9 Things to Do in Japan in Winter

Mount Koya is a popular choice for wintertime hikes | © Jordy Meow / WikiCommons
Mount Koya is a popular choice for wintertime hikes | © Jordy Meow / WikiCommons
Photo of Alicia Joy
Tokyo Writer13 November 2017

Wintertime is a great time to visit Japan. With the crowds of summer gone, you’re free to visit the usual sights with a little more elbow room and enjoy the country’s other great winter activities. Here are our favorites.

Hit the slopes

Winter sports fanatics flock to Japan each year for a chance to test out its famous slopes. One of the most popular destinations is Niseko, a ski resort town located in the northern Hokkaido region. The surrounding area is also home to plenty of hot spring resorts, which are perfect after a day out in the snow.

Niseko, Japan’s most famous ski resort town | © Jun Kaneko / Flickr

Check out the winter festivals

In Japan, festival fever dies down with the coming of winter, but it doesn’t go away completely. Some of the country’s best festivals take place in the colder months, such as the annual Sapporo Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri). During this festival, the city is filled with stunning sculptures of snow and ice and illuminated with festive lights and seasonal displays.

Sculpture at the Sapporo Snow Festival | © Akinori YAMADA / Flickr

Go on a snowy hike

Winter is the low season for hiking and mountaineering, but for the bold, it can also be one of the most rewarding times to scale Japan’s peaks. The quiet winter and picturesque mountain snow make winter hikes a completely different experience from summertime. And with clear, crisp skies, winter is also the best time to see the mountains from afar, including the iconic Mount Fuji.

Fuji from Lake Tanuki in Shizuoka prefecture in winter | © sayama / Pixabay

Shop for winter fashions

Japan is one of the fashion capitals of the world, so hit the shops and stock up on winter necessities you won’t find anywhere else. The end of the year is also the time for fukubukuro (called lucky bags or happy bags), which are discounted bags filled with surprise clothing inside, though some brands have started offering sneak peaks into what the bags hold.

Tokyo shopping street Omotesando with the bare trees of winter | © Kakidai / WikiCommons

Snack on oden

Cheap, easy and delicious, oden—a mix of ingredients such as daikon, egg and fish cakes cooked in a soy and dashi broth—is a perfect snack on a cold winter’s day. You can find oden almost everywhere in the cold weather months, from snack carts to convenience stores and even some izakaya.

Aoba Oden Street, an alley full of oden restaurants, in Shizuoka | © Yuichi Kosio / Flickr

Visit an onsen

Japan is home to countless natural hot springs, and these onsen are some of the country’s top winter attractions. Make your way to a hot spring town such as Hakone. If you’d rather stick to the city limits, sento or public baths and man-made hot spring attractions such as Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Tokyo are an equally good idea.

Monkeys enjoy the onsen in Nagano prefecture, Japan | © Jonathan Forage / Unsplash

Admire the winter illuminations

Japan’s cities come to life in the winter season. The lights in Roppongi have become symbolic of winter in Tokyo, and places such as Kobe, Kyoto, and Osaka all have their own annual lightings and wintertime display traditions. One of the country’s most famous illuminations is that of Shirakawa-go, a small village and UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with traditional farmhouses.

Winter illuminations at the Caretta Shiodome in Tokyo | © mrhayata / Flickr

Warm up in a café

Japan’s artisanal coffee scene continues to grow. Specialty cafés are popping up everywhere, specializing in anything from single-origin imports to their own innovative brewing techniques. And in winter when the high travel seasons are over, one of the best parts of trying one out is actually being able to find a seat.

Cozy up to a hot coffee in one of Japan’s many cafés | © Engin_Akyurt / Pixabay

Enjoy nabe

Nothing warms you up in winter like a steaming bowl of nabe, or Japanese hot pot. It is one of the most popular wintertime dishes. There are tons of varieties of hot pot dishes, from motsunabe, which uses tripe, to light and vegetarian varieties. Nabe is also a great dish to cook at home.

Enjoy nabe in wintertime | © s_masako / Pixabay

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