Winter means staying home in most people’s dictionary. The weather is cold and there is nothing interesting to do outside. But this not applies for Japan. The country has many attractive winter activities! Check out this list of 10 things to do during winter in Japan!
1. Soak in a hot spring
Japan is abundant in natural hot springs, with many hot spring resorts like Noboribetsu, Atami, Hakone, Beppu, etc. They can be found as public baths where anyone is allowed to enter, or at Japanese traditional inns, where you must stay overnight to have access. The good part about using an inn’s hot spring is that it can be reserved for private use. Few things are better than bathing in hot water during cold weather!
2. Visit the Jigokudani Monkey Park
Source: Yiannis Theologos Michellis
The Jigokudani Monkey Park in Yamanouchi lets visitors see wild monkeys in their natural habitat. There are no cages or enclosed areas, just a big hot spring pond where monkeys bathe. It can be extremely entertaining watching the monkeys in the water. The best time to visit the park is in winter, when the hot spring steam contrast with the white snow and you can see the monkeys lazily stretching in the hot water.
- Access: a 40 minute walk on a mountain trail from Kanbayashi Onsen
- Address: 6845 Hirao, Yamanouchi, Shimotakai District, Nagano Prefecture 381-0401
3. Go skiing
Hokkaido boasts some of the most famous ski resorts in the world, such as Niseko, Furano, Tomamu, Rusutsu and Sapporo Teine. Because the mountainous area and the northern location favors heavy snowfalls, the snow here is said to be the best of the best. The ski season is also pretty long, starting from late November and ending in all over in early May. The slopes in the Hokkaido resorts have various inclinations, fitted for any kind of experience levels. Both beginners and advanced can enjoy them.
4. Attend the Sapporo Snow Festival
The Sapporo Snow Festival is not only the main festival of Hokkaido, but also one of the best-known festivals in Japan. Many big snow and ice sculptures are exhibited, some of which have very complicated details. Visitors can also play in the snow and enjoy delicious food.
- Access: Odori Park Station and Sakaemachi Station
- Dates: irregular, usually in February
- Address: 060-0042 Hokkaido Prefecture, Sapporo, Odorinishi, 7 Chome (Odori Park), 885-1 Sakaemachi, Higashi Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido Prefecture 007-0852 (Sakaemachi)
5. Eat oden
Oden is a traditional winter dish popular in Japan. It is made from several ingredients like boiled eggs, potatoes, tofu, daikon radish, konnyaku and fishcakes boiled in a flavorful broth that contains fish stock, soy sauce and mirin. The ingredients and condiments often vary by the region. You can find it at restaurants, but also at most convenience stores, boiling in big recipients.
6. Enjoy winter illuminations
Many areas are decorated with Christmas lights in winter. The Japanese start this practice pretty often, sometimes from early November. The best illuminations can be seen in: Shiodome (Tokyo), Shinjuku (Tokyo), Roppongi Hills (Tokyo), Sagamiko (Kanagawa), Ashikaga (Tochigi), Nabana no Sato (Nagoya), Abeno Tennoji (Osaka) and Midosuji (Osaka).
7. Visit a shrine on January 1
Hatsumode is a term that refers to the first shrine visit in the New Year. People usually make wishes, buy good luck charms and return the old ones to the shrine so they can be burned. There are long rows of people at most shrines on the first day of the year, but do not let this stop you from going. This is exactly what makes the atmosphere special!
8. See the Atami fireworks festival
Firework festivals are organized in Atami many times during the year, but the famous hot spring resort is among the few places where such festivals are held in winter. The feeling, while laying on the beach or relaxing on the top of a hill and watching the colorful explosion is extraordinary. The firework events are usually held in Atami Bay and the colorful effect is even prettier because the fireworks reflect in the ocean’s water. The best views can be enjoyed from Atami Sun Beach and Atami Castle.
9. Go hiking
Japan has many mountainous areas abounding in beautiful hiking trails. There is a trail fit for anybody, from leisure walks to harder climbs. Why go hiking in the middle of winter? Because the views are astonishing! Even if you are not up for climbing through the snow, you could go to mountains with cable cars/chairlifts. As soon as you get to the top you will be happy you went!
10. See the Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival
The Wakakusa Yamayakia festival in Nara which takes places annually. During the festival, the grass from a whole hill is set on fire. It sounds dangerous, but the fire is carefully controlled. The fire usually follows after a firework show. The whole show can be seen from anywhere in the city so you do not need to be early to catch a viewing place, but you should book your hotel early – a lot of people travel to see the festival!
- Dates: irregular, usually in January
Have a good trip and travel!