Last Updated on September 30, 2023 by Jella Erhard
Winter in Japan: 11 Magical Things to do
The magic of winter in Japan is very much underrated. We are all in love with the Land of the Rising Sun at least a little and while the spring and autumn seasons are beautiful you should also consider a visit during wintertime.
It isn’t just crispy cold. Well, it is cold but thanks to that, Japan’s magical places turn even more magical during those cold winter nights.
Imagine the beautiful places you have fallen in love with, turned into something like Narnia.
Is winter a good time to visit Japan?
Absolutely! You don’t have to be a ski enthusiast to appreciate winter in Japan. It is a good time to visit if you enjoy the charm and magic of winter with its warm drinks, hearty dishes, Christmas lights, and of course the various traditions and celebrations.
It cannot get any more wondrous than seeing amazing places like the bamboo forest at Fushimi Inari Taisha or the Osaka Castle covered by snow.
When is winter in Japan?
Japan is very similar to most European and North American county’s climate. Winter in Japan is from December to February which means the winter season is not that long. January is the coldest month in Japan, yet it’s still beautifully sunny.
The temperature during winter in Japan is cold all around the country but it does depend on which part you’re visiting. In Tokyo, the daytime temperature is around 12ºC (54°F) in December and by January it drops to 10ºC (50°F).
What is Japan like in the winter?
In one word: incredible. The fresh, pure snow creates such a festive vibe along with the mesmerizing lights. It can get cold of course, prepare well for the cold. As we mentioned earlier in our collection of unique festivals, winter is just as lively and fun as other seasons in Japan.
You are going to get warmer than summertime! The intimate festivities are going to fill your heart with warmth.
It’s certainly a season worth experiencing so we have collected some of the best things to do in Japan during the winter.
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Where to stay in Japan?
We love booking with Booking.com when we visit Japan too. They have a whuge selection of hotels, Ryokans, and hostels so no matter what’s your budget or style you’ll find something great on their site.
What we love about them is their brilliant customer service so we never have to worry about our bookings.
11| Jigokudani Monkey Park
This awesome place, part of the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, is a wonderful and peaceful little forest. The monkey park is not just a paradise for nature lovers. It is just an incredibly fun, joyful site, where cute snow monkeys just chill around.
They are not really bothered, just living their life. Calmly. Enjoying all that nature has to offer. Wintertime is especially beautiful and quite a show how these little fury fellows enjoy a hot bath in the pond.
Needless to say, they can get cheeky, so try to refrain from feeding them, keep a distance and the less od you have on you is better.
10| Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival
Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival has a long tradition of over 450 years and is one of the most charming traditions in Japan. This magical city in Akita prefecture becomes even more magical on the 15th and 16th of February.
Prepare to get busy during these two days. There are special events throughout the city. When you get tired, sit into one of the snow Kamakura domes to enjoy a fresh mochi. Later in the evening, Akazake (sweet sake) is offered as well.
As the sun sets, the bank of Yokote river is lit up by the many little snow lanterns. It is just beautiful how the city becomes the home of the many domes, mesmerizing lights and soothing scents. As it gets really busy, we highly recommend booking your flight and hotel in advance.
Besides Yokote, there is another adorable place to visit and enjoy the Kamakura Snow Festival near Tokyo. Yunishigawa Onsen is somewhat closer to the capital, about 3 hours away by car. This amazing little bath town surrounded by nature is an ideal winter getaway in Japan.
9| Kinosaki Onsen
Speaking of bath towns, Kinosaki Onsen is one of the oldest and most traditional towns in Japan. If the gorgeous old houses, the cobbled streets, the tiny bridges over the willow-lined river don’t convince you, there is more.
This 1300-year-old hot spring village is very traditional. When checking into your Ryokan, you get a set of kimono or yukata to wear during your time there. It is a beautiful experience as the snow-covered streets take you to a time travel journey in this wonderland.
To add to all the magic, you are in the middle of the forest, cannot get more relaxing and refreshing. Do not worry about the cold, the traditional wear provided are warm enough even in January. Have a soothing bath in one of the hot springs and take the most trending Instagram photos.
Where is Kinosaki Onsen?
It is about 150 km North-West from Kyoto. You can get there by JR train within 3 hours.
8| Mountain Burning in Nara
Staying in the Kansai area near Kyoto, Nara is a friendly little city. You may have heard of the famous park with the hordes of friendly and hungry deer. At the end of January, the Wakakusa mountain plays a significant role. It is the famous scene of the ancient Wakakusa Yamayaki festival.
What is Yamayaki mountain burning?
At dusk, a ceremonial bonfire lighting takes place to then spread the fire over to the grassy slope of the mountain. It is just as scary as beautiful. Naturally, security measures are taken, yet the sight of fire spreading all over the mountain is difficult to digest. The fire burns everything up taking 30 mins to an hour while fireworks complete the breathtaking view. It is not clarified where the festival originates from, but one of the most popular proposition is that it was started to scare wild animals away from the crops.
How to get to Nara?
Nara is within close proximity of Kyoto, by train you can get there in about 40 minutes. If you are staying in Osaka or Kyoto, purchase the JR pass (one or multiple days). Visit Nara along with other amazing places in the Kansai area.
7| Skiing at Yuzawa Alps
We started this article by saying winter in Japan is not just about skiing. However, skiing in Japan deserves a paragraph as there are some incredible slopes. Only about 70 minutes from Tokyo, Yuzawa is a treat for everyone.
It is breathtaking with the magnificent vista from the ridge. Take a rope ride up to 1000 meters, sit back and enjoy the beauty of the alps or take a slide. It is lovely even during other seasons. You can visit the colorful alpine garden in Yuzawa and take long hikes in this beautiful area.
6| Nabana No Sato Winter Illumination
Nabana no Sato is a curious botanical garden and theme park. It already sounds quite exciting, however, the best part is just coming. From October until early May, around 6 million LED lights fly you to a magic land. The dark winter nights are illuminated to create a spectacular display for its visitors.
As you walk through the park, there are different mixtures of colors bringing you to a new world with every step.
Nabana No Sato is based in Kuwana city, a stone-throw away from Nagoya city. The flower park itself is an amazing place which can only be topped by a magical light festival.
5| Shirakawa-go Village
One of the very few traditional villages that remained almost in an original condition. The closest large city is Nagoya, about 2 hours away by car, it is considerably easy to get to.
Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is beautiful throughout the year. With that in mind, winter can only be amazing here. The snow-covered roofs, smoke sneaking out of the chimneys and the “real village smell” will make Shirakawa-go your new happy place.
Besides the village itself, the Hakusan National Park is just enchanting during winter. Take a short hike around and take a deep breath of the crisp, cold air.
4| Sapporo Snow Festival
Japan is colorful throughout the year. But how much artistic and fun can winter become? In Sapporo, the Snow Festival makes winter in Japan more and more irresistible.
Held in February, usually, for about a week, amazing snow sculptures await to blow your mind. Soak in each and every piece as a walk through the exhibition, but leave enough energy for the evening. Besides many fun activities, the artworks are illuminated with colorful lights. Just when you thought it cannot get more beautiful. Eat, drink and enjoy the beauty of snow, art, and lights.
Where is the Snow Festival in Sapporo?
The Festival is held at various locations, the main ones are Odori Park, Susukino and Sapporo Community Dome.
3| Hadaka Matsuri (Naked Festival)
This odd festival is celebrating the blessings of a bountiful harvest and fertility. Hadaka Matsuri takes winter celebrations to the next level. Despite being called the naked festival, people are very rarely naked. Usually, participants wear very little clothing.
Traditionally, everyone just covers their private parts. It can get pretty cold in February, still, there is quite a turnout every year. The festival is held at various places, the biggest one is at Saidaiji Temple in Okayama. It is fun to see the otherwise quite shy and formal people loosen up.
Most people are openly marching wearing only fundoshi (Japanese loincloth). People are smiling, laughing and really stepping out of their usual ways.
2| Bamboo Forest
The magnificent bamboo forests in Japan are fantasized by all of us. They are just beautiful, no matter which time of the year you are visiting. Visiting during winter, however, is an outstanding experience. If it was snowing overnight, your Japanese Narnia has just come to life. The beauty of the green bamboo trees covered by pure white snow, cannot really be described.
There are various bamboo forests and bamboo parks in Japan. The most famous is near Kyoto. Actually there are two; one at Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and the back of the famous Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. If you are not in the Kansai Area, there are some nice bamboo forests near Tokyo as well.
The best Bamboo forests near Tokyo are Tonogayato Garden, Suzume-no Oyado Ryokuchi Park, and Higashikurumeshi Chikurin Park.
1| Japanese Christmas Markets – During Winter In Japan
If you cannot have enough of Christmas Markets, there are plenty in Japan. Inspired by Europe’s charming Christmas markets, most of the cities in Japan have amazing Christmas Markets.
Try traditional dishes, warm up with delicious hot teas and buy presents for your loved ones. If you are looking to buy a souvenir in Japan, these fairy tale markets are your go-to spots. There is always something going on at these markets. Even if you do not wish to buy anything, this a little piece of festive wonderland will make your day.
What should I pack for Japan winter?
It is highly recommended to pack warm clothes. Including gloves and all the accessories, you feel most comfortable wearing during a cold winter. A long jacket will help you keep warm and waterproof/snow boots to enjoy long walks in the snow.
How to dress for winter in Japan?
You should always dress layered, warm coats, hats, boots, and gloves.
What’s the best moisturizer for winter in Japan?
While it’s very cold during wintertime in Japan there is also a lot of sun. Get a good 50+ SPF sunscreen and don’t skip steps in your skincare routine. If you don’t already have one check out our guide to the popular Korean Skin Care morning routine that will help protect your skin and keep it glowing.
Thank you for reading!