Japan is well-known for its spring cherry blossoms and vibrant fall scenery, but don’t overlook the winter season. In the cooler months, Japan has numerous wonderful sites with some of the nicest scenery in the country.
There’s so much to see when the weather cools down, whether you like a large ski resort, a snowy onsen village, or a magnificent ice festival. Don’t be concerned about the cold; after an outdoor adventure, you can always warm up by diving into a hot spring or slurping up a substantial bowl of ramen.
Best Places to Visit Japan in Winter
If you’re looking for a new spot to visit this winter, include these stunning destinations on your schedule. There are the following top 10 best places in Japan in the winter:
1. Yamagata’s Zao Snow Monsters
These chilly ice creatures, known as juhyo, can be seen at the Zao Hot Springs Ski Resort. These natural structures are actually evergreen trees that become engulfed in snow and provide a breathtaking winter scene.
Specific climate conditions must be met for the ice monsters to exist, which means there are only a few sites and times where you can observe this natural occurrence.
2. Gifu, Shirakawa-go
During the winter, the impeccably preserved Japanese town of Shirakawa-go is a sight to behold. The village, which is also a Unesco World Heritage Site, is made up of many gassho-zukuri thatched-roof farmhouses that have been turned into hotels, restaurants, and museums.
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When coated in new snow, the dwellings are built to resist heavy snowfall and create a charming image.
3. Toyama’s Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
This fantastic path through the Japanese Alps extends from Toyama to Nagano Prefecture and features some spectacular scenery.
The most remarkable feature is the breathtaking snow corridor, where snow accumulation can reach heights of up to 20 meters. The snow tunnel is only available from spring to fall due to the risk of collapse, yet a few images from this location may trick anyone into thinking it’s winter.
4. Nagano’s Kamakura Snow Hut Village
This lovely Nagano igloo village is actually a restaurant that opens every winter. Restaurant Kamakura Village consists of 20 pop-up igloos hidden in the snowy Japanese Alps near Iiyama.
Each igloo can accommodate up to four people, and you’ll be served a noroshi nabe, a delectable local hot pot filled with miso, pork, and fresh vegetables. This winter, from January 20 to February 26, 2023, the snowy restaurant will reopen.
5. Tochigi Yunishigawa Onsen
The Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival in Tochigi Prefecture hosts this magical winter wonderland. The winter celebration, held every year from late January to early March, features hundreds of lit snow cottages known as Kamakura.
At Yunishigawa Onsen, you can walk through the Kamakura that has been planted around the Sawaguchi riverbed. The festival will be held this year from Friday, January 27 through Sunday, February 26.
6. Nagano’s Jigokudani Monkey Park
Visit this park to see the Japanese macaques, sometimes known as snow monkeys, who bask in the area’s steamy hot spring waters. This winter retreat is located within Nagano Prefecture’s Joshinetsu Kogen National Park.
The monkeys frequently bathe in the onsen all year, but if you want to see them in snowy surroundings, visit the park between January and February.
7. Mie’s Nabana no Sato Illuminations
This celebration may not be related to snow, yet the light-up at Nabana no Sato is one of Japan’s outstanding winter illuminations.
This botanical paradise on the small island of Nagashima in Mie prefecture transforms into a spectacular winter light show, with millions of sparkling LEDs producing iridescent rivers, waterfalls, and more. The illumination will be on display until May, so there will be lots of opportunities to observe it.
8. Hokkaido’s Sapporo Snow Festival
During its annual Snow Festival in February, Sapporo transforms into a winter dream country. The festival originated in 1950, when students began constructing snow statues in Odori Park, and has since grown into a week-long event with grandiose ice sculptures taking over the park, the grounds of the Tsudome community dome, and the city’s Susukino area.
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Although the 2021 sculpture contest was canceled due to the coronavirus, we are confident that it will return bigger and better than before in 2022.
9. Hokkaido, Otaru
Every February, the port city of Otaru in Hokkaido hosts a spectacular snow festival. The city’s streets are illuminated with hundreds of lights and snow statues during the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival.
The vista of the floating lights along Otaru’s major canal, which runs near the trendy Warehouse District, is particularly appealing. Interested in checking it out? Mark your calendars for the festival, which will take place from February 11 to 18, 2023.
10. Ishikawa, Kenrokuen
Kenrokuen, located in Ishikawa prefecture, is regarded as one of Japan’s three great gardens. The well-kept space is a popular destination all year, but it’s especially lovely in the winter.
When it snows, a layer of white blankets the grounds, transforming the scenery into a very calm space. During the winter, the garden is often lit up, and little concerts are often given at the on-site Uchihashi-tei teahouse.
The Japanese take advantage of their snowfall to the fullest, holding annual ice and snow festivals unlike any other in the world. The festivals are one of the top things to do in Japan in the winter, drawing millions of tourists to see the intricate sculptures and illuminations on display.
Japan also boasts amazing winter sports areas for skiing and snowboarding, all set in breathtaking scenery.