Ultimate Guide to Activities in Japan in Winter
About to experience your first winter in Japan? Or maybe you want to know more about the interesting activities and traditions Japan has during winter? Then you are in the right place! This unique guide will provide you with all the information you need for the coming winter while telling you some interesting activities and places in Japan during winter. For those who don’t want to be stuck at the same place in Japan for this winter, we also have a list of activities and places we recommend you visit across Japan!
If you wish to know more about Japanese culture and language, then make sure to check out our main page to learn more!
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What’s winter like in Japan?
For many Japanese, winter can be just as important as Christmas is to many westerners. The Japanese New Year (Shōgatsu) happens during winter and winter-related events will pop up across Japan. From the world-famous Sapporo Snow Festival to the Marunouchi Illumination in front of Tokyo station, Japan during winter has a lot to offer and you will never be bored. On the other hand, if you are coming from a warmer country than Japan, then going through your first winter could be a big concern. So let’s tackle some of the most common concerns foreigners have about Japan during winter.
Japan Winter Temperatures
Because of Japan’s unique geography, the average winter temperature will vary a lot during winter. But still, let’s discuss the temperature of the biggest cities in Japan. The average winter temperature in Tokyo and Osaka is around 2 to 12 degrees Celsius. For northern places like Hokkaido, the average winter temperature can go as low as -6 degrees Celsius. The weather is much warmer if you go to Okinawa during winter, with the average temperature going around 17 degrees Celsius. There is a common trait that all areas of Japan have during winter - it rains very little. This means that the weather can be quite dry in winter times. So make sure you have the necessary tools to protect your skin in this Japanese winter.
What to wear in Japan during winter?
We will be using Tokyo as a reference for the appropriate clothing during winter here, so keep that in mind if you are living in the northern areas like Aomori and Hokkaido. The average clothing for Japan during winter is usually a long-sleeve T-shirt combined with a coat or down jacket. For those who are susceptible to cold temperatures, gloves and scarves might also be needed.
What are some tricks used by the Japanese to make their winter life more comfortable?
One common trick used by many Japanese is heating pads (Kairo). Just stick a few of them to your clothing and it will protect you from the cold. If you want to get the true Japanese winter experience (and have the space for it), then consider getting a Kotatsu.
Simply put, Kotatsu is a low table that is covered by a special blanket. It has an electrical heater below the center of the table which keeps your lower body warm and comfy. Kotatsu has been one of the most iconic pieces of furniture that the Japanese use to combat cold during winter. Although as technology advances, heating the entire room becomes more and more common, many Japanese will still have a kotatsu out when winter comes despite turning on the heating in the room.
For those who are on a budget - Uniqlo and more
For those who don’t have the luxury of getting a Kotatsu or turning on heating all the time, we also have some recommendations for you! Consider getting some clothes from Uniqlo. It’s cheap and its design keeps heat from your body inside the cloth. Alternativity, for those who want to stay warm with some traditional Japanese food, Oden (御田) is a great choice! It is a type of stew that the Japanese eat whenever winter comes. It has ingredients like boiled eggs, daikon, fishcakes, and many more. This is a great way to stay warm while experiencing an important piece of Japanese winter culture. Speaking of Oden...
What other unique food can I get in Japan in winter?
No matter how long you have lived in Japan, one thing that we can all agree with is that Japan has great food. This is also true during winter. There will be many interesting and delicious foods available to you. Here are some of our picks for the best food to try out during winter.
If you have tried Chinese cuisine, this one might be familiar to you. The Japanese have their own spin on how hot-pot is done. Whether it’s the famous Shabu-shabu or a more classic Chanko Nabe, they are all excellent dishes for a cold winter. There are also different types of Nabe depending on the region you are in. So if you happen to travel to a new region in Japan in winter, trying out the local Nabe could be a great idea.
This is not so much of a winter food but more so a new year's food. The Kagami mochi (mirror rice cake) is an important part of traditional Japanese culture and symbolizes a bright new year ahead. There are also Mochi-pounding festivals around Japan when the new year comes. So make sure to look out for one of those.
While it’s true that you could find and eat Yuzu all year round, the best and most flavorful Yuzu in Japanese comes in the middle of winter. As a foreigner who has lived in Japan for a few years, trust me when I say that eating Yuzu while sitting in the Kotatsu/ in the comfort of your own home is a tradition that I’m more than happy to adapt to. There are also various seasonal Yuzu-related foods in restaurants whenever winter comes, so be on the lookout for them if you are a big Yuzu fan.
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What are some interesting events and places I could visit in Japan in Winter?
Japan has some of the most exciting and amazing events and places one could visit during winter. Whether it’s a giant illumination show or a Christmas market or something more unique. There is going to be something for everyone to enjoy. Here are our picks for some of the best locations and events you could visit in Japan in Winter.
Our picks for the best events and places to go to if you are in Tokyo
Since many foreigners are living in Tokyo, this is where our recommendations start. Tokyo has some of the best Christmas illuminations you can find across Japan. It has a good combination of western winter events and traditional Japanese activities you can partake in. Some of these events include:
Roppongi Hills Christmas Market / Illuminations
This annual German-style Christmas market is one of the most famous winter attractions in Tokyo. While this is not the largest Christmas market you could find in Japan, it is the oldest Christmas market in Tokyo. This first one can be traced back to 2006. Every year there are unique decorations and illuminations for all to see. Combined with the illuminations at Roppongi Hills, it made for a stunning Christmas attraction.
Date: Nov 28, 2021 – Dec 25, 2021 (note that the date is an estimate and is subjected to change)
Location: Roppongi Hills Oyane Plaza 6 Chome-10-1 Roppongi, Minato City, Tokyo 106-6108
If you are looking for more traditional events, Tokyo has that covered too! The Setagaya Boro-Ichi is one of the oldest flea markets in Japan, with the first one being held in 1578. It is one of Tokyo’s intangible folk cultural properties and represents a crucial and traditional part of Tokyo. There will be hundreds of vendors there selling all kinds of items. From daily necessities to Japanese antiques to traditional street food, there will be something interesting for everyone who visits the market. The closing of the flea market will also be marked by a firecracker show. So make sure to stay behind if it’s something you want to see.
Date: Jan 15, 2022 - Jan 16, 2022 9:00am – 9:00pm
Location: Boroichi Dori, Boroichi Dori, 1-chome Setagaya City, Tokyo 154-0017
Interested in learning more about Japanese culture? We have A Comprehensive Guide to Japanese Culture that talks all about it! Go check that out after this article.
Hagoita Ichi Fair
Yes, I know everyone has been to Sensoji. But going to this famous temple during the Hagoita-Ichi Fair might paint it in a new light. It is one of the more famous winter events in Tokyo and attracts Japanese and foreigners to visit the temple again every year. One of the biggest attractions for this market is hagoita, they are rectangular bats used for a traditional new year's game named hanetsuki. The simplest explanation I could give about this game is badminton with the net. Check out the Wiki article on this traditional game if you are interested.
There are many uniquely designed bats sold at the fair every year. Since hanetsuki as a game has been less popular over the years, the bats sold at the market are more of a good luck charm rather than an actual bat. You could also find a more modern take on the bat, with popular celebrities and anime characters being printed on the bat.
Date: Dec 17, 2021 – Dec 19, 2021 9:00am – 9:00pm
Location: Sensō-Ji 2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0032
Interested in a more traditional side of Japanese culture and buildings? Then check out our Ultimate Guide to Shrines and Temples in Tokyo to learn more!
I’m in Osaka. What are the places and events I can visit?
Being the third most populous city in Japan and the center of traditional Japanese culture, Osaka has just as many interesting places and events as Tokyo during winter. Here’s our pick for the must-see and must-go if you are living in Osaka.
Osaka Castle Iluminage
This is one of the most unique illuminations you can find in all of Japan. Just below the Osaka castle, there will be a variety of illumination each year that represent the most famous attractions in Osaka. There are also separate areas that have illumination which represent different eras of Japan. If you are interested in going just remember this is one of the most sought out events in Osaka during winter, so it’s better to buy advance tickets from the convenience store.
Date: Nov 27, 2020 – Mar 7, 2021 5:00pm – 10:00pm
Location: Nishinomaru Garden, Osaka-jo, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 540-0002
German Christmas Market
Tokyo is not the only city in Japan that has a Christmas market. Osaka also has its own German-style Christmas market. The main attraction for this annual Christmas market is a 27 meter-tall Christmas tree with shining decorations. Similar to the Roppongi market, it will also have German-style food and beverages with all kinds of Christmas-related goods. The Christmas atmosphere is just as good as the one in Roppongi so you are not missing out on anything. However, last year’s Christmas market was canceled because of the pandemic so there’s still no date on when this year’s market will happen. If you are interested then make sure to follow the announcement made by Umeda Sky Building in the coming months.
Date: Mid Nov – Late Dec 12:00pm – 9:00pm
Location: Shin Umeda City Wonder Square 1 Chome-1-20 Oyodonaka, Kita Ward, Osaka, 531-0076
Here’s another out-of-this-world illumination in Osaka. Every year the trees along with the Midosuji Averune lights in one of the most spectacular illuminations in all of Japan. Over 500 trees were decorated with stunning and colorful lights that stretched across 4km from Umeda to Namba. This is without a doubt, one of the most amazing Christmas illuminations you will see in Japan and a must-see for foreigners living in Osaka. There’s also a video on how it looked like last year so check it out if you are interested.
Date: Early Nov – Late Dec
Location: Midosuji Boulevard
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I want to go skiing in Japan in Winter! But where should I go?
It would be a waste if you never go skiing once while staying in Japan. There are around 500 ski resorts across Japan so there’s a variety in both scenery and difficulty. Most sites on google will tell you to go to Hokkaido but the ski areas there can be difficult for people who are new to skiing. Therefore the purpose of this section is to give you some ideas on where you could go skiing if you are a beginner. We also have some recommendations for you intermediate-level skiers so don’t click off just yet.
Kita Shinshu Kijimadaira Ski Resort, Nagano
Located in the Kijimadaira Village, this ski resort is our first recommendation for two reasons. First, it’s relatively close to Tokyo, travelling all the way to the resort from Tokyo only takes around 3-4 hours by train. Secondly the tracks there is a mixture of beginning to advanced difficulty tracks. It has some of the steepest courses in Japan while also having a beginner-friendly course. So if your group of friends happens to have people who are at different levels of skiing, then this resort will be a great choice for everyone. This is also the first winter resort to allow snowboarding.
Opening Hours: 8:45 AM – 4:30 PM
Location: 389-2303 Nagano, Shimotakai District, Kijimadaira, 村上木島3876-2
Rusutsu Resort, Hokkaido
If you have decided to go to Hokkaido for this winter and are new to skiing, then this ski resort in the western region of Hokkaido is one that we(and many other skiers) recommend. It has a good mixture of beginning and intermediate courses and has both ski and snowboarding lessons available to foreigners. The resort is also relatively close to Sapporo so you won’t have to travel very far to enjoy skiing in Japan in winter.
Opening Hours: 9:00 – 16:00
Location: 048-1711 Hokkaido, Abuta District, Rusutsu, Izumikawa, 13番地
Tambara Ski Park, Gunma
This ski park is for those who just want to have a good time with their family, it has a separate course dedicated for families, and the average steepness for the course is just 5 degrees. The access to the ski park is also quite friendly, with a 50-minute free shuttle bus from a shinkansen station. Getting to the park from Tokyo station should take just shy of four hours. The one thing to keep in mind for this resort is that it is located higher than any of the ski resorts mentioned previously, so make sure to prepare adequate clothing before heading there.
It will not be a good ski resort list if we don’t mention the resorts at Niseko. Niseko is often called the “Best place to learn to ski” The ski resorts there have a range of course situations for all levels of skiers. It also has some of the best accommodation you can find in Japan while accompanied by a great nightlife. Some of the best and most foreigner-friendly ski resorts are all located in Niseko. The one downside is that the resorts there can be quite expensive compared to the resorts on this list.
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Northern Japan is too cold for me. What are some interesting places down south I could visit in Japan in Winter?
This section is for those who have been to various ski resorts in Hokkaido or have seen all there is to winter in northern Japan. While going to Kyushu or Okinawa during winter seems counterintuitive, there is quite a bit to see during winter for these areas as well. Here are some of our picks for the interesting events and places that might get you to plan a trip down south for this winter.
Skiing in Kyushu: The Kujyu Forest Park Skiing Ground
Yes, you saw it right, you can ski in Kyushu. The Kujyu Shinrin Koen (Forest Park) is one of the largest ski resorts in Kyushu and offers beginner to intermediate-level courses. It also has a snowboarding area for those who are interested. Of course, the size of this resort cannot be compared to those in Hokkaido or Nagano, but it does offer a fresh experience for those who are used to skiing in northern Japan. This is also a great destination to add to your itinerary if you are planning on an Osen trip in Kyushu this winter.
Opening Hours: Weekdays 9:00-17:00, Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays 8:30-17:00
Location: Yutsubo 612-1, Kokonoe Town, Kusu County, Oita Prefecture
For those who really hate the cold: Visiting Okinawa in winter
Since Okinawa is far south compared to the rest of Japan, even during winter the average temperature in Okinawa is quite warm, with it fluctuating between 15-20 degrees Celsius. There is no better place than Okinawa to escape the cold without traveling outside the country. There are also some unique activities you can only do in Okinawa during winter. For example, it is only possible to watch whales migrate from the Aleutian Islands to Okinawa during winter and early spring. Another activity you can do is actually Hanami (cherry blossom viewing).
Because of Okinawa’s weather, the blooming season of Cherry blossoms in Okinawa is around mid-January to mid-February, meaning you will be one of the very first people in Japan to enjoy Cherry blossoms next year. Additionally, most of the attractions in Okinawa are not bound by season. So if you have not been to Okinawa before, visiting it during winter might not be such a ridiculous idea.
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What are some of the most unique activities in Japan in winter?
Aside from skiing and Christmas lights, here are some of our picks for the most unique activities and places you can visit during winter.
Sapporo Snow Festival
This is a staple for any must-go/must-see list when it comes to winter events in Japan. There is simply nothing like the Sapporo Snow Festival. Millions of people from both domestic and abroad travel to Sapporo each year just to see all the interesting sculptures made by talented artists. In addition to the amazing ice sculptures, there are also snow slides for families and a stage for exciting events every year. This is a festival so iconic that if you haven’t visited it before, then it should be on top of your list this year.
Date: Feb 5, 2022 – Feb 12, 2022
Location: Odori and Susukino Sites: Central Sapporo; Tsu Dome Site: Sakaemachi
Visiting Jigokudani Yaen Kōen (Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park)
This place is also quite famous among queue winter locations in Japan. Located in Yamanouchi, Nagano, it is a must-see if you are planning on visiting Nagago during winter. As the name suggests, the park is filled with Japanese Macaques (Snow Monkeys). The park has a central pool for the snow monkeys to bathe in while giving tourists great opportunities to take pictures. Since the monkeys are so used to seeing humans you can get very close to them without scaring them off.
Date: No closing days unless announced on official site; 9:00 to 16:00
Location: 6845 Hirao, Yamanochi, Shimotakai District, Nagano 381-0401
Although accessibility for foreigners at the park has been improving over the years, it is still recommended that you know a degree of Japanese before heading to the park. Here at Japan Switch, we offer excellent online Japanese lessons for those who want to learn Japanese and apply it to their trip across Japan this winter. Alternatively, you can take a look at our Ultimate Guide to Japanese Conversation to learn some basics of Japanese conversation.
Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival
Another traditional winter festival. This time it’s located in Yokote city, Akita. The event includes hundreds of snow domes of different sizes called Kamakura. These snow domes are built to deify the water god and are built across the city. This is one of the more unique festivals in Japan, even among the Japanese. Heading to the Festival from Tokyo takes around 4 hours using shinkansen.
Date: December 29, 2021 to January 3, 2022 ; 9:00 to 17:00
Location: Yokote City, Akita
Fun Fact: Did you know that JR East recently allowed foreign residents to purchase the Tohoku area pass and the Nagano, Niigata area pass despite not being a tourist? Just go to your nearest JR East Travel Service Centre to get a pass and travel to your heart's content this winter!
Winter can be one of the most exciting seasons for many Japanese and foreigners alike. With the number of activities and places we have discussed in this article, there is bound to be something for everyone this winter. We hope this article gave you some good ideas on where to go in Japan in winter.
Since you have searched for Japan during winter, you might also be interested in our guide to Seasons in Japan. Within it, we talked about the best activities and places to go to for each season. So go check it out!
Do you know what else is coming other than winter? Halloween! Halloween in Japan can be just as exciting as the winter events. So go check out our Guide to Halloween in Japan to learn more!
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