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It’s no secret that spring is the best time to visit Japan. Countless travelers from all over the planet flock to see the pink Sakura trees in full bloom, and we don’t blame them! Japan is truly stunning in the spring, but that’s certainly not the only time when it pays off to visit the country. However, Japan in winter is truly a beautiful thing!
Japan in the Winter Months
If you’re planning a trip to Japan in the winter, you’re most definitely in the right place! You might not get to see Japan’s famous cherry blossoms in all their glory, but you can still witness a myriad of other astonishing sights and have an amazing time. So, read on to see the best places to visit in Japan in winter and start planning your trip!
Winter Villages in Shirakawago
One of the best places to visit in Japan during winter is Shirakawago. The village is best known for its farmhouses with steep gabled roofs, which are a necessity because of the high amount of snowfall the region gets from December to March. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Shirakawago gets up to two meters of snow in the winter season making it feel like a true winter wonderland.
Every year, the houses in this charming village are lit up on select weekends. This tradition is the exact reason why Shirakawago is one of the best Japan destinations in the winter – the event is truly mesmerizing to observe, and it attracts countless tourists from all over the world.
In fact, the winter light-up event has become so popular that authorities have now put a lottery system in place for farmhouse bookings. The number of visitors allowed in the village is limited to prevent traffic jams and overcrowding, so if you want to witness this spectacular winter wonderland, you’ll need to make reservations to visit the village months in advance.
Yuzawa Ski Resorts
Yuzawa – or yukiguni as the locals call it – is Japan’s most popular destination for winter tourism. Yukiguni translates to “snow country”, a nickname that is more than adequate for this resort town in Niigata Prefecture. Situated in the Japanese Alps, the entire place gets covered with snow early on in the winter, allowing for months of exhilarating fun on the slopes.
The amazing pistes for skiing and snowboarding aren’t the only reason this ski resort is the most popular one in Japan. Yuzawa is the easiest ski region to reach from Tokyo as it takes only some 80 minutes to get there on the bullet train. Also, the town is worth visiting in the winter even if you’re not a massive fan of winter sports. With lots of onsens to warm up in, amazing restaurants, and excellent karaoke bars, plenty of fun can be had far from the slopes!
Ginzan Onsen is a town situated in the Yamagata Prefecture mountains, and it’s extremely popular for its numerous hot springs. The prettiest onsen town in Japan is a spectacular winter destination, especially for travelers who don’t like the cold.
Visitors who don’t intend on staying in Ginzan Onsen for more than a day can warm up in the two public baths that are accessible for just 500 Yen. Those who wish to stay in this charming place for longer should book a stay in one of the ryokans that are lined up on the bank of the Ginzan River. Some of the ryokans will even open the doors of their onsens to non-staying guests during the day, but the luxury of evening baths is reserved for the staying guests only.
It’s important to note that most onsens in Japan do not allow access to guests with visible tattoos. Before you travel all the way to the mountains in Yamagata Prefecture, just make sure to find an onsen that allows access to tattooed guests, if you’re one of them. All in all, you can also pack clothing to cover your tattoos as part of your Japan essentials.
Sapporo is the largest city on Hokkaido island and one of the most popular places to visit in Japan during winter. The reason for that is the amazing Sapporo Snow Festival, which takes place over one week in February.
What originally started as a past-time for students in the 1950s has since developed into one of the largest, most commercialized events in Japan in winter. The mesmerizing ice and snow sculptures displayed during this festival manage to attract millions of visitors from every corner of the planet to the three main festival locations.
The Odori Site is the main festival site, with the best and biggest snow sculptures exhibited there. Tsu Dome Site and Susukino Site are also worth checking out, with hundreds of lit-up snow sculptures, snow slides, snow rafting, countless food stalls, and more!
Shirogane Blue Pond
The Shirogane Blue Pond is one of Hokkaido’s most famous sights in every season, but it’s especially popular in the winter months. The man-made pond was actually a by-product of the Biei River dam, and the water is so surreally blue because it is infused with aluminum. Because it is a Japanese bucket list item and truly one of the most beautiful places to visit in Japan in winter, you don’t want to miss out on this stunning spot.
Although this fascinating sight is popular year-round, a visit during winter can be particularly rewarding. The contrast between the incredibly blue water and the surrounding white landscape is stark, and it gives off a fairytale vibe. It’s even more magical when the pond gets illuminated in the evenings, and it truly is an astonishing sight you’re unlikely to forget.
Japan’s capital city is a fascinating destination regardless of the season. If you’ve never traveled to Tokyo before, it’s the first place you should visit even if you’re traveling in the winter. Discover the fascinating shrines, admire the views from its many tall towers, do some people-watching at the cafes near Shibuya Crossing, and explore the city’s many multi-story shopping malls.
Another reason why Tokyo is the best place to visit in Japan is its proximity to other popular winter destinations. It’s close to the country’s best ski resorts, Onsen towns, and snowy landscapes. So, although Japan’s capital city might not feel like a winter wonderland when you visit, it’s close enough to enough snow-covered areas that it truly is the best place in the country to visit during winter.
Summing Up the Best Places to Visit in Japan in Winter
Most people tend to avoid countries like Japan in winter thinking there is nothing to see or it’s too difficult. However, with the right planning and motivation, there are some stunning and worthwhile destinations to see in this amazing country. Just pick the things that appeal to you the most, and go from there! You won’t be disappointed.