Thinking of visiting Japan in winter? Wondering what to do in Japan? Well, I can tell you that winter in Japan is like a fairytale with snow-covered slopes. If you’re hankering for a white winter wonderland holiday, here are five best places to visit in Japan in winter.
Winter in Japan – 5 Best places to visit in Japan in winter
1 – Winter in Japan in Hakuba, Nagano
Bindings, boards, boots and baths. Does this list give you a tingling and a craving for the best powder in the world? Have you been skiing in Japan?
If you have, you know already how wonderful a Japanese winter can be. But if you haven’t, a trip to Hakuba, Nagano will introduce you to your Japan winter trip.
What to do in Japan in winter? Well, if you have never been skiing before then you’ll enjoy learning to ski in Japan.
The instructors are fun, hip and superbly qualified. They speak English well as they follow the snow trail on two hemispheres teaching year round. They will transform you into a Japan winter snow-bunny in no time.
Have kids? My, Oh, My… I have seen crocodiles of young kids (some as young as five years old) carving long curves on the dry snow of Hakuba’s seven ski resorts. They follow their ever-patient instructor as if attached to him by an invisible umbilical cord.
Winter in Japan is a great time to visit with kids! Here’s a really cool video that will surely encourage you to consider visiting Japan in winter.
Hakuba has accommodation and activities to suit all styles: Western or Japanese? Hotel or Ryokan? Visit Japan in winter for a variety of runs, from black runs to wide open gentle slopes.
Would you ski or snowboard? Snowshoe in silent forests or ski-doo for an adrenaline rush? Fast food or fine dining? The choice is yours. There are so many things to do in Japan in winter.
This mighty ring of mountains sits squarely on a steady supply of thermal waters. You will, no doubt, soak in the various onsen for their restorative waters and enjoy a long, soothing soak after a day out on the slopes. The list of things to do in Japan in winter is endless.
The list of things to do in Japan in winter is endless.
Ah, yes, and don’t forget the snow monkeys of Jigokudani. They are very accessible from Hakuba, an absolute MUST see.
2 – Shirakawago is a wonderful place to experience a Japan winter
Now, there is more to Japan than skiing holidays, right?
Winter in Japan is different, exotic, with a culture of its own. Travel to Japan in winter and you can combine skiing with a fabulous discovery trip.
Travel to Japan in winter and you can combine skiing with a fabulous discovery trip.
After all, you have come quite a long way and you’ll wish to get the most out of your airfare here.
Within easy reach, there are places that will blow your mind with quaintness and appeal.
Shirakawago is one of them. This tiny village nestled in a sleepy hollow remained little known till the high mountains that ring it was tunnelled through.
It was then, only about 10 years ago, that Japan and the world ‘discovered’ Shirakawago with its thatched gingerbread houses and unique culture.
Today this World Heritage site has opened its doors to visitors.
Verdant and colourful in summer and clad in a thick coating of snow in winter Shirakawago has some Minshuku (guest houses) where you can stay.
Winter in Japan is a photographer’s paradise (bring your tripod to take some night pictures when the houses are all lit up for your enjoyment).
3 – Japanese winter in Takayama
Another place to visit in Japan is Takayama, also known as Little Kyoto because of its ancient sites and well-maintained Edo period buildings.
Takayama also has special local foods, such as sansai (mountain vegetables), wasakana (river fish) and Hida beef – a rival to Wagyu beef.
You’ll love the local soba noodles and there are quality sake breweries where you can keep warm on your Japan winter holiday.
Hōba miso is a local way of grilling beef or fish on a hōba leaf (from the native Magnolia obovata) or also on an oak leaf.
Takayama has the highest snowfalls in Japan and is one of the best cities to visit in Japan in winter for photography.
Picture red lacquered bridges, framed by red-pines bonsai-ed to please the eye with kimono-clad women going over it. It’s a quintessential Japanese winter experience.
As Takayama has always been a salubrious area, the old quarter is dotted with the stunning-looking Kura houses.
A Kura house is a mud brick, fire-resistant building among the all-wood and paper houses of old, where citizens would store their valuables to save them from the regularly occurring fires.
Today, these attractive storage houses are converted to boutiques, trendy cafes and sake tasting locales.
Takayama is a town for all seasons: two famous festivals take place here in autumn and spring with the magnificent floats on display year-round at the museum. If you’re visiting Japan in winter, do put Takayama on your list.
4 – Soak in a Japanese onsen in Gero
Gero practically exists as a place for ‘taking the waters’ as it sits on rich underground currents of thermal waters.
Be brave, undress and slip in the hot water pools but there are a few steps to follow prior to doing so.
The Suimeikan Ryokan has three onsen inside their luxury premises (six if you consider the three become six as they are gender separate). My favourites are always the open-air ones.
There is nothing like walking out naked to the outdoor pools (even better if it is snowing) and settling in for a relaxing long soak amongst rocks.
The rocks are artistically displayed among greenery with backdrops of panoramic views that offer the perfect scenery to enjoy in Japan in winter.
Enjoy the scenery of snowed-covered landscapes, mountains and gushing rivers. Soaking in an open-air onsen is a quintessential winter in Japan experience.
Read my guide to onsen etiquette and learn how to enjoy yourself in a Japan onsen step-by-step. Then follow me to the best onsen in Gero. I undress and sink slowly into the hot waters while trying to catch snowflakes on my tongue.
5 – Experience Tokyo in winter
Winter, in my view, is the best time to visit Tokyo. It is cold but you will be spending time commuting from one place to the other, mainly underground or in well-heated train stations.
All buildings are kept at a steamy temperature. I almost found them too hot.
From Cat Cafes to Owl Cafes, Ninja Restaurants to fine dining, electronic cities to manga districts, Tokyo is vibrant and full of life.
Tokyo Central station is well signed posted and has a travellers’ help office with English-speaking experts who provide maps and explanations on how to get from A to B.
If you, like me, get lost despite expert help there is always a kind person who will show you how to get to where you are going. This is the beauty of Japan: its people.
Follow me to some underground fantastic eateries, crazy themed cafes and the Setsubun Festival that sends away winter by throwing beans to the devils…
Discover Japan in Winter
For more places to visit in Japan during winter see Japan National Tourism Organisation.
Here are some useful things to know before embarking on your Japan winter vacation.
When does Japan experience winter?
Winter in Japan is from December to January.
How cold does it get in winter in Japan?
During February, you can expect the temperatures to be around 10ºC (42°F) and a lot colder than this at night. Winter is usually sunny and the humidity is low.