Winter in Japan
Although Japan welcomes most tourists in spring and summer, for those who are looking for a more quiet time and a different kind of experience, winter can be a great time to discover Japan. As Japan stretches across several climate zones, what kind of winter weather you can expect will depend on where you are going. If you are looking for gentle temperatures subtropical Okinawa would be a good destination to include in your itinerary, but most travelers will go to Tokyo and Kyoto for sightseeing and maybe include a few days of winter sports in Nagano or Hokkaido in their holiday plans.
Tokyo and Kyoto will be chilly, although temperatures will usually not go below zero degrees Celcius, and there is rarely any snow. Nagano and Hokkaido are winter sports paradises on the other hand, with guaranteed snow from January until March and great facilities. Another quintessential Japanese experience that is best done in the wintertime is visiting an onsen. Especially outdoor baths are wonderful in the winter, there is nothing that beats the refreshing feeling of soaking in a hot bath while feeling the cold on one’s face. Winter also brings seasonal food such as hot pots and the fattiest salmon and tuna of the year, and a lot of festivals and cultural traditions that are winter-specific.
Winter Weather in Japan
In Tokyo and Kyoto, December temperatures tend to be 12 ° C (54 ° F) in the afternoon and fall to around 5 ° C (41 ° F) in the morning and at night. For January, afternoon temperatures drop to 10 ° C (50 ° F) and morning temperatures tend to range between 2 ° C and 3 ° C (35 ° F to 37 ° F). In February, the afternoon temperatures are approximately 10 ° C ~ 11 ° C (42 ° F ~ 50 ° F), while the night temperatures drop to approximately 3 ° C (37 ° F). Winter tends to be dry compared to summer, so expect a lot of clear blue skies and abundant sunshine.
Winter Events in Japan
Sapporo Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri)
This is the largest of all snow festivals in Japan. It is visited by thousands of foreign and local tourists, who come to enjoy the impressive ice sculptures. There are three huge facilities where you can enjoy different activities. The illuminated sculptures of snow and ice are the most famous part of the festival, and they can be seen until late at night.
One thing that the Japanese do very well with respect to the holiday season is to put up fabulous illuminations everywhere. In major urban centers, such as Tokyo, there are many places worth visiting to enjoy these beautiful lights. Illuminations around the areas of Marunouchi, Otemachi, and Yurakucho, extend over 1.2 kilometers, illuminating the street with golden lights. Also, the Ashikaga Flower Park Illuminations are amazing to see.
The most popular Christmas Market in the country is the one in Yokohama, one hour from Tokyo by train. It takes place in and around Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse. It has a large variety of small shops and restaurants, and a large number of stalls that sell beautiful Christmas-related products and foods.
Otaru Candlelight Festival, Hokkaido
A lovely snow-covered city on the slopes of a mountain, lit up every night after 5 pm by the warm glow of 120,000 candles. This is exactly what Otaru becomes for a few days in February during its unique snow light festival. The candles’ fire is protected from the wind by handmade snow walls.
At the end of winter and at the entrance of spring. The Setsubun is celebrated, the tradition is that children throw soybeans (Mamemaki) to the spirits or demons (disguised people) and thus be able to scare them away.
Skiing and Snowboarding in Japan
Japan is covered with mountains and many ski areas have well-developed facilities for winter sports. The prefectures of Nagano and Niigata are excellent places boasting some of the most amazing ski resorts. Hokkaido, the north island also has some incredible slopes and beautiful powder snow. Many peaks are over 2,000 meters high, so you can enjoy long courses and extraordinary tracks. If you want to do a ski or snowboard day trip from Tokyo, the Gala Yuzawa resort is a great place to do so, just a 90-minute train ride away. You can rent all your equipment there, so it is an easy day out.
Sharing a nabe, or hot pot, is a very wintry thing to do in Japan. These hearty meals can contain different ingredients depending on who is the cook, but usually, they contain meat, fish, and vegetables such as carrots and cabbage.
Fatty Tuna and Salmon
Mid and late winter is the best time to eat tuna and salmon, as the fish get fat in the winter to protect themselves from the cold. This extra fat makes for very tasty sushi and sashimi!
In Japan, Christmas cakes are traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve. Christmas cakes are sponge cakes frosted with whipped cream, often decorated with strawberries, and usually topped with Christmas chocolates or other seasonal fruits and a Santa Claus decoration.