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Top 5 Winter Activities in Japan

Japan is a winter wonderland popular with tourist from around the world for its wide range of cool winter activities on offer. Coming from Australia, a place that does not receive a lot of snow, Japan is a tourist hot spot for Aussie looking for a winter escape or just a bit of fun in the snow. The following is a list of winter activities in Japan to keep you busy this winter.

1. Skiing and Snowboarding

Photo : TomEats on Flickr

Japan has some of the best soft powder snow in the world, which has been a well-kept secret up to now. The word is slowly getting out with the world discovering this hidden gem and tourists flocking to Japan like never before to take advantage of its fantastic conditions. Japan’s abundant snow fall, top-quality ski resorts and competitive prices are the key ingredients to this boom in skiing and snowboarding. Japan can boast more than 600 ski resorts through-out the country with the ski season officially starting in December and ending in March. The best months are considered to be January and February as they receive the most snow and offer the best conditions.

Some of the best places for skiing/snowboarding in Japan include Nagano in the Japan Alps of Central Japan on the main island of Honshu, Hokkaido, the island furthest north in Japan with Siberian-blasted highlands, and Niigata also on the main island of Honshu on the Sea of Japan coast. All these locations are easily accessible from Tokyo and offer excellent facilities and conditions for skiers and snowboarders of all levels and experience.

2. Onsen Hopping

Photo : James Hadfield on Flickr

One of the great pleasures of traveling or living in Japan is relaxing in an onsen (hot spring), especially on a cold winter’s day with soft snow falling around you. There are thousands of onsen dotted around the country bubbling out of the ground throughout the Japanese archipelago. The onsen in Japan come in many sizes, shapes and colours including outdoor baths known as rotenburo, and indoor baths. The open-air outdoor baths are amazing in winter, offering magnificent views of pure white snow while your body is warmed by the natural thermal waters.

The ultimate way to experience an onsen is to visit an onsen ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) built around a private hot spring. It is place where you can totally relax and unwind from it all by soaking in an onsen, relaxing in your tatami room, and eating gourmet food. Onsen are the quintessential Japanese cultural experience offering you a relaxing and revigarating way to see Japan’s stunning winter vistas.

3. Winter Illuminations

Photo : Japan Australia on Flickr

One of the highlights of winter in Japan is the spectacular winter illuminations which can be seen across the country. The illuminations typically start in late autumn and finish around the end of December with some even lasting until spring. Most are free and can be seen in the major cities if you are traveling in Japan during the winter months. Some of the biggest and most spectacular are Kobe Luminaire in Kobe, Nabana no Sato in Mie Prefecture and the ‘Kingdom of Light” at Huis Ten Bosch in Nagasaki Prefecture.

In Tokyo, there are several winter illuminations in places such as Omotesando, Marunouchi, Ginza and Shinjuku. For more information and details check out my guide on Winter illuminations in Japan (

4. Snow Monkeys

Photo : Mayu Shimizu on Flickr

One of the great experiences in Japan is seeing wild monkeys bathing in natural hot springs. The Japanese macaques, commonly known as the snow monkey is an old world species native to Japan.

The best and most famous place to see these cute snow monkeys is at Jigokudani Monkey Park near Yudanaka Onsen in Nagano Prefecture. The park is inhabited by the snow monkeys who come down from their natural habitat in the forests of Jigokudani valley to soak in the hot springs to keep warm. The monkeys communally gather in one pool located close to the entrance of the park. They live in large social groups, so a big part of the fun is observing them with their interactions and shenanigans.

Nagano monkey tour
Photo : Douglas Sprott on Flickr

The park is open all year round, but is at its most photogenic when the area is covered in snow during the winter months from December to March.

5. Enjoy Snow Art and Snow Festivals

Japan is known for its festivals and winter is no exemption with a host of innovative winter festivals held around the country. The biggest and most famous winter festival is the Sapporo Snow Festival. It is held annually in Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido over seven days in February. The snow festival first began in 1950 and attracts about 2 million visitors every year to see the hundreds of snow statues and ice sculptures in central Sapporo. The giant snow sculptures feature popular anime characters such as Pokeman and Anpanman as well as historical figures and buildings.

Photo : Chica_de_Ayer on Flickr

Other popular snow and winter festivals include the Asahikawa Winter Festival in Hokkaido, famous for its snow sculptures, the Yokote Kamakura in Akita Prefecture, famous for its snow domes, and the Atami Fireworks Festival in Shizuoka, famous for its winter fireworks displays.

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