Japan is one of the best places to visit in winter because not only is it wonderful for skiing, but you can also experience some Japanese winter festivals such as Sapporo Snow Festival, Snow Light Path Festival, and many more.
If you plan to visit Japan in winter, then you must not miss the gigantic snow sculptures at the Sapporo Snow Festival or the Asahikawa Snow Festival. You are highly recommended to enjoy the tranquility as you stroll along the road in Otaru Snow Light Path Festival, and you may also enjoy the encounter with Japanese wild animals such as the Japanese snow monkey and the elegant red-crowned crane.
- Japan’s winter usually lasts from December to February.
- Besides skiing and snowboarding, you can also enjoy many fabulous snow festivals in different areas of Japan.
- The many giant snow sculptures are worth seeing.
- It is only in Japan that you can watch wild monkeys bathe in natural hot spring water.
- Beside monkeys, you can also see another typical animal, the endangered Japanese cranes, which dance beautifully in cold temperatures.
Visiting Japan in Winter
Winter in Japan usually runs from December to February. In Tokyo, the average temperature is around 12oC (54oF) in the afternoon and 5oC (41oF) in the morning and at night. Winter weather is quite sunny and dry along the pacific coast.
If you are a snow lover, Japan is one of the perfect places to travel during the winter season. Japan offers a huge amount of snow; sometimes it can be waist-deep. Besides, you can also visit different Snow Festivals and admire the giant snow sculptures.
Snow Festivals in Japan
Japan has many winter festivals, but the most prominent ones are Sapporo Snow Festival, Otaru Snow Light Path Festival, Asahikawa Winter Festival, and Yokote Kamakura Festival. Most of the festivals are held in February. Here we give you some introduction to those festivals:
Sapporo Snow Festival
Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido Island. Every February, there will be Japan’s most remarkable winter event – called Sapporo Snow Festival (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri) – held for 7 days. This snow festival features its large snow sculptures and events to attract more than two million visitors, both local and foreign.
The main site of Sapporo Snow Festival is located in Odori Park. Some snow sculptures, which are more than 25 meters in width and 15 meters in height, are exhibited there. Besides a dozen of large snow sculptures, it also displays more than one hundred smaller snow statues. The entrance ticket is JPY 720 (USD 6.5) per adult.
Otaru Snow Light Path Festival
Otaru Snow Light Path Festival is a winter festival that is held every February in Otaru. Glimmering lights, lanterns and small snow statues are placed around the city during the festival and it makes the city become really glamorous and attractive.
The festival lasts for ten days and it usually runs at the same time as Sapporo Snow Festival, so it is possible for you to visit both festivals on the same trip to Hokkaido. Otaru is a small fishing town, located about 30 minutes by train from Sapporo. The festival is free admission for all visitors.
Asahikawa Winter Festival
Asahikawa Winter Festival is the second largest festival in Hokkaido after Sapporo Snow Festival and it is also held in February every year. Asahikawa city is about 80 minutes by train from Sapporo; it is the second largest city in Hokkaido.
This winter festival might not be as big as Sapporo Snow Festival, but it can boast the biggest snow sculptures; it had the world’s biggest snow construction in 1994. In 2015 they made a snow sculpture of 17 meters in height and 35 meters in width.
The theme is different every year and you can find the giant snow sculpture in Asahibashi Site, one of the two festival sites (Asahibashi and Heiwa Dori). The main site also features a firework show.
Yokote Kamakura Festival
Yokote is located in Akita Prefecture. The Yokote Kamakura Festival is held every February and it has been celebrated in Japan for more than 400 years. Kamakura is a name for igloo-like snow houses which are the main feature of this festival.
People will build many kamakura at various locations across the city. You can feel the different atmosphere inside the kamakura. A single kamakura can hold up to 4-6 people. The light bulbs inside the kamakura make it more attractive at night.
An altar is built inside each kamakura which is dedicated to the water deity. People also build small kamakura that illuminate the Yokote riverside, which makes the area look really picturesque.
Winter Wonders in Japan
There are many winter wonders in Japan. Some winter wonders can be found in Takayama and Shirakawa-go village, Nikko Region. Then there are other wonders like the Japanese snow monkey and the Japanese cranes, and the ‘Zao snow monsters’.
Takayama and Shirakawa-go
In Takayama you can find the famous Nakabashi Bridge which is very beautiful in winter. The red color of the bridge is in stark contrast with the white color of the snow, and it makes for some amazing photos! You can just walk over the bridge and enjoy the wonderful views along the river.
Shirakawa-go is the village that is located in the hill area between Gifu and Toyama. In this area you can see traditional villages and the amazing light house – which are one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites – covered with thick snow.
Jigokudani Monkey Park
Jigokudani Monkey Park is located near the base of Joshinestu Kogen National Park. It is a natural habitat of the Japanese macaque or snow monkeys. Jigokudani Monkey Park is the only place in the world where you can see wild monkeys soak themselves in a natural hot spring through the cold and heavy snowfall in winter.
The best time to visit this park is January and February.
Okunikko in Nikko
Okunikko is a mountainous region of Nikko. It lies at a higher elevation, going deeper into the mountains west of Nikko's city center. This town has a lot of historical and cultural heritage and is also blessed with rich nature.
Okunikko is a protected national park area where you can find many nature wonders such as Chuzenjiko lake, Kegon Waterfall, and many more. In winter you can find that the rocks near the shore of the lake are covered with amazing icicles and the water of the falls becomes ice too!
Cranes in the Kushiro Marshlands
The Kushiro Marshland is the largest wetland and marsh habitat in Japan. In this marshland the endangered Japanese cranes are preserved and bred. Currently it is the home for more than 1000 birds. The cranes often dance in pairs, with beautiful dips and jumps, and this makes for a very spectacular show.
Zao Snow Monsters
These famous snow monsters (or “juhyo” in Japan) can be found in Zao Onsen, Yamagata Prefecture. They are usually most spectacular around mid-February. They are called snow monsters but actually it is a phenomenon that occurs when trees are completely covered with frost and snow. The trees then will look like monsters.
Tips for Visiting Japan in Winter
If you plan to visit Japan in winter, it is a good idea to wear thermal underwear or long-johns, since it will be quite challenging to be outside without double-layered clothing. In December, January, February you will definitely need a long jacket or a coat. Gloves and a muffler are a must, especially in January and February.
If you are a beginner snowboarder, when you do snowboarding, please keep the leash attached to your body all the time. This is important to prevent the board sliding downhill and crashing into other people. Also, please make sure to be polite and respectful to the local culture.
Enjoy Winter Festivals in Japan with Asia Highlights
Asia Highlights will help you to explore Japan’s fabulous winter festivals and to experience encounters with Japan’s wildlife. We will not only help you plan the itinerary, we will also help you with the budgeting, so that you will have a satisfying experience in Japan with us!