Winter is an interesting time to visit Japan. Whilst many people wouldn’t think of East Asia as a tour stop for winter sports, that’s precisely what winter in Japan has to offer. Not to mention the winter festivities, and the fact that this is precisely the best time to enjoy the Japanese onsen.
In this article, I’m going to give you all the reasons why you should visit Japan in winter, the experiences that shouldn’t be missed, and all the top tips to plan a flawless winter getaway.
- Winter In Japan
- What To Wear When Visiting Japan In Winter
- 12 Highlights Of Winter In Japan To Visit
- The Veiled Explorer’s Summary
Winter In Japan
When Is Winter In Japan
Like the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, winter in Japan runs from December to February, with temperatures ranging from 12ºC to 3ºC. For those who have only experienced Thailand, or its neighbouring countries, during the winter, this may come as a surprise.
But Japan is very much a winter destination for snowy adventures. And, like with every other season, the Japanese put on an amazing array of events. In fact, even mother nature herself puts on a spectacular show here in the winter.
Japan In December
If you want to enjoy the cold, crisp air whilst still being able to explore, then December may be the best time for you to visit Japan. Winter is only just starting out in December, and the cold air is still mild compared to the coming months.
That being said, you’ll still need a coat and scarf as the temperatures range from 12° C at its warmest to 5° C at its coldest. Though, if you plan on visiting the Japanese Alps it will be significantly colder with temperatures ranging from 6° C to -2° C.
If you want to catch some warmer weather though, then be sure to head to Okinawa where the temperatures range from 20° C to 16° C. Whilst it may not be the summer heat Japan is known for, it does make for a pleasant break from the chilly weather.
Japan In January
January is a very cold time to visit mainland Japan, as this is when the country is experiencing the peak of winter. In January, the temperatures in mainland Japan range from 10° C in the warm afternoons to -3°C come nightfall.
Want to catch Tokyo in the snow? Well, your best chance of seeing a snowy Tokyo will be from January. Though do bear in mind, whilst it does snow in Tokyo, it’s not as heavy as other areas of Japan. Planning on also catching Osaka in the snow? Well, that too can happen in January. Just picture Osaka castle surrounded by snow. Dreamy indeed.
Always dreamed of visiting Okinawa during the quieter, less crowded season? Well, the low season in Okinawa is during the winter period, which begins in January.
Japan In February
February is still in the full force of winter in Japan and very much still requires layers to be worn for a pleasant time. During this time, the temperatures range from 11° C in the warm afternoons to -1°C come nightfall.
For those who are into snow activities, February is the peak season for snowy fun in Japan. So if you are visiting Japan during the snow season, be sure to add it to your itinerary for an epic time.
Is Winter A Good Time To Visit Japan
Except for the incredibly busy travel period that runs between New Year’s Eve and the 4th of January, winter is a perfectly pleasant time to visit Japan. Just make sure you adjust your plan accordingly. With festivals kicking off for the season and snow falling in abundance in the northern regions, there’s lots of fun to be had in winter in Japan.
What To Wear When Visiting Japan In Winter
One of the most important things to plan when visiting Japan (if not the most important), is to choose your outfits wisely. Having the wrong outfits when visiting Japan in winter can literally break your holiday.
For everyday exploration, consider wearing layers so that you can strip down or layer up where required. I would recommend wearing at least three layers, with the first being a thermal/base layer. This is designed to both insulate you and wick away any moisture.
For the outermost layer, especially when visiting the Japanese Alps or heading to the northern regions, you may want to consider wind and waterproof clothing.
NOTE: You may also want to wear an additional layer over your base layers, such as a long sleeve T-shirt and leggings.
What To Pack For Japan In Winter
- Thermal / Base Layer
- Thermal Socks
- Long Sleeve Tops
- Knitted Tops
- Jumper Dresses
- Thick Abaya
- Thick Hijab
- Beanie Hat
- Waterproof Coat
- Windproof Coat
- Smart Wool Coat
- Ski Clothes
- Hiking Boots
- Walking Shoes
- Walking Boots
- Lip Balm: To prevent your lips from becoming chapped
- Sunscreen: Just because it’s winter, it doesn’t mean that the sun won’t be out. Especially if you plan to undertake snow sports.
Outfit Inspiration For Winter In Japan
Jumpers & Knitwear
Highlights Of Winter In Japan
Now that’s we’ve established what Japan is like in winter? Why you should still visit? And what to wear when visiting? We’ll now turn our attention to the best experiences and things to do in Japan come winter. From celebrations to activities and must eats, this section will cover it all.
1. New Year’s Eve Celebrations
Since adopting the Gregorian calendar in 1873, Japan has been celebrating New Year’s Eve aka shogatsu on the 31st of December across the country. And like the rest of the world, New Year’s Eve is a big cause for celebration in Japan.
- For a cultured New Year’s Eve in Tokyo: You can head to the Zojo-ji Temple outside the Tokyo tower for the New Year’s Eve countdown. From around 10pm you’ll see the crowd start to gather and at the stroke of midnight, you’ll hear the monk ring a bell 108 times.
- For a traditional New Year’s Eve in Tokyo: Head to the Shibuya Crossing, where the roads will be closed to cars from 9pm and revellers will wait for the New Year’s Eve countdown together.
NOTE: If you’re staying in an Airbnb or walking past local businesses on New Year’s Eve, you may notice a huge clean out to welcome a happy and prosperous new year ahead.
2. Winter Illuminations
Winter illuminations are one of the top winter attractions in Japan for both locals and tourists alike. Given its popularity, they have now popped up all over the country, and you’ll find them incredibly popular with couples on Christmas Eve and Christmas day.
Popular winter illuminations in Japan:
- Tokyo – Marunouchi Illumination
- Tokyo – Caretta Shiodome
- Hokkaido – Sapporo White Illumination
- Tokyo – Country Farm Tokyo German Village
- Kanto – Sagamiko Illumillion
- Gotemba City – Toki no Sumika
- Nagoya – Nabana No Sato
3. Winter Landscapes
One of the best things to do in Japan is to visit the scenic nature locations that adorns this beautiful country. And winter is no exception, as you’ll find most places are either covered in snow or frozen over, making it a unique time to view the winter landscapes in Japan.
Unmissable Scenic Winter Landscapes In Japan
- Zao Snow Monsters In Yamagata – On the mountaintops of the Zao Ski Resort you’ll find fir trees covered in thick gigantic layers of snow that resembles snowy monsters. If you’re visiting in late January, be sure to time your visit with the Zao Snow Monster Festival.
- Okhotsk Sea Drift Ice In Hokkaido – Every winter, a large amount of ice drifts in from Russia’s Amur River from mid-January to March, making it a spectacular that everyone tries to see. Whether you want to take a walking tour or a boat tour, the tour operators in Hokkaido’s got you covered.
- Shirahige Falls In Hokkaido – The Shirahige Falls is a majestic waterfall with piercing blue waters that freezes over in winter to form one of the most striking landscapes. And for a bonus, the waterfall and the nearby blue pond are both lit up from dusk till 9pm.
- Tadami River Bridge No. 1 In Fukushima – For a picture perfect wintery view from the train, this is the train ride to make in Japan. Here you’ll find an icy blue-green river surrounded by frosted green trees covered in snow.
- Mount Fuji, Kawaguchiko – Winter is the best time for chance of catching a glimpse of Mount Fuji and the shores of the 5 lakes in Kawaguchiko is one of the best places to view it from.
4. Winter Sports
If you thought Europe was the only hot spot for winter sports, well think again. As Japan is the go-to destination for those with an appetite for winter thrills in Asia. Whether you’re after ski jumping, skating, downhill skiing, snowboarding or any other snow activity, you’ll find it here.
Popular Winter Sport Activities And Destination In Japan
- Niseko, Hokkaido – Best for beginner and intermediate skiers. Here you’ll find powdery snowfall, Niseko Annupri International Ski resort, apres ski activities and onsen. Niseko is famed for its ski resorts and is a favourite with international skiers and snowboarders.
- Furano, Hokkaido – Best for beginner and intermediate skiers. With 24 slopes on offer, everyone will be able to find a slope to ski on here. And for those looking for something different, you can even go on banana boat rides here. Yes, apparently it’s now also a winter activity!
- Hakkoda Ski Resort, Aomori – Best for intermediate and advance skiers and for those wanting to view the Snow Monsters.
- Zao Onsen Ski Resort, Yamagata – Best for all levels. There are 40 ski lifts here but the main attraction (for me anyways) are the snow monsters.
5. Snow Festivals
Like with every other season that arrives in Japan, the good Japanese people put on a festival full of merriment come winter. And lucky for you, you don’t even have to be into winter sports to enjoy the festivals.
Popular Snow Festivals To Visit In Japan
- Sapporo Snow Festival, Hokkaido – The Sapporo Snow Festival is one of the most popular snow festivals around the world that attracts over 2 million visitors each year. It’s held in early February and during this time you’ll be able to view sculptures made of snow and ice. And if you’re visiting at night, you’ll be able to see them all lit up.
- Asahikawa Winter Festival, Hokkaido – The Asahikawa Winter Festival is the second most popular festival in Japan and given that it’s also located in the Hokkaido region, it tends to attract over 1 million visitors each year. Most who come also attend the Sapporo Festival, especially as they both run at the same time. However, in addition to viewing the sculptures and light, you’ll also find firework shows and other events here.
- Yokote Kamakura Festival, Akita – The Yokote Kamakura Festival is the largest traditional Kamakura Festival in Japan. Kamakura are igloo like snow huts that are built in all sizes to honour the water deity. During this time, you’ll find the city decorated with lanterns and large Kamakura that you can enter. Once inside the snow huts you’ll find traditional winter food including sweet treats such as mochi and amazake (a sweet fermented rice drink).
6. Ryokans and Onsen
If there is one thing that you absolutely must do in winter in Japan, it’s to stay at a ryokan with an onsen or visit an onsen for a day visit.
If you aren’t familiar with a ryokan, it’s a traditional hotel that can be as small and intimate as an inn or as big and luxurious as a hotel. But they both typically offer a very traditional Japanese stay that comes complete with tatami mats and all.
If you happen to be staying in a hot spring town, it’s very likely that the onsen at your ryokan will be filled with water from the local hot spring. And if you didn’t know, it is commonly acknowledged that these hot springs have a number of health benefits in addition to soothing your tired muscles.
Even if you aren’t into any of the traditional winter activities, we can all agree that a relaxing steaming hot bath with potential healing properties in the midst of winter is definitely a good reason to visit in Japan.
NOTE: If you opt to visit a communal onsen you should know that whilst men and women are segregated, both genders bathe in the nude and swimsuits/shorts will be seen as odd. If you’re uncomfortable with this, you should opt for a Ryokan where you’ll have a private onsen in your room.
7. Japan’s Snow Monkeys
If you were looking for a heart melting cute reason to visit Japan, this is it. Away from all the winter activities in the Japanese Alps live these adorably cute snow monkeys that you’ll find bathing in their very own onsen. Yup you read that right, in Japan even the monkeys take hot baths.
Famed for their mischievousness and their cool lifestyle, if you ever wanted to see these snow covered monkeys, winter is the best time to view them in their natural habitat.
8. Shirakawago Japanese Alps
Shirakawago is one of those traditional villages that looks postcard perfect all year round. It has over 180 farmhouses that come complete with thatched straw roofs in traditional Japanese architecture. It is a quaint and isolated town that comes to life upon the arrival of the tourist buses every morning, whereby you’ll find tourists walking up and down the streets thereafter.
But if you want to truly enjoy this small town, it’s highly recommended that you stay the night to truly appreciate it.
9. Japanese Wintertime Comfort Foods
If there’s ever a good reason to travel, food is it. And Japan has no shortage of comfort food to warm the cockles of your heart in the depth of winter. From hot broth based dishes to sweet treats, there are lots of dishes to choose from.
Popular Winter Food In Japan
- Oden: A popular one pot dish that contains various seafood and hearty vegetables that has been sold at street food stands since the Edo period.
- Okayu & Zosui: They are both popular hot pot porridge dishes cooked in either a water or broth base and topped with various toppings.
- Yudofu: A Buddhist vegan friendly silken tofu dish that’s cooked in a kombu-flavored dashi broth.
- Yakiimo: This is simply a humble roasted sweet potato that’s sold roasting hot from street vendors.
- Shabu Shabu: This is a hot pot dish that’s traditionally made with hot water and kombu seaweed and topped with toppings of your choice. This can range from meat, tofu, vegetable or rice cake toppings, making for a hearty meal.
NOTE: For the Muslim travellers abiding by a Halal diet, please note that a lot of broth based dishes are usually made with pork or meat. Even the vegetarian ones. The sweet treats are not always a safe option either, as they could be made with gelatin or alcohol. So I would highly recommend asking for an ingredient list where possible, especially if you aren’t familiar with a dish.
10. Fresh Sushi And Seafood
Japan is the go-to destination for fresh sushi and seafood, and winter is no exception. If you’re visiting in winter, some popular catches are putter fish, crab, yellowtail, oysters, bluefin tuna, and sea bream, so there’s bound to be something for every seafood lover.
11. Red Crowned Cranes
For the bird watchers that want to view a winter bird migration, Hokkaido is the place to head to. After a survey was conducted by the government in Hokkaido, it became clear that the number of red cranes was reducing. In a (successful) attempt to prevent their extinction, a conversation was launched.
Today when visiting Hokkaido in the winter you’ll be able to view around 300 red crowned cranes fly in to feed at the conservation sanctuary.
12. Hijab Friendly Weather
For those who are conscious of travelling to the far east in their hijab (though trust me you don’t need to be) winter could be the best time to blend in. You can easily dress up your hijab with a beanie on top and a scarf for extra warmth, and no one will bat an eye at you.
You May Also Be Interested In
- Best Things To Do In Japan In Summer Time
- Ultimate 4 Fun Happy Days In Tokyo Itinerary
- 42 Best & Fun Things To Do In Mauritius
- Loch Ness To Urquhart Castle, Your Complete Guide
The Veiled Explorer’s Summary
So there we have it. What to expect when visiting Japan in the winter? What to pack and wear when visiting Japan in the winter? And finally, 12 awesome reasons and things to do when visiting Japan in the water.
With so many things going on during winter in Japan, what are you looking forward to most? Leave me a comment down below to let me know.