Winter is a beautiful season. Although snow and ice can make travel difficult, visiting certain destinations in the winter can lead to truly amazing experiences.
From festivals and scenic views to winter sports and hot springs, Japan is home to plenty of locations that are must-see in the winter. Check out this list for some of our favorite places to visit in Japan in winter.
Sapporo Yuki Matsuri
Located in Hokkaido's capital, the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri, or Sapporo Snow Festival, is an annual event that’s been held for over 70 years. It’s typically celebrated for a week toward the beginning of February.
Festivities can be found in several locations, including Odori Park in central Sapporo, Susukino Ice World in Susukino, and the Tsudome site, which features family-friendly snow tunnels and slides. Other festival attractions include large snow and ice sculptures, a skating rink, projection shows, and tons of tasty food.
The Zaō Mountains
Also referred to as Zaōsan (Mount Zaō), this destination is actually a cluster of volcanoes. Located on the boarder of Yamagata and Miyagi Prefecture, Mount Zaō is home to ski resorts along with Juhyō (snow monsters). These snowy figures are formed when snow builds up on the mountain’s trees.
Whether you’re a nature-lover or a fan of winter sports, the Zaō Mountains are a great destination. If you get too chilly, there’s also the steamy Zaō Onsen, which boasts some of Japan’s most acidic thermal waters.
Nabana no Sato
One of Mie Prefecture's most popular tourist attractions, Nabana no Sato is a botanical garden that becomes an illumination-lover’s dream at night. Illuminations are especially popular during winter, in Japan and around the globe.
The gardens are lit from mid-October through April, with millions of LED lights used to make a tunnel of light along with flower, mountain, and ocean scenes. These light installations are breathtaking thanks to their vast size and wide range of colors.
An official UNESCO world heritage site, Ogimachi Village is located in Shirakawago, an area known for heavy snowfall. The farmhouses of Ogimachi Village are a sight to behold, built specially to withstand the harsh winters, some of which are 250 years old.
Surrounded by mountains, Ogimachi Village is beautiful year-round, but especially in the winter. From January through February, the village is set aglow with illuminations.
Yuzawa Ski Resorts
Whether you prefer skiing or snowboarding, the Yuzawa town area is home to about a dozen ski resorts, making it the perfect destination for anyone who loves winter sports.
A wide variety of slopes makes Yuzawa great for beginner to intermediate-level skiers and snowboarders. Marvel at the amazing mountain views, ski to your heart’s content, and then, after hours of fun, there are plenty of restaurants and bars in the area with great food.
After a long day of wintertime adventures, there’s no better way to warm frozen fingers and toes than by heading to a hot spring. Also called “Silver Mountain Hot Spring,” Ginzan Onsen is a picturesque and secluded hot spring town located along the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture.
Historic indoor baths, a 22 meter tall waterfall, and historic silver mine are all sights to behold. In the winter, a blanket of snow covers Ginzan Onsen’s mix of traditional and modern buildings and gas-illuminated streets and bridges, making for a true winter wonderland.
Yokote no Yuki Matsuri
This 450-year-old celebration, also known as the Yokote Kamakura Festival, is held annually on February 15th and 16th. Located in the city of Yokote in southeastern Akita Prefecture, this festival features igloo-like snow houses called Kamakura.
The Kamakura are dedicated to a water deity, with festival foods like rice cakes and warm amazake (a kind of sweet rice wine) used as offerings. Visitors can participate in making the small huts and/or take a stroll at night to see them all aglow.
Aoiike, The Blue Pond
Located in Biei, Hokkaido, Aoiike, also known as the Blue Pond, is a beautiful, natural spectacle year-round. Surrounded by walkways and lush forest dotted with birch trees, the color of Blue Pond’s water changes slightly, ranging from bright blue and turquoise to emerald, depending on the weather and time of year.
The pond is always beautiful, even when frozen over in the winter. Additionally, its vistas—which have been illuminated each season since 2014—highlight the beauty of this natural wonder. Winter in Japan is amazing. Whether you’re looking for winter festivals, scenic views, hot springs or winter sports, there’s a Japanese destination perfect for you.