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Top Winter Destinations in Japan

Top Winter Destinations in Japan

By CarolUpdated Jul. 27, 2021

Japan is one of the most beautiful Asian countries in winter. There are many features that attract visitors at that time of year, such as the skiing possibilities, the winter wonders, and festivals like the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival. Many places in Japan are fun to visit in winter, but in this article we introduce you to the six best winter destinations.

Nagano is recommended for visitors who want to see Japanese snow monkeys and take an onsen bath. Takayama is fascinating for its old town in winter. Shirakawa-go is stunning for its snowy landscape village. Sapporo and Otaru are enchanting with their snow festivals. Niseko is perfect with its legendary powder snow, a perfect place for skiers and snowboarders.

Highlights

  • The winter temperatures in Japan can range from -15o to 8 oC (5o to 46.4 oF).
  • Winter in Hokkaido is claimed to be the coldest in the whole of Japan.
  • If you want to see Japanese snow monkeys or dip in an onsen bath, go to Nagano. But if you want to see the polar bear, which is almost extinct, go to Sapporo.
  • The perfect place for skiing and snowboarding is in Hokkaido area, particularly in Niseko.
  • Sapporo and Otaru are famous for their snow festivals, while Takayama is famous for its old townscape.
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Nagano

Nagano is the capital city of Nagano Prefecture in the Chubu region. Winter temperatures range from -5o to 7oC (23o to 45 oF). Nagano is a perfect place for skiing and snowboarding and also for taking an onsen bath. Besides, you can also see the typical Japanese monkeys and the fascinating Diamond Dust phenomenon in this city.

Nagano is a heaven for winter sport enthusiasts, since the good quality of deep powder snow will make your skiing and snowboarding experience incredible. Besides doing winter sports, you can also see the Diamond Dust, which is when the freezing cold air fills with millions of tiny snow crystals that are sparkling when hit by sunrays.

When visiting Nagano in winter, you also must visit Jigokudani Monkey Park. It is home for Japanese's snow monkeys, which love to take an onsen bath in winter. Also, don't forget to try Nozawa Onsen, an old-fashioned hot spring and ski resort.

How to get there: You can get to Nagano from Tokyo by train. It will take around 80-100 minutes and cost about 8000 Yen (72 USD) one way. There are hourly trains every day.

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Takayama

Takayama is a popular old town, located in Gifu Prefecture. The temperatures range from -6o to 6oC (21o to 43 oF). Takayama is famous for its traditional architecture that reflects the old lifestyle in Japan. It is also the pioneer of sightseeing-rickshaws in Japan.

When you walk down the streets you will come across the merchant quarters. These merchant houses preserve their traditional exteriors just as they were, and you can find many souvenir shops and cafes with old-fashioned atmosphere and hand-made stuff that will bring you back to the Edo Period.

Takayama becomes even more stunning with the snow covering those traditional houses and streets. Just like the other old towns in Japan, you can still find country atmosphere.

Location: Around 4.5 hours from Tokyo via Nagoya.

How to get there: From Tokyo you take a train to Nagoya (100-120 minutes), then transfer to JR Hida express train to Takayama (140 minutes). The cost for an entire one-way trip is about 14,000 Yen (156 USD).

Shirakawa-Go

Shirakawa-go is a beautiful village in Gifu Prefecture. It is only 45 minutes from Takayama to Shirakawa-go by bus. The snowy landscape of this village is breathtakingly fascinating. Temperatures range from -5o to 6oC (23o to 43 oF).

There are typical houses in Shirakawa-go, the Gassho-zukuri. They are traditional houses built of wood, with the special characteristics of roofs resembling two hands pressed together in prayer. Gassho-zukuri are perfectly beautiful when covered in snow.

Shirakawa-go is a perfect winter destination. The farmhouses, trees, and the mountainous views with snow covering, makes them into a pristine beauty, that made this village become one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Location: Around 4.5 hours from Tokyo via Toyama.

How to get there: From Tokyo go to Toyama first by train (130-170 minutes) and then transfer to the bus to Shirakawa-go (90 minutes). The cost for an entire one-way trip is about 14,200 Yen (128 USD).

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Sapporo

Sapporo is the largest city in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. Temperatures in winter range form -8o to 2oC (17.6o to 35.6 oF). In Sapporo you can stroll through the Maruyama Zoo as well as enjoy the famous Sapporo Snow Festival.

Maruyama Zoo is located in eastern Sapporo, and it is the oldest zoo in Hokkaido. The main attraction is the endangered polar bear. Other cute animals, like the red panda cubs, look very sweet when walking on the snow.

If you visit Sapporo in February, you are advised to come at the time of Sapporo Snow Festival, since this is the main winter attraction there. It is the biggest snow festival in Hokkaido and it is held in 3 sites, Odori, Susukino, and Tsudomu. You can see snow sculptures of various sizes, the biggest giant snow sculpture is 15m in height and 12m in width!

Location: Around 7.5 hours from Tokyo.

How to get there: First you take the JR Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto (4 hours), and then transfer to the train to Sapporo (3.5 hours). The cost for the entire one-way trip is about 27,000 Yen (243 USD).

Otaru

Otaru is a small city not too far from Sapporo, also located in Hokkaido Prefecture. Temperatures in winter range from -7o to 2oC (19.4o to 35.6 oF). The main attraction for visitors to see in this town is the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival that is also held in February.

Otaru Snow Light Path Festival is a festival of snow and candles. Old-fashioned Otaru is illuminated and becomes a dreamlike townscape.

Otaru Snow Light Path Festival mainly takes place in the evenings, but there are a lot of interesting attractions to explore during daytime as well, like the Otaru Canal with Victorian-style street lamps, some museums, Japan's traditional rickshaw, cute and creative snowmen.

Location: 30 - 45 minutes from Sapporo.

How to get there: There is direct train from Sapporo to Otaru. It costs around 640 Yen (5.8 USD) one-way.

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Niseko

Niseko is a ski destination, around three hours from Sapporo. Niseko has gained international popularity by its world-class powder snow. The visitors, mainly from Australia, Asian and European countries, are increasing every year. Temperatures in winter range from -12o to 0oC (10.4o to 32 oF).

Niseko is the perfect place for skiing and snowboarding. One of the best skiing places in Niseko is Niseko Mountain Resort Grand Hirafu. This place is perfect for every level of skier or snowboarder.

You can feel the snow in Niseko is dry, light, soft and fluffy like marshmallows or cotton. Besides, the amount of snow is tremendous (average of 15 meters per season). You can see diamond-like snow dust, if sun rays hit the snow in the right spots.

Location: Around 2 hours from Sapporo.

How to get there: You can catch a train from Sapporo to Otaru, which takes around 30-45 minutes, and then take a train to Kutchan (Niseko) for 60-80 minutes. The total cost for a one-way trip is about 1800 Yen (16 USD).

You might like to read

Top Things to Do in Japan

Top 15 Landmarks of Japan

Eating and Drinking in Japan

Traveling Round Japan by Bullet Train

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