Come winter, Japan will transform into a magnificent winter wonderland. This opens up a multitude of possibilities for people who love winter sports. Not only can they ski to their heart’s content while admiring picturesque snow-capped landscapes, they can also ride on snow mobiles and try out snowboarding. For those of you who are not that sporty, fret not. Japan still has lots to offer you, with options spanning the whole gamut from onsens to snow festivals to awe-inspiring attractions. Here are four awesome ways you can enjoy snow in Japan.
Snowy Japan is a paradise for ski enthusiasts because it boasts the kind of feather-light powdery snow that will gently break your fall rather than with a painful thud. Many prefectures are heavenly for skiing: Hokkaido, Niigata, Yamagata, Shizuoka, Nagano, among others. They have gorgeous ski resorts that come with their own unique selling points. Some of them allow for night-skiing, which is great for die-hard skiing fanatics who want to pack as much skiing as they can into a trip. For travellers who would prefer a relaxing ski-spa combination, they can turn to other resorts that are strategically located near onsens where they can soak away their fatigue after a full day of skiing.
Or if breathtaking paranomic scenery is what knocks your socks off, Japan will more than fulfill your expectations; it will blow your mind away with some arresting sights! Imagine skiing with the majestic, word-renowned Mount Fuji in the background. Or skiing amongst juhyo (樹氷 ice-frosted trees) that evoke a surreally mystical feel. Just how cool is that?! Whatever your preferences, you are sure to find a resort that is the best fit for your needs.
Held at three sites for a week in February, Sapporo Snow Festival attracts both domestic and international tourists alike to partake in its festivities. Rows of snow statues in all shapes and sizes will be prominently displayed, transforming Odori Park into a lively spectacle. Be sure to visit this park at night too, for this is when the statues will be illuminated, dazzling the starry night with all their splendour. Not forgetting the ice sculptures displayed at the Susukino Site. Have fun spotting Hokkaido’s delicacies such as salmon and crabs frozen inside the ice!
-English Name: Sapporo Snow Festival
-Japanese Name: さっぽろ雪まつり
-Open Hours/Closed Day: Odori Site, Susukino Site (February 6–12, 2017),
Tsudome Site (February 1–12, 2017)
-Address: Odori Park, Sapporo City, Hokkaido Prefecture (Sakae-machi 885-1, Higashi-ku, Sapporo)
-Lat/Long: (43.062096, 141.354376)
-Phone number: 011-281-6400 (Sapporo Snow Festival Executive Committee)
If you wish to experience a slice of local culture, you will be intrigued by Yokote Kamakura Festival in Akita prefecture. Here, adorable Akita children will stand in front of 100 ‘kamakura’ (snow huts) and invite you in Akita dialect to step inside one of them to drink some sweet fermented rice brew, eat mochi (rice cakes) and worship the water gods. Apparently, rooted in a custom of returning New Year decorations to the gods by burning them, this festival is a longstanding tradition that has been held for about 400 years! So feel a compelling sense of history as you pay respect to tha altar set up inside the kamakura.
-English Name: Yokote Kamakura Festival
-Japanese Name: 横手の雪祭り
-Open Hours/Closed Day: Feb 14-Feb 16, 2017
-Address: Doro Koen Park in front of Yokote City Hall
-Lat/Long: (39.313782, 140.566649)
-Phone number: 0182-33-7111 (Yokote City Tourist Information)
There are many places that you should check out during winter time. Tottori Sand Dunes – incidentally, the only sand dunes in the whole of Japan – is already an impressive sight with wide stretches of sand overlooking the sky-blue sea in summer but its sublime combination of sand and snow in winter enhances its aesthetic appeal.
-English Name: Tottori Sand Dunes
-Japanese Name: 鳥取砂丘
-Open Hours/Closed Day: 24 hours a day
-Address: 2164-661 Fukubecho Yuyama, Tottori, Tottori Prefecture 689-0105, Japan
-Lat/Long: (35.544192, 134.236645)
-Phone number: +81 857-22-0581
And of course, you should not miss out on the World Heritage-listed Shirakawa-go in Gifu prefecture. Comprising gassho-zukuri (constructed like ‘hands in prayer’) houses that have steep thatched roofs to withstand heavy snowfall in winter, Shirakawa-go is an idyllic snow-covered landscape that yields you many Instagram-worthy photos!
-English Name: Shirakawa-go
-Japanese Name: 白川村
-Open Hours/Closed Day: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (No scheduled closing days)
-Address: Shirakawa-Village Ohno-District Gifu Prefecture
-Budget: Admission fee adult ¥300-, child ¥150-
-Lat/Long: (37.126362, 140.210943)
-Phone number: +81-05769-6-1311 (Shirakawa village office)
Last but not least, animal lovers ought to make a beeline to Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park in Nagano prefecture, where they can revel in the sight of wild macaques bathing in its piping hot waters. Watching these monkeys taking a dip is strangely cathartic and will melt all your worries away!
-English Name: Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park
-Japanese Name: 地獄谷野猿公苑
-Open Hours/Closed Day: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
-Address: 6845 Hirao, Yamanouchi, Shimotakai District, Nagano Prefecture 381-0401, Japan
-Budget: Admission fee adult ¥500-, child ¥250-
-Lat/Long: (36.732686, 138.462136)
-Phone number: +81 269-33-4379
Soaking in a ‘rotenburo’ (outdoor bath) and watching snow fall in front of you will definitely be a cherished travel experience that will remain etched in your mind. Yubara Onsen in Okayama prefecture is one such hidden gem. When I reached there, I was surprised to find both men and ladies co-sharing the rotenburo, which was incidentally FREE for use. Lest you start feeling squeamish, everyone either wore swimsuits or had towels around them, so there was no need to feel embarrassed about using the bath. Some people even nonchalantly read books the whole time I was dipping in the ‘rotenburo’!
-English Name: Yubara Onsen
-Japanese Name: 湯原温泉郷
-Open Hours/Closed Day: 24 hours a day
-Address: 143-2, Yubara Onsen, Maniwa City, Okayama Prefecture
-Lat/Long: (35.075602, 133.75273)
-Phone number: 0867-62-2526
Many people are apprehensive of Japan’s notoriously harsh winters. However, on the flip side, you will get to participate in cool festivals, watch the snow dance in therapeutic onsens, ski like a champion, and soak up exclusive winter sights. Indeed, Japan is the perfect place to enjoy winter to the fullest!