Winter (December to February) in northern Japan is like a white fairy tale world: white snow, colorful Christmas illuminations, and a relaxed atmosphere. Although Japan is cold in winter, it still attracts visitors with its unique winter experiences, fewer travelers, and cheaper costs.
Japan is a great place to spend Christmas holidays with your family: relax in an onsen (hot spring) in a traditional ryokan (inn) while appreciating the snowy scenery in Hakone, ski with your teenage kids at Hokkaido's best powder-snow ski resort, experience dreamy wintry lighting in Shirakawa-go, and see snow monkeys bathe in an onsen in Nagano.
In this article, we are going to look at how to plan a winter travel itinerary, which could be a memorable family holiday.
Do I Need a Visa to Go to Japan?
Japan restored its visa-waiver system from October 11th, 2022. If your country is on the Japan visa exemption list, like Australia, Canada, USA, UK and almost all European nations, you can visit Japan for 90 days (in most cases) without applying for a visa in advance.
Alisa Liu is a star to work makes Asia Highlights even better
Alisa Liu was my contact person for Asia Highlights. She was remarkably punctual, she was thoughtful, and she handle an emergency on my end, with grace and patience. She recommended great hotels in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka Japan that put us in the center of the action. The guides she choose were personable, punctual a knowledgeable about their cities.More
Brent Zadorozny, Oct 2023
Started using Asia Highlights to plan my trip to Japan. Sharon was very helpful, giving me all the information I would need for the tour. I would definitely use Asia Highlights again, when planning another trip to Asia.More
Rachel Nelson, Oct 2023
Our airport pick-up went very smoothly. Our guide, Vivian, on the second day was very nice, very accommodating, took into account our preferences. In Osaka, our trip to the castle was a very long walk with lots of steps to climb and quite honestly wasn’t very interesting. But Dotonburi is a must-see and we enjoyed that very much.Our trip to Hiroshima was very memorable. I highly recommend it. Our guide, Etsuko, was very knowledgeable and kind. The trip to Miyajima island, on the other hand, wasn’t too memorable. Our next city, Kyoto, is a truly wonderful place to visit. All the temples we went to were very interesting and very distinctive from each other (Kinkakuji temple, Nijo castle, Sanjusangendo temple,Kiyumizo temple, Fushimi Inari shrine, Kasuga Taisha shrine, Tojaidi temple). The sake tour was a downer and wouldn’t recommend it.Our guide, Ritsuko, was a darling. She was very knowledgeable too and kind and warm and easy to talk to. Our last tour in Tokyo was a rainy day and Sue, our guide, was able to change our tour to the next day. She was so efficient and so accommodating and so kind and very knowledgeable too.More
Mrs Cristina Hidalgo Loris, Oct 2023
Very good tour of Japan
Very good tour around Japan for 10 days, including Tokyo, Hakone and Kyoto. Excellent guides and experiences. Albee, the tour organiser, was always available to sort out changes to itinerary or extra requests.More
Guy Slimmon, Oct 2023
Everything is good
All of the hotels were wonderful and our guides were super friendly, knowledgeable and flexible. We had a 10 day trip that included multiple cities and lots of different sights, we squeezed in as much as we could, including a 2 day hiking trip to Mt. Fuji (our guide Sun Nan was awesome!). Our guide in Tokyo, Jennifer, was lovely and our guide for 2 days in Kyoto, Dennis, was also super great. We did a food tour in Osaka with Vivian which was nice Sallie Fujimoto-SwunMore
Ideale Tran, Oct 2023
Thank you for the wonderful experience…
Thank you for the wonderful experience we all truely enjoyed. From the beginning (making first contact with Sharon from Asia Highlights) to the end (Saying good bye to our amazing guide Lilly) the experience was top notch. Great communication while preparing the trip and excellent local knowledge of our tour guide. I can highly recommend Asia Highlights and would not hesitate to use them again for our next trip.More
Dany Gruosso, Oct 2023
Vacations in Japan
The guides Jessie and Vivian were very kind and professionals and the drivers as well. In a future vacation we will get in touch with Asia Highlights without a doubt.More
Hilda Andrade, Oct 2023
Experience with Asia Highlights
This was my first time working with a travel agent to plan an international trip and because of the seamless experience I had, I have decided to always work with an agent when booking international trips. Asia Highlights did an amazing job in ensuring we found a trip that worked well for our budget and provided us with special experiences in Japan that exceeded our expectations. From travel logistics in Japan to lodging and activities, we felt taken care of. If I had known that travel agents were this helpful, I would have worked with them in my prior travels. I definitely plan to book my next trip to Asia with this agent.More
Adie Ballantyne, Oct 2023
Jason and Cathy from Asia Highlights…
Jason and Kathy from Asia Highlights did a great job for us. They were very responsive and professional. Hotel choices and attractions made for a wonderful first time trip to Japan.More
Norman and Mary Van Zante, Sep 2023
This was one of the best experiences in…
This was one of the best experiences in Travel that I have ever had... and I have traveled extensively. The reliability of the the driver and guide, the kindness each displayed (different people in different cities same result) and the flexibility to work with my family's requests was outstanding. I now wish for this experience where ever I may travel next!More
Donna Huck, Sep 2023
First and foremost, this review is based strictly on prompt response from Asia Highlights.I was browsing Asia Highlights website on the night of September 17th 2023 and really impressed of the positive reviews. So I decided to send an e-mail for an estimate of a private tour guide in Tokyo Japan for 6 days/7 nights including hotel accommodation for my 90-year-old father and I. I provided as much information as I can what areas of interest we would like to visit. I was really expecting a 72-hour delay response from Asia Highlights given time difference in California and Japan. The following day, I received an e-mail from Kate Long. Impressive! Kate provided a very detailed suggested itinerary with great consideration for my 90-year-old father. I truly appreciated her thoughtfulness! I will definitely reach out to Asia Highlights on our next trip! Thank you Kate!More
F K, Sep 2023
Perfectly planned and organized
Albee at Asia Highlights created a diverse, fun-filled itinerary for our trip. She listened carefully to our interests and made sure that we made the best use of our time in Japan. Our local guides, drivers and vehicles were excellent. Albee was always available to answer all my questions with a lightening fast response time. A very memorable experience and I would definitely book with Asia Highlights again.More
Carol Ann Paget Brown, Sep 2023
Sharon provided great service while…
Sharon provided great service while planning and booking our Japan trip! Unfortunately, we had to cancel due to family medical reasons. Sharon was very understanding of this and helped process the cancellation and refund in a very timely manner. When we are ready to book our trip again, I will certainly be reaching out to Sharon and Asia Highlights!More
Ali Tahir, Sep 2023
I just wanted to tell you how pleased…
I just wanted to tell you how pleased we were planning and coordinating our recent Japan trip with Alisa Liu. Alisa was responsive, answered questions in a timely manner despite our 15 hour time difference, and coordinated a trip for a 6 person multi-generational tour to everyone's satisfaction. (ages7-70!)We were particularly thankful for her help as 2 typhoons bore down on Japan during our stay. She helped us rearrange train and hotel reservations, and was able to get us a refund from a hotel that would not typically offer that. I have referred other friends to her with confidence.More
Berdine Bender, Sep 2023
Not only Albee was great! Each of our guides and drivers were also a joy. Daniel was our first knowledgeable guide who spoke excellent English and was so much fun throughout the day. Jeremy was our guide for the next few days and he also was fun, flexible, and had so many interesting tidbits to share with us throughout the day. Kiko was our guide on the next leg of our journey. She had such a joyful sense of adventure and curiosity that was such a hoot. Vivian was also professional and very aware to what our needs were in the moment. Tian was incredibly flexible and when our plans literally changed when he picked us up, he showed great flexibility and took us to some really fun places at the last minute that were some of our best experiences. And finally Charlie was our last guide and he was so thoughtful and consistently anticipated our needs. By the time we realized we might need something, he would already have it taken care of. All of our guides were so thoughtful and conscious of either making sure we got time to ourselves or of being available right when we needed them. They were each fun and had their own personal flavor that they brought to the experience. We are so grateful for the consideration and flexibility that Asia Highlights showed us consistently and would highly recommend them for anyone interested in visiting Asia. Thank you so much! It was an amazing trip!More
Leah Stine, Aug 2023
Alisa is awesome!
We have been looking to go to Japan for a long time. The food, the culture, and the rich history have always intrigued us. We tried many times to set up pieces of the trip on our own, but couldn’t put together a sensible vacation. Then we found Asia Highlights and Alisa! She helped us tailor a remarkable adventure to Japan! She answered our many questions and shifted our itinerary to maximize our time in each city. I highly recommend Alisa to help you put together the trip of a lifetime. We are looking forward to our journey!More
Mark Linn, Aug 2023
Sharon has been very helpful since the…
Sharon has been very helpful since the beginning coordinating our itinerary in order to accommodate everything we want to see, it been great working with herMore
May, Jul 2023
When I first book I was scared of what…
When I first book I was scared of what to expect, but oh my God! What an amazing experience this has been, from Sharon to all the guides Shawn and Mr. Ho, such amazing people! Their work is excellentMore
Saul Velez, Jul 2023
Albee was very helpful and responsive…
Albee was very helpful and responsive in helping me make plans for their 10 day Japanese tour.More
Bhavini Patel, Jul 2023
Alisa was a perfect tour consultant
Alisa responded to my numerous questions with efficiency and accuracy. She was constantly suggesting options to make the trip more enjoyableMore
Matha Goram, Jul 2023
4 Top Japan-in-Winter Experiences
Here are four top things to do that you should not miss in Japan in winter:
1) Relax in a Onsen in a Cozy Ryokan in Hakone
Staying at a ryokan with onsens (hot spring baths) is the most attractive experience to be had on a winter's day for many travelers from Japan and abroad.
Hakone is the home of onsens and has numerous natural hot springs, some of them are believed to have healing properties. A ryokan is a traditional-style Japanese form of accommodation where you can sleep on a tatami and enjoy high-class kaiseki (multi-course classical Japanese cuisine).
Nothing is better than to relax in an onsen with stunning snowy trees and mountains around you and your family to create unforgettable holiday moments.
Suggested reading: How Long Should I Spend in Japan
2) Ski with Your Kids in Hokkaido/Nagano
Japan has lots of family-friendly ski resorts offering quality powder snow, perfect surroundings, clear English signage, and excellent service. Japan has the best ski resorts in Asia, but it is still cheaper to ski there than in Europe.
Hokkaido's pistes are definitely some of the top Japan destinations in winter, where world-class ski resorts include Niseko and Rusutsu. Skiing in Hokkaido you can enjoy light and fluffy snow, icy mountain scenery, professional English-speaking skiing lessons for kids, teenagers, and families, and fresh seafood.
Nagano, just an hour and a half from Tokyo, is also a well-known ski resort. Once the main venue for the Winter Olympics, Hakuba Valley is Nagano's best family-friendly ski resort.
Check more details about plan a ski holiday with your family>>>
3) See Charming Winter Lighting in Shirakawa-go
Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a picturesque village known for its traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, which have steep thatched roofs that are named after 'praying hands'. In recent years, Shirakawa-go has become popular with travelers for its beautiful countryside views and unique farmhouses.
These farmhouses are extremely charming when covered in snow and illuminated at night. The wintry lighting scenes can usually be seen from January to February, but the lighting-up time varies from year to year and stays require advance booking.
Contact our travel advisors and we can arrange it for you.
4) Watch Snow Monkeys Soak in Onsens in Nagano
Nagano is a city surrounded by mountains and is not far from Tokyo. It's well-known for its Hakuba Ski Resort and snow monkeys that soak in hot springs. It is a good place to go for family holidays in winter.
Monkeys (Japanese macaques) in Jigokudani Monkey Park are the only ones in the world who love to soak in hot springs in winter. Watching the snowflakes fall on the monkeys, each of them relaxing in hot springs to keep warm, would be a new and unforgettable memory of the trip.
Winter Itineraries in Japan: The Top 2 Options
Here are two winter itineraries that are hand-picked for families visiting Japan for the first time with two popular lengths of holidays (9 and 14 days), both including relaxing in hot springs, seeing snow-covered shrines, enjoying a cup of steaming Japanese tea, and the option to go skiing with your kids.
1) The 9-Day Classical Route: Cover Major Highlights in Japan and Ryokan Experience
This itinerary covers the top highlights of Japan: experience kid-favoured anime elements and an attractive Christmas atmosphere and illuminations in Tokyo, soak in onsens at a comfortable ryokan with snow scenery in Hakone, spend family time in Kyoto trying on kimonos and feeding friendly deer.
Here is a summary itinerary for you (contact us for more details):
- Days 1–3: Tokyo (samurai, make sushi, anime center, and Asakusa)
- Days 4–5: Hakone (ryokans with onsens)
- Days 6–8: Kyoto (snow-covered shrines, geishas, sake, and feed deer)
- Day 9: Osaka and departure
It's also a great idea to spend an extra 2–3 days having a family ski time in Nagano, which is not far from Tokyo.
Suggested reading: 10 Days in Japan>>>
2) 14-Day Best Winter Experience Route: Skiing, Snow Monkeys in Onsens, Wintry Lighting in Shirakawa-go
You can get the best winter experience in Japan with this itinerary: ski and explore a famous chocolate factory in Sapporo — capital of Hokkaido, take a day trip to Otaru to enjoy a snowy view on the Otaru Canal, see the magical sight of snow monkeys soaking in hot springs in Nagano, and appreciate the wintry lighting in Shirakawa-go.
Here is a summary itinerary for your inspiration (contact us for further details):
- Days 1–3: Sapporo (skiing, the most famous local chocolate factory and Sapporo Ice Festival)
- Day 4: Otaru (Otaru Canal and exquisite glass)
- Days 5–7: Fly to Tokyo (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Tower, sumo, and anime)
- Day 8: Nagano (snow monkeys soaking in hot springs)
- Days 9–10: Takayama and Shirakawa-go (well-preserved townhouses and snow-covered gassho-zukuri farmhouses)
- Days 11–13: Kyoto (geisha, tea ceremony, sake, ryokan with onsen, feed deer in Nara)
- Day 14: Depart from Kansai International Airport in Osaka
Tips for Winter Travel in Japan
To create a wonderful winter trip in Japan, here are some suggested tips to help you to avoid unnecessary hassles.
- Christmas and New Year is one of the busiest times in Japan. It's better to plan ahead and book flights and hotels at least 6 months in advance to reserve your favourite hotel/room.
- Winter in Japan is cold and snowy. You'd better take thick clothes to keep warm. We recommend you to bring a down jacket, gloves, and waterproof boots.
- Most ski resorts in Japan have rental shops to rent or sell ski equipment, so you don't have to take heavy ski equipment to Japan. Of course, it's okay to bring your own equipment. You can pay for a delivery service that will ship your skis directly to the ski resort.
Just let us know your interests and requirements, and we can help make it happen.
Winter Weather in Japan
Winter in Japan is from December to February and the weather is cold and dry.
- In Sapporo on Hokkaido, the average daily temperature range is from 0°C (32°F) in the warmest part of the day down to -6°C (20°F) at night. While in Tokyo or Kyoto temperatures average above freezing, ranging from 2 to 10°C (36–50°F) on average.
- The average rainfall per month in winter is low in Tokyo/Kyoto at around 58 mm (2 in), but the average snowfall in Sapporo on Hokkaido is a moderate 104 mm (4 in) — and more snow falls at Hokkaido's mountainous resorts.
December sees the beginning of winter in Japan, with clear skies, and colder and drier weather. Cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Sapporo get into the festive spirit when celebrating Christmas and New Year.
January/February is the best time to ski in the white world of northern Japan. The high-quality powder snow is the most important feature of ski resorts in Japan, which attracts many skiers to come and enjoy it.
How Much Does a Japan Winter Trip Cost?
Japan rivals Europe both in terms of facilities and service standards, which means that travel in Japan costs more than in China or in Southeast Asian countries.
US$350-500 per person per day is the typical cost for a private tour with 4-star hotels, based on a family of 3–5 people. This includes a private guide, private car, full-day itinerary, tickets for attractions, and a local 4-star hotel.
Why Travel with Asia Highlights (98.8% positive customer reviews among 10,000+)
- Unique experiences tailored to your interests: Enjoy a premium trip that goes beyond the typical tourist attractions.
- Hassle-free travel and peace of mind: Every aspect of your trip will be carefully planned and organized by your 1:1 travel consultant.
- Experienced and knowledgeable guides: Your guides will be local and love to work for travelers' smiles.
- 7-Day Japan Cherry Blossom Tour 2024: Essential Springtime Mini-Group Tour
- 7-Day Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka Tour
- 8-Day Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Osaka Tour
- 9-Day Japan Highlights Tour
- 10-Day Japan Cherry Blossom Spring 2024 Mini-Group Tour
- 10-Day Tokyo, Yokohama, Hakone, Kyoto, Nara and Osaka Tour
- 11-Day Traditional Japan Tour
- 12-Day Classic Japan Tour
- 12-Day Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, Osaka and Himeji Tour
- 2-Week Highlights of Japan in the Cherry Blossom Season 2024 Mini-Group Tour
- 16-Day South Korea and Japan Cultural Adventure Tour
- 16-Day Japan and China Discovery Tour
- How to Plan a Trip to China and Japan
- Plan a Japan Cherry Blossom Trip 2024, Dates and Avoid Crowds
- Plan a Family Trip to Japan 2024, Well-Selected Experiences & Itineraries
- How to Plan a Luxury Trip to Japan in 2024/2025
- Best (and Worst) Time to Visit Japan 2024, Cherry Blossom Time
- One Week in Japan: Top 5 Itineraries in 2024 for First-Timers
- 8-Day Japan Itineraries: 4 Ultimate Top-Theme Ideas
- 10-Day Itineraries in Japan: Top 5 Ideas in 2024
- 12 Days in Japan: 4 Best Itinerary Ideas for First-Timers
- 2 Weeks in Japan: Top 4 Itinerary Options
- 3 Weeks in Japan: Top 3 Itineraries for 2024
- How to Plan a 2-Week Itinerary in Japan and South Korea
- Japan Weather in January 2024: Travel Tips for First-Timers
- Japan Weather in February 2024: Travel Tips for First-Timers
- Japan Weather in March 2024: Travel Tips for First-Timers
- Japan Weather in April 2024, Travel Tips (for First-Timers)
- Japan Weather in May 2024: Travel Tips for First-Timers
- Japan Weather in June 2024: Coolest Summer Month, Travel Tips
- Japan Weather in July 2024: Best for Festivals, Travel Tips
- Japan Weather in August 2024: Travel Tips for First-Timers
- Japan Weather in September, Travel Tips (for First-Timers)
- Japan Weather in October 2024: Travel Tips for First-Timers
- Japan Weather in November 2024: Best Autumn Month, Travel Tips
- Japan Weather in December 2024: Travel Tips for First-Timers
Get Inspired with Some Popular Itineraries
At Asia Highlights, we create your kind of journey — your dates, your destinations, at your pace. You can have any trip tailor made for your travel.