October 26, 2021
Are you planning a trip to Japan? Are you wondering what time of the year to travel? Visiting Japan in winter is one of the best options, as you can enjoy numerous seasonal attractions and activities only at this time of the year! From snow events to winter lightings, winter in Japan offers some of the most spectacular scenery you might want to see once in your life! Winter in Japan is full of cool and unique activities. Not only is the air cool and cozy, there are so many things to do. There are also many places to go to take advantage of the snow that falls in some areas. Check out my picks for the 10 best places to visit in Japan in the winter of 2021-2022, and find out where to go in Japan this winter!
The drift ice in Hokkaido comes from thet from the Amur River 1,000 km away on the border between China and Russia. When fresh water from the Amur River enters the Sea of Okhotsk, the salt concentration in that part of the sea drops, causing the water to freeze and form drift ice. The drift ice continues to spread and grow thicker until the entire sea is covered with drift ice. The drift ice off the Okhotsk coast of Hokkaido is the southernmost drift ice in the Northern Hemisphere!
The drift ice usually begins to form in late January. Initially, the drift ice is far out on the horizon of the Sea of Okhotsk, before gradually moving closer and closer to the coast. By early February, it reaches the coast and remains there until early March. With the right wind, the drift ice can spread rapidly in one night - one day it can be seen in the distance, and the next day it's right in front of you, covering the waves as far as the eye can see. Visitors can ride the icebreaker tour ship and observe the dynamic drift ice up close for the limited time of the year.
The Sapporo Snow Festival takes place in Hokkaido's capital city of Sapporo for a week every February. It is one of the most popular winter events in Japan.
The Sapporo Snow Festival was started in 1950 when high school students set up some Beautiful Statues in Odori Park. Since then, it has grown into a large, commercial event featuring spectacular snow and ice sculptures, attracting more than two million visitors from Japan and around the world. The snow festival is held at three locations: Odori Park, Susukino Park and Tsu Dome Park. More than 2 million visitors from Japan and overseas come to this event every season and are treated to spectacular snow and ice sculptures.
Ginzan Onsen is a remote hot spring resort located in the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture. Originally, the area developed around a silver mine; however, it is now better known as one of Japan's most beautiful onsen towns, with historic ryokan lined up along the river.
The traditionally designed ryokan of Ginzan Onsen are housed in beautiful three- and four-story wooden buildings that evoke nostalgic feelings of a bygone era with their exposed woodwork and white plastered walls. The exception is the Fujiya ryokan in the city center, recently remodeled by famed modern architect Kuma Kengo. While purists may find it incongruous, its unique modern design incorporates many of the traditional design elements of the surrounding buildings, such as the same exposed wood and white plaster. The downtown area of Ginzan Onsen is strictly pedestrian due to the narrow streets and lack of parking. It is especially beautiful in the evening when the ryokan are lit up and the streets and bridges are illuminated by gas lanterns. In winter, the scenery is enhanced by the heavy snow that lies on the rooftops and sidewalks, while in the warmer months, ryokan guests tend to stroll around town in their yukata.
Two public baths (500 yen each) and a foot bath (free) are located in the center of town. One of the public baths, the Shiroganeyu, was also designed by Kuma Kengo. There is also the Omokageyu, a public bath for private use (2000 yen per 50 minutes). In addition, many of the town's ryokan open their baths to non-resident guests during the day for 500 to 1500 yen. Most have historic indoor baths.
Zao Onsen is a famous hot spring bath and ski resort in the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture. It is one of the few places in Japan where you can see juhyo or "ice trees". Also known as "snow monsters," the trees take on strange shapes due to heavy snowfall and icy winds.
The snow monsters form around the top of the Zao Ski Area and are usually at their most spectacular in mid-February. Access to the monsters is by cable car and gondola for skiers and non-skiers. In the evening, the monsters around the summit are lit up and can be enjoyed outdoors or from a warm spot in the café. Night skiing, however, is only offered at the lower elevations of the ski area. Zao Ski Resort is one of the oldest in Japan and has more than thirty lifts, gondolas and cable cars, as well as a variety of different courses for skiers and snowboarders of all levels, especially beginners and intermediate skiers. The longest slope starts in the Snow Monsters area at the top of the mountain and is about ten kilometers long. The ski season usually starts in early December and ends in early May, depending on snow conditions.
Not only the Sapporo Snow Festival, but also other school events are held in the northern park of Japan in winter. Kamakura is one of the traditional winter objects in Japan, a dome-shaped snow sculpture in various sizes. The Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival is held annually in Yunishigawa Onsen Town in Tochigi Prefecture. During this event, countless small Kamakura domes are brightly lit up at night. The event runs for a month, from February to March, and offers visitors various fun snow activities. The festival area stretches east of Yokote Station to Yokote Castle, which is about two kilometers away across the Yokote River. From the station, visitors can take a leisurely stroll through the city streets and admire the Kamakura scenes set up on the houses in the neighborhood. In Komyoji Park, visitors can also take part in making kamakura by attending a workshop. The Kamakurakan Hall keeps a few kamakura in a small room with a temperature of -10 degrees Celsius year-round, so visitors can view these snow houses even in the warmer months. Near the hall, there are many kamakura, snow sculptures and food stalls that contribute to a lively atmosphere.
The icicles of Misotsuchi, a scenic spot in winter in Oku Chichibu, grow up to 30 meters wide and 8 meters high at most. The shape changes every year due to natural formation. These icicles are formed by the upper reaches of the Arakawa River and are works of art that can only be seen from mid-January to mid-February, the coldest time of the year. The illuminated scenery is also magical. The water is taken by hoses from the upper reaches of the Kawarasawa River, which rises in Mount Ryokami, one of Japan's 100 famous mountains (1,723 meters above sea level), and sprinkled without the use of pumps, taking advantage of the difference in elevation. The icicles are formed by the severe cold in the morning and at night. The gigantic icicles seen from the suspension bridge are simply breathtaking. The shops are run by locals, and free amazake (a sweet drink made from fermented rice) is served during the event. Hot local dishes are also very popular. During the event, the place is lit up on certain days. The Icicles of Ashigakubo is located in an easy-to-reach spot, just a 10-minute walk from Ashigakubo Station on the Seibu Chichibu Line. The icicles are created by locals and visitors can view the gigantic icicles, which are 30 meters high and over 200 meters wide, from different angles. Enjoy the world of icicles while drinking amazake made by Omotenashi Ladies (volunteer women from the region) and tea produced on site. The place is lit up on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays.
Jigokudani Monkey Park offers visitors the unique experience of watching wild monkeys bathe in a natural hot spring. The park is inhabited by Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys. It is located in the monkeys' natural habitat, in the forests of Jigokudani Valley in Yamanouchi, not far from the onsen towns of Shibu and Yudanaka.
The park has a man-made pond around which monkeys congregate, located just a short walk from the park entrance. Visitors are likely to encounter monkeys on their way to the pool. The monkeys live in large social groups, and it can be quite entertaining to watch their interactions. The monkeys are used to humans, can be observed at close range, and almost completely ignore their human guests. Of course, it is forbidden to touch or feed the monkeys.
The park has a small information center with information mainly in Japanese. However, there is a small explanation of the monkey group's alpha male system in English, as well as portraits of the park's current and past alpha males dating back dozens of years. Next to the dock, there is a live camera that can be accessed online.
During the winter, numerous lighting events take place across the country, making it one of Japan's main attractions for locals and tourists alike. One of the most spectacular and popular winter lighting events takes place at Nabana no Sato, the amusement park in Mie Prefecture.
Around 8 million LED lights are used to create the stunning light art of the huge park, including the famous "Tunnel of Lights". The lighting event is held annually from mid-autumn to early spring.
The regions of Shirakawa-go and neighboring Gokayama line the valley of the Shogawa River in the remote mountains between Gifu and Toyama prefectures. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, they are famous for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are over 250 years old.
Gassho-zukuri means "built like hands in prayer", as the steep thatched roofs of the farmhouses resemble the hands of Buddhist monks joined together in prayer. The architectural style has evolved over many generations and is designed to withstand the large amounts of snow that fall in the region during winter. The roofs, made without nails, provided a large roof space for silkworm breeding.
Ogimachi, the largest village and the main attraction of Shirakawa-go, is suitable for a day trip from Takayama or as a stopover on the bus ride between Takayama and Kanazawa. The best way to experience the town, however, is to stay overnight in one of the farmhouses, many of which now serve as minshuku.
Gokayama is a little more difficult to reach and requires a bus change at Ogimachi. The villages in Gokayama are less developed and less crowded than Shirakawa-go, being smaller, more intimate and less interspersed with modern buildings. The most beautiful villages in Gokayama are Suganuma and Ainokura.
Kibune is only about thirty minutes from Kyoto City, but it feels like it's worlds away. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle for some peace and quiet, take the Eizan train north. The area is full of wildlife and seasonal flowers blooming along the river, and local restaurants and ryokan (traditional inns) serve meals on platforms built over the cool water. Kibune is also home to Kifune Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the worship of kami associated with water. Kifune Shrine consists of three different locations: the main shrine, the Yui no Yashiro, and the Okunomiya. Some people choose a specific way to make this pilgrimage. They visit the main shrine first, then go straight back to the Okunomiya after praying, and make a detour to the middle shrine, the Yui no Yashiro, on the way home. Kifune Shrine is not only breathtaking in the summer, but also beautiful in the winter. If you can brave the chilly weather, you should visit Kibune village when it snows and the area is covered in a blanket of snow that turns into a dreamy wonderland.
Have you ever been to Japan in the winter? If so, how was your experience?
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