Japan is often a place that people visit during the warmer months. The country is known primarily for its lush vegetation, cherry blossoms, and lively festivals, and most visitors to Japan are hoping to see these. If you’re looking for a more laid-back and low-key visit to Japan, you might want to skip the standard vacation and book a trip in the winter. Smaller crowds, and the pristine white snows will capture your imagination. Here are some of the must-see destinations for wintertime travel in Japan.
Sapporo Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri)
A tradition for over 65 years, the Sapporo Snow Festival is an annual event that takes place in February of each year. Varying teams compete to build enormous sculptures out of snow, which are illuminated with bright colors after dark. The festival spans three local parks, and contains an icy playground of mazes and slides. And it’s not just snow you’ll find there: musical performances and food stands will keep you occupied well into the evening.
Osaka’s Festival of Light
For nearly two months at the end of every year, beginning in early November and ending with the New Year, various cities in Japan will stun visitors with elaborate light and illumination shows. Visiting Osaka during the Festival of Light is like stepping into a fairy tale. Tiny LED lights blanket the trees, buildings, and roads and leave everything, including the visitors, surrounded by light.
The Blue Pond, Biei, Hokkaido
The Blue Pond is a picturesque man-made pond that has a unique aluminum concentration that lends the water a luminous blue color year-round. With tops of trees standing above the peaceful surface of the water, it’s become a popular tourist site. Wintertime may leave the pond covered in ice and snow, but the surface is still illuminate in the evenings with soft blue light. The snow-topped trees rising from the perfectly level ice is the stuff dreams are made of.
The Snow Monkey Park
Jigokudani Yaen-koen is located in Joshinetsu National Park, and is truly a remarkable place to visit in the wintertime. It’s only accessible by a short hike through the park, but once you make it, it’s worth it. Wild Japanese Macaques descend into the river valley during the cold winters to soak away the days in the hot-springs. They are typically fed by the park attendants, so there is a near-guarantee of spotting monkeys bathing in the warm waters.
Shirakawa-go in Takayama, Gifu Prefecture
This picture-perfect village is one of Japan's UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Shirakawa-go is a delight. Many of the thatched-roof houses are more than 250 years old, and visiting the village is like stepping back in time. The region is isolated from much of the rest of Japan, and the residents continued a traditional way of life as modern life encroached elsewhere. The village lies nestled between mountain peaks, on the flat of a river valley, and when the steep-roofed houses are covered in layers of snow, it’s simply breathtaking.
Kusatsu- Hot Spring Town
If you’re going to visit Japan in the winter, make sure that you put Kusatsu Onsen on your list of places not just to visit, but to spend the night. Enjoy one of over 100 onsen, open air hot springs baths, while you stay. The town encircles the yubatake or “hot water field,” the main source of the healing waters of all the local springs, heated by a nearby active volcano. Spending the night in one of the local inns with its own onsen is a fantastic way to relax during your trip.
Don’t let the prospect of cold and snow deter you from taking a wintertime trip. Japan has plenty of unique experiences to offer year-round.