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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogWinter in Japan: How to Have a Brrrrrilliant Time!

Winter in Japan: How to Have a Brrrrrilliant Time!

By Kim Kahan
December 15, 2021

Winter can be one of the best times to visit Japan. That being said, to get the most out of a Japanese winter will take a little preparation – so start reading up on all the exciting things winter in Japan offers. Let’s take a look at some of the best. 

When is Winter in Japan?

Generally, winter in Japan heads in from the start of December, just as we say goodbye to the autumn leaves. Average temperatures aren’t so cold at first, and until New Year, you’ll be fine heading out without gloves in the bigger cities. 

Come January and February, temperatures drop to 10°C during the daytime and a colder 3°C at night, so gloves, hats, and mufflers are a must! You can also take advantage of a Japanese specialty – kairo – which are like pocket hand warmers designed to be stuck all over the clothes. The sticky back on many kairo means that you can stick them onto your clothes to heat up vital areas such as your back and tummy.  

While January is cold, it’s also the sunniest month of the year – so you can get the best shots for the holiday album. February is warmer than January, but colder than December, so if you plan a trip to Japan during February, we suggest packing a hat and gloves.

Want to have a taste of Japanese winter? Check out TokyoTreat! TokyoTreat sends the latest Japanese snacks and sweets, like regional Kit Kats, cup ramen, and Pocky, straight from Japan right to your door!

Activities

Winter Sports

A man skates down a mountain in Hokkaido during winter in Japan with the sight of a beautiful mountain ahead of him.
Japan is full of ski resorts, so winter sports enthusiasts definitely have a place indulge in their hobbies here in Japan. Image via Shutterstock

Japan is home to many different climates. The southern parts of Japan, like Okinawa, are tropical islands, but the northernmost area of Hokkaido is colder all year round. However, come wintertime, Hokkaido shines! 

Hokkaido is known around the world for its fantastic powder snow, perfect for skiers, snowboarders, and more. The western part of Hokkaido is famed for its ski resorts, such as Niseko and Furano, which attract skiers and winter sports fans from across the world. 

Hokkaido is colder than the rest of the country, so the winter season is longer with beautiful, white snow expected to fall from between October and November each year – way earlier than the rest of Japan. 

Nagano Prefecture is also a great destination in Japan for skiing and snowboarding. The mountainous regions in Nagano, known as ‘The Japanese Alps,’ which includes Nozawa Onsen (hot spring), are the biggest mountain ranges in Japan. Nozawa Onsen is a ski resort located in the northern area of the Japanese Alps and is famed as much for its relaxing hot springs as its smooth powder snow!

Onsens

If you have read any of our other blogs, you’ll know how much we enjoy a good onsen, and the winter is probably the best time to experience them. Heading from the freezing cold into a wonderfully relaxing, hot bath is the best feeling, especially when the bath is outside, so you can truly feel the surreal contrast of cold and warm. Just remember to brush up on your Japanese onsen etiquette.

An interesting feature of hot spring resorts is that they are occasionally home to some surprising animals… Snow Monkeys! 

Snow Monkeys live in the snow but love to warm up in the outdoors hot springs in places such as Nikko, Noboribetsu, and Jigokudani. The latter, Jigokudani, is located in Nagano and has become famous for its furry inhabitants, who live there all year round. Monkeys among the cherry blossoms are great, but it is said that winter is the best time to visit them at Jigokudani Monkey Park to get that perfect picture. 

For the more traditional side of Japan, staying in a Japanese ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) is a lovely way to experience Japanese winter. Head out to wander around in the yukata (a casual kimono) provided, in and out of hot and cold, bathing and eating is an experience of Japanese bath culture loved by many tourists and locals alike.

Snow monkeys relax in an hot spring in Nagano during a winter in Japan with one sleeping peacefully on a rock.
These monkeys may not usually be keen on pictures, but when they’re this relaxed, it’s totally fine. Image via Shutterstock

Events in Winter

Events in Winter are some of the most enjoyable, with visitors flocking from far and wide. Let’s have a look at some great events.

Sapporo Snow Festival

As the island of Hokkaido is the coldest area in Japan, it sees the longest winter. Local residents of Hokkaido grow up around snow their whole lives and have learned how to get the most enjoyment out of it. February sees the Sapporo Snow Festival

Sapporo Snow Festival began in 1950 when a group of local school students made just six snow sculptures in a local park. From there, it has grown into one of the biggest events of the year. Featuring ice rinks, giant snow and ice sculptures built by sculptors from around the world, and endless food stalls; the festival now sees over two million visitors each year. 

A great spot for a day trip after a hard week of skiing!

A snow sculpture of the characters from Sazae-san at the Sapporo Snow Festival held every year in Winter in Japan.
The Sapporo Snow Festival can be like a giant trivia game sometimes with so many sculptures of anime and manga characters. Image via Shutterstock

Winter Illuminations

Japan loves to light things up, and each winter as the nights get longer, the illuminations get brighter as towns and cities embrace the lights for their Instagrams.

One of the oldest is the 1.2km-long illumination by Tokyo Station: the Marunuochi Illumination. This champagne-colored extravaganza lasts from November through to February so there is a high chance you will be able to see it if you visit Japan in winter.

One of the most impressive Japanese illuminations takes place in Kobe – the Kobe Luminarie, held in December each year. With illuminations based on the 16th century Baroque style, this beautifully stylish illumination began in 1995 to commemorate the victims of the Great Hanshin earthquake. 

As with all events in these times – best to check the website before heading over especially. Many events even have an online version, so if you can’t make it to Japan, you can enjoy them from the comfort of your own home. Let us know how you get on!

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Kim Kahan

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