Winter is a great time to visit Japan. It is cold, freezing in some places, but there are things that you can only see in this winter season, like winter festivals or winter animals. So bundle up and come see the amazing sights of this country. Below are some of the things you’ll want to go see.
Illumination of the city is very popular in Japan. Tokyo lights up beautifully all around, from early December to around Christmas time or till around Valentine’s Day for some places. Below are some of the best spots to see these amazing lights. Traveling around the city at night time may get a little disorienting so you can also check out hiring a private guide to take you around for a few hours. You’ll find that being able to have someone customize your itinerary makes for a wonderful experience.
Access: Harajuku Station, Meiji Jingumae Station, Omotesando Station
Address: Omotesando, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Hours: Dec. 1 - Dec. 25 (sunset to 10 pm)
Roppongi Hills Keyakizaka
Access: a few minutes walk from Roppongi Station, next to Roppongi Hills
Address: 6-10 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Hours: Nov. 5 - Dec. 25 (5 pm to 10 pm)
Access: a 10 minute walk from either Kamiyacho Station on the Hibiya line or Onarimon Station on the Mita line or Akabanebashi Station on the Oedo line.
Address: 4-2-8 Shiba Koen, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Hours: Nov. 2 - Feb. 28 (4 pm to 10 pm)
Access: a 2 minute walk from Odaiba Kaihinkoen Station on the Yurikamome Monorail
Address: Decks Tokyo Beach 3F Seaside Deck, 1-6-1 Daiba, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Hours: all year round (sunset to midnight)
Access: From Shinjuku Station take the Keio Line to Chofu Station, then change lines to the Keio Sagamihara Line and get off at Keio Yomiuri Land Station (278 yen total). It’s a 5 - 10 minute ride on the rope way (300 yen) from there.
Address: 4015-1 Yanokuchi, Tama-ku, Kawasaki-shi, Kanagawa
Hours: Oct. 11 to Feb. 17 (4 pm to 8:30 pm)
Entrance fee (for after 4 pm): Adults: 1,400 yen / Children age 13-18: 600 yen / Children age 4-12: 300 yen
Sapporo Snow Festival
This is one of the most famous winter festivals in Japan. See the same humongous snow statues made in just 1 month. They’re amazing! The festival is held at 3 locations in Sapporo. Odori Park is the main location and there are also some ice sculptures in Susukino. And then a little further off is the Sapporo Community Dome also known as “Tsudome”, where there are snow slides and a snow maze. There are local guides that will take you on a private tour of these wonderful sights if you want someone to help you along.
1. Odori Park - next to Odori Station on the 3 subway lines (Tozai line, Toho line, or Namboku line) or a 10 minute walk south from JR Sapporo Station
2. Tsudome (Sapporo Community Dome) - a 15 minute walk from Sakaemachi station or use the Shuttle bus service available during the festival (from Feb. 5 only) from either Sakaemachi station or Sapporo station
3. Susukino - Susukino Station on the Namboku line
1. Odori Park: Nishi 1 chome - Nishi 12 chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo-shi, Hokkaido
(From Feb. 4 to Feb 11, open all day, lights until 10 pm)
2. Tsudome (Sapporo Community Dome): 885-1 Sakaecho, Higashi-ku, Sapporo-shi, Hokkaido
(From Jan. 31 to Feb. 11, 9 am to 5 pm)
3. Susukino: Nishi 4-chome street, between Minami Shijo Avenue and Minami Shichijo Avenue
(From Feb. 4 to Feb. 11, open all day, lights until 11 pm, 10 pm on the last day)
Zao Juhyou Festival
The Juhyou or “snow monsters” are actually trees covered in ice and snow. Hundreds of them surround the Zao skiing resort and the scenery becomes fantastical. You can only see them in a few places in Japan during the coldest months of the year, so go see them for yourself. They’ll be illuminated in the evening making them look more weird and eerie. Enjoy the scenery along with the great skiing.
Address: Zao Onsen, Yamagata-shi, Yamagata-ken
Access: About 35 minutes by bus from Yamagata Station to Zao Onsen
Duration: Dec. 22, 2018 - Mar. 3, 2018
Hida no Sato Illumination
Hida Takayama is in a very mountainous area. It is an area where the old traditional Japanese houses with thatched roofs still exist today. These snow covered houses are a beautiful sight in the daytime, but it becomes an even more awesome sight when they’re lit up at night. Make sure to dress warmly because it is freezing.
Takayama is where you can board the bus to get to “Hida no Sato”. It’s a beautiful traditional city called “little Kyoto”. Walking around and seeing the amazing sights on a guided tour is an exceptional way to spend the hours until you can go see “Hida no Sato” in the evening.
Address: 1-590 Kamioka Honmachi, Takayama-shi, Gifu
Access: 15 minutes by bus from Takayama Station
Hours: 5:30 pm - 8:30 pm from Jan. 12, 2019 to Feb. 28, 2019
Ilumination event entrance fee: Adults 300 yen / Children 100 yen
Seeing winter animals
Asahiyama Zoo is a famous zoo in Hokkaido. They are famous for creating exhibits which use the animals’ natural instincts, in turn making it easier for humans to observe them. For example in the seal exhibit, a large vertical tube runs from their pool through an observation room up to the surface, mimicking holes in the ice which the seals swim through to get air. And we can watch them as they swim through. The penguin walk is also a famous winter attraction at this zoo.
It’s a bit far from the closest airport and hours away from the central city of Sapporo, so joining a tour might be a good way to visit the zoo instead of trying to get there yourselves.
Address: Kuranuma, Higashi Asahikawa-machi, Asahikawa-shi, Hokkaido
From JR Sapporo Station to JR Asahikawa Station take the Limited Express train (1.5 hours, 4,810 yen). Then from Asahikawa Station take the bus from bus stop number 6 (40 minutes, 440 yen).
Or from Asahikawa Airport take the bus for 35 minutes (550 yen).
Hours: 10:30 am - 3:30 pm (winter hours) Last entry until 3 pm
Fees: Adults 820 yen (children under 15 free of charge)
Have you ever seen a picture of the snow monkeys soaking in the hot springs? They are Japanese macaques. And this group of monkeys who live in Jigokudani Yaen Park (Snow Monkey Park) are a special group who have adapted to soak in the hot springs during the cold snowy winter months. Japan is the only place in the world where you can see monkeys displaying this type of behavior. The park is in the countryside of Nagano Prefectures. There are guided tours that will take you there from Nagano Station if you can’t get there by yourselves. And Nagano Station is just about two hours away by Shinkansen from Tokyo.
Address: Jigokudani Yaen Koen, 6846 Hirao, Yananouchi-machi, Shimotakai-gun, Nagano
From Yudanaka Station, take the bus for either the Snow Monkey Park bus stop or the Kanbayashi Onsen bus stop. From there it’s a 10 minute walk to the Snow Monkey Park trail entrance. The Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is at the end of the trail, so it’s a 30 - 40 minute trek to the park.
Hours: 9 am to 4 pm during Nov. to Mar. / 8:30 am to 5 pm during Apr. to Oct.
Fees: Adults: 800 yen / Children age 5-12: 400 yen
Winter is a special time of year to visit Japan and there are lots to do and see if you don’t mind the cold. But I would recommend making sure you’re not traveling from one place in Japan to another right before and after New Years. That’s the time of year that the local Japanese travel to spend time with their families. So the transportation system becomes overloaded with people and it’s chaos. It goes back to normal after the first week of January so come enjoy the beautiful sights after that!
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