From skiing in the country’s famed powder to soaking in its traditional onsen, these winter experiences in Japan deserve a spot in your bucket list.
It rarely snows in most of Japan’s swanky metropolitan regions. Probably that’s the reason why the country isn’t always at the top of ‘the best winter destinations across the world‘. But dig deeper and you’ll find that the northern mountainous regions here get covered under thick blankets of fresh white powder and a frigid chill engulfs the Asian country as winter approaches. So on your next trip, bundle up in lots of wooly clothes and be ready to witness a wonderful snowy getaway through the best of winter experiences in Japan.
The best winter experiences in Japan
Go on a ski trip
Thanks to the significant snowfall it receives in the mountainous regions, ample number of ski resorts are scattered all across Japan. Plan a trip to Hokkaido to experiences high-quality powder snow, long runs, and extensive off-piste options. Niseko and the nearby resorts of Rusutsu and Kiroro rank among the country’s very best ski areas. The high altitude and alpine sports culture Nagano Prefecture a natural pick for an ideal winter getaway, while Hakuba attracts a large number of skiers from all around, thanks to a series of famous resorts here.
Attend a winter festival or two
Arrive here when the winter is at its peak, since cold air in Japan brings along an array of traditional festivals. Watch the harsh, chilly days and dark ice cold nights transform into a series of celebrations full of warm spirits during the famous Sapporo Snow Festival (February 5-12, 2022). Arguably the most popular winter events in Japan, it welcomes over two million people every year who come to witness a spectacle of hundreds of ice- and snow-sculptures on display in Odori Park, Suskino, and Tsudome. The snow-fringed trees in Yamagata Perfecture at Zao Onsen take fascinating shapes, dotting the mountain in a strange and haunting pattern. These are popular as ‘snow monsters’ and make for a spectacular, one-of-a-kind visit. Also held later in February, the fascinating Naked Man Festival aka Hadaka Matsuri in Japanese, takes place in Okayama Prefecture and features thousands of loincloth-clad men competing in traditional rituals and games, followed by a run to Saidaiji Kannonin Temple to pray for good fortune.
Rejuvenate in an onsen hot spring
Nothing means relaxation on icy cold days like a nice hot water bath. Or better yet, visit Japan’s many natural hot springs to soak in the mineral-rich waters bubbling out from the volcanic earth below! The rich culture of unwinding in public bathing networks here lets you take a day or two to escape the city and arrive in the outskirts for a nice outdoorsy hot bath. Located in a charming, secluded town in the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture, Ginzan Onzen was originally known as a silver mining town, but now features some of the best onsen hot springs in the country. The entire town is limited to pedestrians, while the Edo-period structures take you back in time. Enjoy an outdoor bath amid snow or relax in the enchanting ambiance of a soothing bath setting at a traditional ryokan inn. Northeast of Tokyo is Gunma Perfecture when you can find Kusatsu Onsen, home to 13 public baths. Or visit the nearby Kurokawa Onsen, a short drive from the gigantic Mount Aso, full of well-preserved traditional architecture and phenomenal outdoor baths.
Shop till you drop
After exploring the outskirts, come back to the big cities with twinkling skylines where hatsuuri or ‘first sales’ dominate the markets at the very beginning of every year. Score of people queue up before fancy stores, snagging huge deals and grab fukubukuro, meaning opaque bags packed with a list of random products for a discounted rate, which is way below their individual prices put together. Pick your stores at major Tokyo nerve centres like Ginza, Shibuya, Harajuku, and Aoyama for everything from upscale fare to dirt-cheap rates. Once done, stop to enjoy seasonal winter cuisine that brings along extravagant nabe hot pots, ramen broths, and other staples.
Welcome the early spring blossoms
You don’t need to wait up till spring to witness those breathtaking Japanese blooms. Okinawa is already in the middle of cherry blossom season in early February. The island of Kyushu is home to one of Japan’s famous onsen towns Beppu, where you can see plum trees in full bloom. Kairakuen Garden in Ibaraki, Koshikawa Korakuen in Tokyo, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto and Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine in Fukuoka are among the top spots to see the blossoms.