Updated： December 10, 2019
20+ Exciting Things To Do In Japan In The Winter!
Winter in Japan is a magical experience and there are so many wonderful things to do! Here's information about 20 kinds of winter-specific activities, foods to eat, and festivals you can only enjoy in Japan!
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Most of Japan's land is covered with mountains that receive an abundance of snow. The western part of Japan, Nagano and Niigata Prefectures, for instance, are great places for some of the most amazing ski resorts. Hokkaido, the Northern Island also has some amazing slopes. Many peaks are over 2,000 meters high so you have these amazing long course with secenic views. Once your skiing day is done, you can head out to an onsen (natural hot spring) to relax, and then eat some amazing Japanese winter foods such as hot pots! For information on the best ski resorts in the country, check out the link below.
Enjoy Amazing Illuminations
Christmas in Japan is nothing huge; most people actually work on that day. However, one thing the Japanese do very well with regards to the Christmas season is putting up some amazing illuminations. In major urban centers such as Tokyo, there are a couple of spots well worth going. The illuminations around Marunouchi, Otemachi, and Yurakucho areas, for instance, stretch out 1.2 kilometers, illuminating the street with champagne gold lights. For information about good spots to see Christmas illuminations, check out the link below.
Spend Time In A Christmas Market
The other thing Christmassy you can do in Japan is to visit a Christmas market. The most popular one in the country is in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, about an hour away from Tokyo by train. It's held in and around the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse, which is a nice historic. It has many small shops and restaurants in it. There are a lot of countless stalls selling various cute Christmas-related goods and food.
Eat Some Hokkaido Crab!
Crab is one of the staple winter foods of Japan. Many kinds of crabs are in season in the winter, so make sure to try some. Hokkaido crabs are particularly tasty, and they are available throughout the country. Some fancy restaurants served them as well as chain restaurants so the prices can really vary. You can get some pretty good crab at a reasonable price at Kani Doraku.
"Hatsumode" The Traditional First Visit Of The Year To A Shrine
You should do Hatsumode for the cultural experience and just because Japanese shrines are so beautiful. This is an activity done in early January usually. Some popular spots in Tokyo are the Meiji Jingu Shrine and the Asakusa Sensoji Temple. There are some traditional ways to visit and pray at shrines, and everyone is welcomed to do it. Check out the link below for information on hatsumode.
In Osaka, Pray For Business Success
At the small but culturally important Imamiya Ebisu Shrine in Osaka, you can pray for your business success for the new year during the Toka Ebisu Festival on the 10th of January. This is a huge event in Osaka as the town was, by and large, a merchants' town for a good part of its history. Series of lanterns light the site which creates an enchanting atmosphere. There are countless ornaments that can be purchased that are blessed good-luck charms for business prosperity.
Watch A Mountain Burn In Nara
In Nara Prefecture, in the Kansai region, there is an ancient tradition called Wakakusa Yamayaki that consists of burning a grassy mountain near the city of Nara. There are also some fireworks and other festivities related to the event. This is one of the major winter festivals in the Kansai region.
Sumo competitions are held throughout the year but the ones held in January gather particular attention as they are the first in the year.
Eat Like A Sumo (Chanko Nabe)
The winter cuisine in Japan is simply amazing. One of the best dishes you can have that really warms you up and gives you lots of stamina is the "chanko nabe" which is a hot pot often eaten by sumo. There are a couple of good places to have it in Tokyo.
Get Yourself A "Lucky Bag"
The selling of lucky bags called fukuboukuro in Japan is a tradition that resembles the post-Christmas sales or the black Friday sells in other parts of the world. Items are generally sold at 30-50% discounts (or even much more in some cases). But there is a different twist: they are sold in secret bundles of around 5 items. So you don't actually know what you are buying until you open your bag. Every bag usually contains at least one pricey item. But be aware that it's all up to chance. You may get a really expensive thing that you absolutely don't need. Sales begin at on January 1st and generally last a week.
Attend A Fire Festival In A Small Onsen Town
Visit The Tokyo Auto Salon
If you love customized cars, take note of this one. The Tokyo Auto Salon is one of the best auto shows in the world which showcases modified and tuned cars. The event is held every year in January in the suburbs of Tokyo (Saitama). You can get there by train from Tokyo in about one hour.
Go To The Sapporo Snow Festival
This is the mother of all snow festivals in Japan. It attracts huge crowds of foreign and national tourists for good reasons. It has the some of the most impressive snow structures that you'll ever see, the food in Sapporo is great, and there are three huge sites where you can enjoy different activities, and see different things. The illuminated snow and ice structures are the highlight of the festival so you can enjoy it well into the evening.
Visit Okayama And See The "Naked Festival"
This is called the hadaka matsuri (hadaka means naked), but to be just, people are actually wearing the traditional white underwear called fundoshi. This festival is quite huge in Okayama. It is a mix of purifications rituals and celebrations that culminate in a competition in which only men can participate. A person of religious authority throws a sacred stick into a crowd of fundoshi-wearing men and they have to take it to their goal. You've got to admire their courage because Okayama at night in February is not warm at all.
Admire The Plum Blossoms
Plum blossoms are not as popular as the sakura (cherry blossoms) but they are quite impressive too! They start blooming in mid-February in central Japan. One great place to see them is at the Sazuka Forest Garden in Mie Prefecture (pictured above). If you are in Tokyo, Hanegi Park is the spot. It's located a 5-minute walk from the Umegaoka Station (Odakyu Line) or a 7-minute walk from the Higashimatsubara Station (Inogashira Line).
Visit The UNESCO World Heritage Site Of Shirakawa-Go
There is a little village in Gifu Prefecture called Shirakawa-go that is composed of 114 thick thatched roof houses. The village was historically very isolated so the architecture of the houses is something markedly different from what you'll see elsewhere in Japan. The village is especially charming in the winter when it becomes covered with snow.
Go To The Candle Light Festival Of Otaru, Hokkaido
Picture a charming, old Japanese snow-covered town in the foothills of a mountain, that becomes lit up every evening from 5 PM by the warm glow of 120,000 candles. This is exactly what Otaru becomes for a few days in February during its unique snow light festival. The candles' fire is protected from the wind by hand-made snow walls.
Indulge In Sukiyaki
Another type of hot pot dish that is really popular throughout the winter is the sukiyaki. Sukiyaki usually consists of thinly sliced beef, which is slowly cooked or simmered with vegetables. The ingredients are usually dipped in a small bowl of raw, beaten eggs after being cooked in the pot. Sukiyaki is a must try, delicious staple Japanese dish!
Visit Yokote (Akita Prefecture) For Its Kamakura Festival
A kamakura is an igloo-like shelter made by making a mound of snow and digging out the inside. In Yokote, Akita Prefecture, in mid-February for 2 days (2018 edition is on Feb. 15 and 16) from dawn until 9 PM, children invite passers-by to come inside their kamakuras. The guests then sit down for a moment and eat rice cakes and drink "amazake", a type of sweet sake that has very little or no alcohol. Chatting while enjoying these with friends, family or strangers is the best way to enjoy the festival. There are about 100 kamakuras in which you can enter at the festival. Before leaving, you should make an offering to the water deity as the custom goes.
Go To Asahikawa In Hokkaido For Another Great Winter Festival
Asahikawa is a picturesque town in Hokkaido. Although it is much smaller than Sapporo, it has one of the biggest winter festivals in the country. The main snow sculpture is even bigger than the one found at the Sapporo Winter Festival. If you like skiing or snowboarding, it's a good spot to stay at to enjoy the slopes of Hokkaido.
Japan takes on a completely different face in the winter. The landscape is different with the snowy mountains, the food is different with the warm hot pots, and there are a plethora of winter festivals and cultural traditions that are winter-specific. This article just touched on a few topics. Hope you'll have the chance to discover the Japanese winter!
- Japanese food culture enthusiast. Love to explore new areas and discover local specialties.
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