Winter in Japan is the season for magical hikes, snow festivals, snow monkeys, onsens (always!) and of course skiing. Here’s our top reasons to visit during this time.
Each year, a number of different snow festivals throughout Japan showcase snow and ice sculptures, and feature stunning light shows! The most famous is the Sapporo Snow Festival, an incredible winter wonderland spread across three huge sites. The main venue, Odori Park, runs through the middle of town for 1.5km and hosts internationally themed snow and ice carvings, lots of food stands, skating rink and more. In 2020, the festival runs from Friday 31 January to Wednesday 12 February.
With a reputation for deep, light, powdery snow that falls regularly all winter, Japan is one of the world’s best skiing and snowboarding destinations. The height of ski season in Japan is typically from December to April (it differs slightly across resorts). The stunning mountain vistas, well-groomed runs, onsens and tasty food make it a great all-round experience.
The best time of year to see Japan’s world-famous snow monkeys (Japanese macaques) is in winter. At the Jigokudani Monkey Park you can observe these wild monkeys going about their daily lives, including their unique behaviour of bathing in the natural hot springs. They are the only troop known to do so. If you walk the Nakasendo Way, you can easily reach the conservation area by train (1.5 hours) to Nagano from the end of your walk and then take a short bus ride. Nagano itself is a nice city to visit with a great temple and was once the home of the Winter Olympics.
Onsen (Japanese hot springs)
Traditional Japanese onsens are a wonderful and unique experience any time of year, but winter takes the cake! An outdoor onsen in winter is a snowy, secluded and magical experience.
The number of people visiting Japan is increasing every year. The walking trails do not get affected; however, if you are planning to visit major tourist hubs like Tokyo or Kyoto the crowds can be overwhelming for first-time travellers to Japan. If you want to skip the queues and get some amazing photos, then winter is the best time of year to go.
We are your Japan experts!
RAW Travel has a dedicated team who deal with just the Nakasendo Way and Kumano Kodo hiking trails. We have great knowledge and experience of both walks, and our staff travel to Japan each year to update their local knowledge.
We also have own Japanese staff on the ground to help with any difficulties you may have during your trip and to smooth the way.
Preparation is the key to enjoying a hike in Japan – we run free Japan hiking information nights and training walks to help our clients prepare properly for the rigours of the trail and travelling in Japan.