10 Ways to enjoy
The cold winter seems to signify gloomy days and constant wishing for warmer weather — but not in Japan. Japanese winter is nothing short of magical — the snow-covered trees and slopes mimic that of a fairytale and illuminations warm up the streets with their twinkling lights.
Japan goes all out when it comes to celebrating their winter. Everything from special winter events to snow festivals eliminates the dread of Japanese winter — so much that it convinces people to venture here during the season. If you’re still on the fence about it, here’s a list of ways Japanese winter can be enjoyed to the fullest!
1. Relax in An Onsen
You cannot miss out on a Japanese hot spring known as an onsen. Even though it’s an activity that’s in demand all year round, a dip in an onsen feels like a warm hug during winter — especially if it’s outdoors. Whether it’s an onsen surrounded by the snow-covered trees or one in a traditional Japanese ryokan, enjoy the Japanese winter by relaxing in one.
One of the most hyped-up and picturesque onsen in all of Japan is the Ginzan Onsen. You can find it up in the Yamagata Prefecture in Obanazawa. Escape from the busy city to this historically-rich mountain town surrounded by the peaceful nature. Not only will you get to relax in a toasty outdoor hot spring, but you might even stumble across the historic silver mine that was build over five centuries ago if you explore the town a bit.
If you’re looking for a unique onsen experience, head over to Kowakien Yunessun. What sets this hot spring facility in Hakone from the rest is the once-in-a-lifetime experience of soaking in a heated pool of red wine! Alternatively, dip your toes in another flavoured water including coffee, green tea and Japanese sake! Don’t miss out on their outdoor areas either, complete with waterslides and waterfalls, as well as an outdoor onsen with a magnificent view of Hakone.
2. Attend Winter Festivals
Japan takes every opportunity they can get to host festivals — the winter season is the perfect opportunity to have some winter and snow festivals all around the country. All the cities go all out during this time of the year and you’ll get to witness everything from ice sculptures to fireworks and winter-special performances.
Sapporo Snow Festival
Don’t miss out on Sapporo Snow Festival during Japanese winter. The north Japan in Hokkaido is extremely cold, but despite that, the locals decided to lift the spirits by organising this annual week-long event. The city turns into a winter wonderland — ice sculptures and illuminations are just the tip of the iceberg — that invited over two million visitors every year, travellers and locals alike.
Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival
You might’ve heard of Kamakura as the city that homes the gigantic Buddha statue, but it can also refer to the traditional Japanese winter item that takes form of a dome-shaped snow sculpture. A must-visit festival is the Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival that takes place in Tochigi Prefecture where tons of dome sculptures are lined up. In the evening, they light them up, featuring orange, twinkling glows.
3. Bask in Winter Illuminations
Japan is a winner when it comes to winter illuminations. Tiny bulbs of light decorate an area including trees and buildings to put on a choreographed light show. One city can have multiple light illuminations of various themes, attracting people near and far to appreciate the beauty of it all.
Nabana no Sato Winter Illumination
Make your way to Nagoya to witness one of the largest illumination events, Nabana no Sato. This flower park is already a famous destination, but in winter, millions of LED lights decorate the park in a different theme each year. Head up to the observation deck to get a magnificent panoramic view of the display.
Huis Ten Bosch’s Kingdom of Lights
Nagasaki is home to Huis Ten Bosch, a Dutch theme park. In winter, over 13 million light bulbs take over the park and illuminates the place following the attractions and music. The theme park is huge — some say it’ll take hours to explore the Kingdom of Lights.
4. Go Skiing and Snowboarding
The best activity to take on during Japanese winter is hitting the snowy hills and slopes. The north of Japan is one of the most famous places locals and tourists go to for skiing and snowboarding. Kill two birds with one stone by heading up to Zao Ski Resort. Not only is this ski resort surrounded by snowy slopes that’s perfect for skiing and snowboarding, but its land full of ice trees that holds the name of “snow monsters.” Ski or snowboard around and by them, and in the evening, witness them get lit up and giving off a mystical winter vibe.
5. Leisurely Ice Skate in Town
Some of the cities in Japan might not be lucky enough to experience snow and ice, but there’s a solution to that instead of travelling out of the city center exclusively for it. Major cities in Japan have all-year-round ice skating rinks where you can practice and brush up your skills. During winter however, there are special, outdoor rinks specially for the season. Why not take your ice skating shoes for a ride at Tokyo Skytree Town Ice Skating Park — the rink is at the foot of the famous Tokyo Skytree, and in the evening, it lights up. If you’re looking to venture out of Tokyo for it, the Art Rink in Red Brick Warehouse in Yokohama is a unique one to check out.
6. Feast on Japanese Seasonal Cuisines
When the outside gets cooler, the insides should try to get warmer. The Japanese are on the ball with that. During the Japanese winter, all sorts of seasonal dishes pop up that are unique to Japan. Nothing beats a good bowl of oden, which is a classic local comfort food during winter, and has been around since at least the Edo period. Sipping the soy sauce and dash kelp broth will undoubtedly keep your body warm.
Another Japanese winter food that shouldn’t be missed out on is crab cuisine — a huge specialty in Japan, crabs from the Sea of Japan are distributed across the country. The Osaka-origin chain restaurant, Kani Doraku, specialises in this Japanese winter cuisine. Due to popular demand, you can find an outlet almost anywhere! You can’t miss it — they typically have a huge model of a moving crab hanging in front of their entrance.
7. Venture to Japan’s Winter Sites
While Japan is stunning all year round, the Japanese winter highlights certain displays that you can only witness during this cold season. Some might be a bit of a travel than others, but rest assured the destination is worth the journey.
Jigokudani Monkey Park
Who would think to travel to a park in winter, especially if it’s in another prefecture— but this one’s extremely special. Only when it’s cold, the Japanese macaques would make their way down from deep inside the Jigokudani mountainsides to the thermal spa in Yokoyu River for a soak in the warm bath. Get up and close with these macaques at the Jigokudani Monkey Park in a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
The Icicles of Misotsuchi
One winter site is just in the prefecture next to Tokyo — easily accessible in Saitama, the Icicles of Misotsuchi is a spectacular winter phenomena. The enormous icicles are created by water flowing from the cliffs, and during peak season, these icicles will be lit up in a blueish hue and giving off a mystical ambiance unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Beautiful all year round but especially stunning in winter, the Shirakawago Village is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the conservation of unique architecture of the houses. It’s like a Japanese winter wonderland — the Gassho-zukuri farmhouses are being greeted by snowfalls. There’s also illumination events that lights up the villages, however seats are limited and it can get booked up extremely fast!
8. Enjoy the Christmas & New Year Events
Christmas and New Year are two huge celebrations in Japan — and they’re both during winter! Visit the dozens of Christmas markets scattered around the country. In the capital city of Tokyo, there’s more than just a few — the most popular one is none other than the Roppongi Hills Christmas Market that features everything from Christmas-related goodies to German delicacies. Participate in a New Year’s countdown at major city centers or even the traditional Japanese way — visit a Japanese shrine and pray for for good luck, a tradition called hatsumode.
9. Winter Sightseeing on A Train
An underrated activity to take part in during Japanese winter is to go on a train sightseeing trip. Who would’ve thought that a train ride can be an adventure? Japan has dozens of train lines, linking one prefecture to the other, and these trains can sometimes travel through the beautiful nature and blessing us with a scenic view — and in winter, the hills and ground are covered in pure white snow! The JR Tadami Line travels over eighty miles and cuts through the most gorgeous parts of Fukushima and Niigata prefectures.
10. Go to the Sumo Grand Tournament
What is more traditional to Japan than a Sumo tournament? This style of competitive wrestling is one of the most iconic things you can think of when it comes to this country. While there are tournaments during other times of the year, the Sumo Grand Tournament takes place at the start of the year — during winter! There’s no better way to greeting a new year and enjoying the Japanese winter than to witness a Sumo match.
Winter can sometimes be a bummer, but every season has something to offer. Japanese winter is probably more exciting than it is gloomy — not only are the events and festivals a fun way to celebrate the season, but you also get to discover so much more of the Japanese culture. How can one not be able to enjoy Japanese winter with everything there is to do and learn?