When choosing to visit Japan and explore alone or with your family, one of the most important things to consider is timing and when you want to schedule your trip.
Not only will this affect the weather that you will experience but also the activities that you can enjoy and take part in based on the seasonal weather.
For example, if you want to travel to Japan to see the cherry blossoms bloom (hanami season) then visiting during the winter months is not a good idea as the blossoms won’t start until mid or late March. However, Japan is a country that is beautiful and has a lot to offer all year round.
Despite its beauty throughout the winter, Japan is often overlooked as a destination in favor of more popular choices such as nations with large winter sports venues taking place.
But if you do your research in advance then you can have one of the best experiences possible in Japan. It is just a matter of knowing where to go and what to do. So, to give you an exploration guide, we’ll detail some of the best reasons why you should travel to Japan in the winter months.
When is the Japanese winter?
If you are looking to have an incredible time in Japan then you should make sure to get the timing right. Winter in Japan typically lasts from December to mid-March but exactly which conditions you will experience depend on exactly where you are planning to travel to.
Tokyo receives fewer than two inches of snow each year on average. The months of January and February are the most likely for snowfall, with average low temperatures near freezing. Most public transport across the city can still operate in light snow and rarely can you expect a blizzard-like snow event in Tokyo.
In the cities, such as Osaka and Tokyo, you can expect to experience temperatures between 25 F to about 45 Fahrenheit. But if you are traveling into the mountains you should expect colder conditions.
Osaka on average gets less snow than Tokyo. The average number of days snow will fall in Osaka is about 16 days annually and accumulated snow amounts are less than one inch per season (December thru March).
Typically, in the south of Japan areas will generally be warmer and are a better choice if you are looking for milder weather and less of a chance of snow, ice, and colder daily temperatures in the winter months.
One of the best reasons to visit Japan during the winter is the food. Japan is known as a culinary treasure all over the world, but in winter the food is truly an experience.
When it comes to seafood there are certain delicacies that can only be locally sourced in winter and when prepared correctly this can result in fantastic Japanese dishes.
Oysters are one such example and are often paired with local sake in some of the best restaurants in Japan. If you are looking for a culinary experience outside of Tokyo then consider visiting places like Tohoku and Hiroshima.
If you find yourself in Sapporo (on the northern island of Hokkaido) then it’s a must to try their winter specialties. These include miso ramen and soup curry. However, there are two major winter foods that are sure to put a smile on your face: nabe and oden.
Oden is a food that can be found everywhere from convenience stores to high-end restaurants. Nabe is usually translated as “hotpot” and is a type of stew that uses meat, seafood as well as vegetables.
This dish is typically shared between several people and in winter, it makes the perfect way to spend an evening among new friends.
Hot springs (onsens)
Nothing quite beats being outside in nature in the snow during winter, but what do you do when you get too cold? Go indoors and give up the beautiful surroundings?
No. Instead, in Japan, you can visit a hot spring and truly have a magical experience. Although there are many different countries that offer a hot spring experience, there is none that has perfected it quite as Japan has.
Visiting a ryokan (an inn-style hotel with hot springs) in Japan is an entire experience from start to finish. Here you can truly relax and simply enjoy Japan’s winter life.
Not only can you bathe in the soothing mineral warm waters of the hot spring but you can also enjoy some wonderful meals and dine in a tatami room.
There are also hot springs that you can visit for the day and if you have a busy schedule while in Japan there may be a better option. It is worth noting that if you are heavily tattooed, or you have very visible tattoos, that some onsens may not permit you entry.
If you are on the lookout for more of an adventure holiday then don’t despair, Japan is known to have some of the best skiing and snowboarding locations in the world. In fact, Japan is comprised of 70% mountainous regions and is home to over 500 resorts.
Because it is usually not people’s first port of call when searching for a skiing holiday it means that the resorts and ski slopes can be less busy than those in the popular Uropean Alps, making it a much more enjoyable experience.
In fact, if you choose to pair skiing or snowboarding with other Japanese experiences, such as good food and a hot spring, you can make the most memorable and enjoyable visit.
In Japan’s mountains, there is a lot of snowfall during the winter months, meaning that in areas such as Tohoku and Hokkaido there are plenty of ski resorts to choose from.
In fact, the powder snow in Hokkaido is thought to be some of the best to experience in the world thanks to the amount of snow that the area gets throughout the season.
The ski season in Japan usually runs from December to April with the best time to visit is in January and February. Obviously, as with any nature-dependant activity, the amount of snow and the condition of it varies from year to year so there is no guarantee that one year will be the same as the last.
If you are not put off by the colder weather then choosing to visit Japan in the winter can lead to a much calmer experience. Not only will there be fewer tourists out and about on the streets, but typically the locals will also stay inside. This means that you will have much better access to some of the most popular attractions in the country.
However, this will change if you are traveling to a ski resort as this will certainly be busy with the hustle and bustle of people enjoying the snow activities.
If you want to ski without all of the people then consider looking up some of the quieter resorts as there is bound to be one of Japan’s 500 resorts that best suits your needs.
However, if you want to travel to the cities then this is usually your reward for braving the colder weather, but remember that sometimes this adds to the charm.
Snow monkey park
Thanks to some stunning photographs on the internet the snow monkey park in Jigokundani, located at the onsen, is now becoming a very popular tourist location. The Japanese macaques stand out in stark contrast to the snow and make for some incredible photography opportunities.
These adorable monkeys keep warm from the snow by bathing in the hot springs and then playing in the snow once they have warmed up.
This location is popular with both families, animal lovers, and even photographers. However, it is slightly out of the way and is located in the Nagano prefecture.
From the closest town of Yudanaka, you will need to walk roughly one hour along an ice path to reach the snow monkey park but the sheer delight that you will experience when you see the monkeys playing in the snow and relaxing in the hot springs will certainly make it all worth it.
Final Thoughts On Japan In Winter
Although many people associate Japan with its cherry blossom season and aim to travel during the spring months in order to see them bloom, Japan is actually also a great choice for a winter vacation.
Not only does the country have a lot to offer in terms of attractions and things to do but the colder months mean that you will have quieter streets and have better access to some of the most popular tourist attractions. However, keep in mind that sometimes the hustle and bustle of Tokyo can add to its charm.
If you are looking to be around people during your trip, then consider heading to one of Japan’s many ski resorts where you can enjoy some of the best powder snow, and after skiing activities that these resorts have to offer. This is where you will find many people, both tourists, and nationals, between December and April.
No matter where you are in Japan during the winter you are sure to experience some of the best food in the world. The locally-sourced winter produce, that includes delicacies such as oysters which are then prepared by professional chefs and paired with the best local sake to give you a truly great culinary experience.
Once you have finished your busy day enjoying the best of winter in Japan then you can retreat to an onsen and relax in the naturally warm hot springs and let all of your worries soak away. Whatever your choice for a winter activity, Japan in winter is a locale waiting to be explored.