15, you can attend the Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival, one of the three great fire festivals in Japan. Nagano is a great winter destination for the whole family.

3. Sapporo, Hokkaido

View of Odori Park from Sapporo TV Tower during the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The premier winter event in Sapporo is the Sapporo Snow Festival. The festival features hundreds of ice sculptures, ranging from small to truly massive, and is one of the most popular events in Japan. For a more relaxing experience, soak in a hot spring.

Athletes can enjoy nearby ski resorts. Enjoy sledding or even book a snowmobile tour!

Travelers can stay a week in Sapporo and then take a number of day trips from the city to Otaru, Asahikawa, Jozankei, Ebetsu, and Lake Shikotsu for a number of amazing outdoor activities and discoveries.

Please note Otaru Snow Light Path Festival is one of the most popular winter festivals in Hokkaido along with Sapporo Snow Festival, Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival, and Asahikawa Winter Festival.

4. Zao Onsen, Yamagata

Mount Zao in winter! Photo Credit: Yuhei Kuratomi at Flickr.

This magnificent tourist village sits 800 meters above sea level, surrounded by forests and mountains.

The village was founded around hot springs, so be sure to enjoy a traditional onsen bath while visiting. Three cable cars will take you up the mountainside.

In winter, the area hosts a ski resort and features “snow monsters”, trees engulfed in ice and snow, sometimes rendered completely unrecognizable.

The sight is beautiful and surreal. When you return from visiting these frozen wonders, enjoy some of the excellent shopping and eating found in the village. It is worth booking several nights at one of the many hotels.

5. Shirakawa-go, Gifu

Shirakawa-go in winter. Photo Credit: Simon Desmarais at Flickr.

Shirakawa-go experiences heavy winter with a thick snowfall. It is considered one of the best places to visit in Gifu Prefecture in winter for its stunning scenery.

This (Ogimachi) lovely tourist traditional gassho village features many traditional buildings as well as a ski resort.

Numerous winter festivals are celebrated throughout the season, including a harukoma dance on New Year’s Day and the Silkworm Festival in February.

Traditional house of Shirakawa-go. Photo Credit: Mathias Erhart at Flickr.

The triangular gassho buildings have a special charm in winter, gaining a covering of snow and gathering icicles. This village is worth the effort it takes to reach it in the fierce winter weather.

6. Abashiri, Hokkaido

Sightseeing & Icebreaker Ship “Aurora” in Abashiri. Photo Credit: Doutoukankoukaihatsu.

Inland Japan is amazing in winter, but at sea, you can also enjoy the incredible sight of drift ice. Abashiri sits at 44 degrees north latitude and is one of the northernmost inhabited locations in Japan. It was previously a prison-town and today the old prison is a museum.

Icebreaker ships will take tourists safely and smoothly out to the ice. The icebreakers run from January to early April. The sight of the frozen sea is amazing, a plane of white almost as far as you can see. You may get lucky enough to see seals resting on the ice.

Seabirds are also often seen, including the impressive Stellar’s sea eagle. If you want to see something you won’t find anywhere else in Japan, bundle up and head to Abashiri in winter.

7. Akita, Tohoku

Kamakura, the small snow huts. Photo Credit: Tohoku Tourism Promotion Organization.

Akita is one of the most popular winter getaways in Japan. It offers something for everyone, including a ski resort, hot spring baths and amazing festivals all year long.

Enjoy the traditional paper balloons at the Kamihinokinai Paper Balloon Festival in February, or watch the town of Kariwano as it engages in a 500-year old ceremony based on a massive, town-sized round of tug-of-war with a 10-ton rope.

February also hosts many local snow festivals and the unique Namahage Sedo Matsuri. Eating mochi and drinking amazake inside a kamakura is a tradition of more than 400 years. This can be done during the Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival. Visit Akita to get to know Japanese culture!

8. Tokyo

Tokyo Skytree at night. Photo Credit: Zengame at Flickr.

Tokyo offers a big city winter like no other. The chilly weather means you’ll have to wear warm clothing, but it also means that the air gets clearer and you can sometimes see Mt. Fuji from the Tokyo Skytree.

You can also visit Lake Kawaguchi for a majestic view of Mt. Fuji from its shores. This lake makes a great day trip from Tokyo City.

Lake Kawaguchi Winter Fireworks Festival is an annual event that takes places from January to February. The best place to view the fireworks display is from Oike Park.

An overnight stay in the area does not only offer you to see this fascinating winter event but also you can relax at one of the hot spring resorts located around the lake. Stay at this onsen hotel, which is a 5-minute drive from Kawaguchiko Station.

Motsunabe. Photo Credit: Yu Morita at Flickr.

The many traditional food offerings of Japan change with the seasons, and in winter in Tokyo, you’ll find plenty of hot foods to keep the chill off, like spicy “Kimchi nabe”, rich “motsunabe”, and many wonderful stews you can get on the street.

A trip to Tokyo is always magical and many travelers dreams of celebrating New Year’s Eve in the city. You can spend your time at Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo Sky Tree, Tokyo Disney, and Tokyo Tower to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

For Hatsumode, either Asakusa temple or Zojoji temple is a perfect choice. Many locals also head over to Meiji Jingu!

There are more light shows than you can count in Tokyo’s malls and gardens as well as numerous festivals to attend. Winter in Tokyo has a flavor, in every sense, all its own.

9. Kyoto

Plum blossoms in Kyoto. Photo Credit: merec0 at Flickr.

Kyoto in winter has just as much character as Tokyo. The snow that coats every building transforms the city’s many shrines into something out of an ancient painting. Kifune Shrine, in particular, is a wonderful sight to see.

Looking like a postcard, the shrine’s vivid colors stand out in the thick blanket of snow.

The area gets very cold, so be sure to dress warm, but it will be a bit less crowded than usual thanks to the cold.

A Torii gate at Kifune Shrine during winter, Kyoto. Photo Credit: Izu navi at Flickr.

Kurama Onsen, the best onsen in Kyoto offers both indoor and outdoor bahts. If you want to explore a hot spring town in Kyoto, we highly recommend you to visit Kurama Onsen.

In late winter, plum blossom (ume in Japanese) can be seen on the grounds of many temples and shrines.

Even though they look similar to iconic cherry blossoms, they are quite different. Read this post to identify some differences between ume and sakura.

10. Aomori, Tohoku

Hakkoda ski resort, Hakkoda Ropeway. Photo Credit: Marho at Wikimedia Commons.

Aomori is a spectacular area. In winter, much of the focus is on the Hakkoda ski resort, an excellent set of ski runs, lifts, and more that offers a challenge for skiers from around the world.

You can rent snow shoes and trek through the wilderness, enjoying the amazing views and snow-clad trees.

Besides athletics, Aomori is home to many winter festivals that have long helped locals manage the cold and dark winters, including the 800-year-old Hachinohe Enburi festival, a cultural treasure. Aomori is one of the most uniquely Japanese winter destinations in the country.