Travel Guide Winter

10 Best Things to Do in Japan in Winter

Ever thought of visiting Japan in the winter? Winter in Japan is truly breathtaking. From the stunning views of Shirakawago village to the exciting snow festivals in Hokkaido, the land of the rising sun has so much to offer you.

One of the most common questions I get asked is “what are the top things to do in Japan during winter?” The following 10 very good reasons might reveal the answer.

I would like not to highlight the traditional reasons; instead I want to bring something new for this year winter vacation.

What I mean about traditional reasons is that I will not feature things that you already have read on other posts or articles such as the cheap accommodation, less crowd and etc. Sometimes people think it’s cheaper to make reservation in the winter.

Impressive looking winter landscape of Japan, Jigokudani monkey park in Nagano prefecture. Photo Credit: John Carkeet at Flickr.

Perhaps it is true except the vast cold areas of northern Japan. Both Tohoku and Hokkaido regions offer a number of stunning winter festivals to experience in the winter months.

The hotels and ryokans that are located throughout these regions offer you the usual accommodation deals (sometimes even with no discount offer), especially the ones adjacent to hot spring resort town, ski resort and the host cities/towns of the famous winter festivals.

Though prices of air tickets including guest house booking is a lot cheaper. Think it wisely, would you mind visiting Okinawa in winter where hotel booking prices get cheaper? Of course not, because there is nothing much to discover there at the time.

If you don’t know how to pack for a trip to Japan in the winter, read this guide.

1) The Snow Monsters – Juhyo

Zao snow monsters. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Watching Juhyo or the frost covered trees of Mount Zao would be one of the best possible reasons why you should visit Japan this winter.

The summer, autumn and winter are great seasons to go on holidays to Zao Onsen. So anyone looking to exploring unique winter vistas should get to Zao Onsen Ski Resort.

The trees you see on the slopes of the Zao mountain range get blanketed with plenty of snow making the place incredibly beautiful to see.

They transform into ice monsters due to the heavy snowfall and constant seasonal freezing winds coming from Siberia. Please note that the ice monsters are in their full glory in February.

Their incredible looking shapes would overwhelm you for sure. And skiing along the ski slopes of the Mt. Zao is a kind of a great adventure because it would seem to you like you are not alone but skiing with these giant snow monsters.

2) Zao Fox Village – Cutest Fox Sanctuary

They look very cute! Photo Credit: Koji Huang at Flickr. Huang is a very good photographer who is currently living in Kyoto!

Zao fox village is said to be one of the cutest places in the world. I am an animal lover and my powerful spirit helps me sharing my loving-kindness with every species of animal.

Zao Fox Village has been one of my favorite winter wonders of Japan. I visited it before and loved it very much!

There are 6 different species of foxes dwell with harmony in this wild sanctuary. Even though the name of the place is called Zao fox village, actually it is not a village, better call it a sanctuary that is located in city of Shiroishi, Miyagi prefecture.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

To be honest with you, watching them on the snowy grounds is much cooler, just feel the same way you see the famous snow monkeys in Nagano.

Pay the admission fee, buy some food for them and read the rules before taking any actions at the sanctuary. Please note you are not allowed to feed them by hands, just throw the food away in front of them.

3) Sapporo Snow Festival – The Greatest Winter Event of Japan

What an impressive looking giant snow sculpture! Photo Credit: Akinori YAMADA at Flickr.

Known as the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri to locals; meanwhile foreign visitors recognize it as the Sapporo Snow Festival. Seriously, whatever you call it that does not make any sense.

If you feel a sense of being a winter beauty explorer, I highly recommend you to participate in this biggest snow festival of Japan.

This is a place of highly motivated and talented ice sculptors who use their brain & skill to create stunning snow and ice sculptures. You can observe about a dozen large snow sculptures along with one hundreds of small-sized snow statues in Odori Park, it is really surprising!

In addition, visitors enjoy the atmosphere doing some recreational winter outdoor activities. This is a perfect family-friendly winter event that Sapporo could boast of.

The city of Sapporo boasts a large selection of winter activities to make your winter holidays unforgettable.

4) Nyuto Onsenkyo’s  – Relax in the Hot Water

Tsurunoyu Onsen in Winter. Photo Credit: bittegitte at Flickr.

Visiting and staying at an onsen is must thing to do in Japan in the winter. It is an old tradition for Japanese and now it has become a popular tradition for foreign visitors as well. Winter season in Japan is very cold especially in northern Japan.

To get rid of the extreme cold weather most of the people head to a hot spring resort for relaxing their mind and body.

The same thing you could do in a unique hot spring resort known as Nyuto osenkyo or Nyuto Hot Spring Resort, located in the mountains of eastern Akita prefecture. The onsen area comprises of eight distinct hot springs, though they are all simply ryokan or so called traditional Japanese inn.

The most impressive and beautiful of all these hot springs is the Tsurunoyu Onsen and known for its cloudy milk like waters. The surrounding winter scenery of the onsen is pretty wonderful ad unique.

I think staying a night in wither there would be truly unforgettable experience as it is said to be one of the oldest and calmest hidden hot springs in the country.

5) Niseko United – A Famous Ski Resort

Amazing winter scenery in Niseko ski resort. Photo Credit: MIKI Yoshihito at Flickr.

Niseko United is the biggest ski resort in Japan. It consists of four ski resorts: Niseko Tokyu Grand Hirafu, Niseko Annupuri International Ski Area, Niseko Village Ski Resort, and Niseko Hanazono Ski Resort.

It’s a perfect place to enjoy outdoor winter activities in Hokkaido, such as skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and more. It offers excellent environment for those wishing to spend a great ski vacation in the harsh winter climate.

I am not afraid of this sort of weather because I am accustomed to it. What about you, are you afraid of Hokkaido’s extreme cold weather? If you are, then you do have a solution, please get some info how to survive the winter in Hokkaido

Even though you could find many ski resorts throughout the country, this one is uniquely gorgeous and truly impressive for skiing and snowboarding.

If you are a winter sports fanatic who admires the season very much, don’t forget to pay a visit this great ski resort as it offers you plenty of fresh dry powder snow, long ski terrain, great infrastructures, and a perfect friendly environment.

6) Abashiri Drift Ice – Sailing on the Sea of Okhotsk

Icebreaker Aurora on drift ice at Sea of Okhost, Abashiri. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Here is one of the Aurora sightseeing boat to see drift ice in Abashiri. Photo Credit: Agustin Rafael Reyes at Flickr.

It is sailing time now! You are suggested to embark on a boat trip to the Sea of Okhotsk by Aurora Sightseeing Boats (ice breaker) to see amazing drift ice or so called Ryuhyo. This is the main attraction that’s what Abashiri could offer to you during winter.

The boat departs from Abashiri port. The entire journey takes at least an hour and the cruise would seem to you full of mystery and adventure.

From the coast of Abashiri, seeing drift ice could be difficult unless the weather is clear and sunny. That’s why visitors are advised to take this hilarious boat ride to see lots of drift ice.

Even though Ryuhyo reaches to coast around Abashiri in mid to late-January every year, you can experience the best view around the second half of February.

If you wish to see beautiful Steller’s Sea Eagle including wild seal in Hokkaido, then this is the trip that could delight you very much.

Please note that it is really freezing cold out there, so wear the perfect winter attires and enjoy the mind-boggling scenes. For fares and time click here.

In addition, you can experience similar scene in Monbetsu, this time you board the Garinko Icebreaker Ship at Monbetsu Port.

7) Shirakawago – One of Japan’ UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Shirakawago winter illumination at night. Photo Credit: Simon Desmarais at Flickr.

Shirakawago is not a less crowded touristic attraction in Japan. It is packed with active travelers year round.

If you think that you would see a less crowd there in winter then your prediction is completely wrong. The four season’s beauty of Shirakawago has been revealed in this article.

A trip to this historic place in the winter means you are going to visit a wonderful winter wonderland. Shirakawago famous for its gassho-zukuri or so called traditionally thatched houses.

Their impressive unique style of architectures has been admired by many visitors. It is your turn now; please enjoy Gifu’s stunning winter beauty by visiting this historic village.

The panoramic view of the surrounding snowy landscape and snow covered roofs of the thatched houses look magical from the observation deck.

Every time I visited the village I thoroughly enjoyed everything I experienced there. At night, the snowy grounds and the houses together create a delightful atmosphere!

8) Red-crowned Crane’s Mystical Dancing

Dancing together! Photo Credit: p.fabian at Flickr.

Here is another big reason to visit Japan in winter. Marked as endangered species of bird, Red-crowned cranes are one of the most beautiful creatures on earth.

Often they are recognized as one of the highly valued treasures of Japanese culture & tradition. Japanese really love these birds, and are willing to visit their sanctuary in the Kushiro marshland in Kushiro.

Live show of their fascinating dancing on the snowy grounds is truly enchanting! In fact, it is an unforgettable scene your eyes would witness in Hokkaido.

Crane dancing can be seen at the Tancho Observation Center and Tsurui village. Head to these viewing platforms and judge yourself how they perform in front of you.

9) Snow Monkeys in Nagano

It is very hard living in a cold weather condition for these monkeys in the winter season, Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano. Photo Credit: spDuchamp at Flickr.

Nagano’s harsh bloody winter is extremely dangerous. There, heavy snowfall is expected most of the time in the winter.

Sometimes daily life of people is hampered let alone wild animal! Jigokudani Moneky Park is home to hundreds of wild Japanese macaques or so called snow monkeys.

Perhaps you can find some other ways to enjoy your visit to this famous winter destination in Nagano, but have you ever thought of the hardship of these poor snow monkeys?

They don’t take soak in the hot spring just to be a model, instead they do it to get rid of the terrible cold. Their angry, sorrowful, sad looking faces have touched my heart!

However, they are the wonders of Japanese winter. The park is located in the valley of the Yokoyu River, in the mountains of Nagano prefecture.

You can provide them foods as finding food in the forest in winter is difficult. Enjoy your time with them and always keep your eyes open while walking around the park!

10) Tsugaru Winter Stove Train – A Pride of Aomori

Tsugaru winter stove train! Photo Credit:

Stove Train! Yes stove train – that is introduced to be nostalgic. To see beautiful winter rural landscape of Tsugaru area you have to hop on the stove heated train.

Operated by Tsugaru Railway, it runs from Tsugaru-Goshogawara Station to Tsugaru-Nakasato Station and the service is available only for the winter months. It is a classic train journey where people enjoy a pleasant ride and feel the old atmosphere.

The train ride lets you imagine of the old days where coal burning stoves were used for a long time as heaters, but today they are seldom used.

On the way to the last stop, when you look outside from the train window, you can witness amazing winter outdoor beauty of Tsugaru’s picturesque rural landscape. Passengers can enjoy the fresh served surume/dried squid and cuttlefish that are prepared on the hot stove top.

These are my 10 really good reasons why you should visit Japan in winter. You may argue with me why I have not included a place that is superbly illuminated in winter, for example, the Nabana no Sato Winter Illumination.

Being a true nature fanatic I tried my best to offer you the best winter nature wonders of Japan here in this post.

Along with experiencing all these attractions shown above, I highly suggest you to taste the local foods, participate in the winter festivals held throughout Japan, visit traditional Japanese gardens in Tokyo and Kyoto, buy souvenirs, and get busy with all sort of outdoor winter activities. Good luck.