Top Things To Do on Winter Holidays in Japan
Traveling in winter may be tricky because of weather conditions, but it’s definitely worth the trouble when you travel to a vibrant destinations like Japan. My recent trip to Japan was last winter and unexpectedly, I found the country even more picturesque in winter than during my previous visits. Spending winter holidays in Japan is a great idea. There are so many festivals, celebrations, and activities available, not to mention the beautiful landscapes that transform the country into a postcard-like destination.
Here are some great things you should definitely do to make the most of your winter visit to Japan.
It might come as a surprise, but I definitely recommend visiting Tokyo during winter. I was amazed to see how enthusiastically Japan embrace the Christmas season. All city streets, shops, hotels, shopping malls, and squares are dressed up in dazzling Christmas decorations. Some of the Japanese Christmas trees are the most spectacular I’ve ever seen anywhere.
The Japanese are very well known for their precise decorating, so expect to see hundreds of sculptures made of LED lights and spectacular scenes at the Garden Tokyo Midtown. Having traditional European Christmas treats like German sausages, pretzels, and
schnitzels in the picturesque Roppongi Hill is an odd experience, but one that I recommend to anyone. Visit Tokyo in December and you’re bound to experience Christmas decorations and amusement like never before.
Winter Sports in Niseko and Hakuba
I never associated Japan with snowy landscapes until I read one of Haruki Murakami’s novels where the main character travels to the northern district of Hokkaido. The truth is, the district serves as a top location for skiing and snowboarding. The powdery snow is to die for and the landscapes are simply breathtaking. You can be sure that all restaurants and advertising displays are written in English in more popular towns like Niseko, a favorite among foreign skiers. It’s interesting to note that the population of foreigners who live here is on the rise.
But it’s not only the north of Japan that attracts winter sports lovers. I friend recommended Hakuba, which houses seven ski resorts and is popularly called the Japanese Alps. Several of the 1998 Winter Olympic competitions took place here. But ski resorts are not everything visitors can experience here. Take some time to relax in the many hot springs located around the village and you’ll know what I mean.
The Blue Pond, Hokkaido
While I was still in Hokkaido, a local guide told me about a beautiful town that is surrounded with breathtaking nature, Biei.
It’s here that visitors discover the Blue Pond, an artificial lake which has formed after the Japanese built a dam in 1988 in order to prevent mudflow from the nearby river. The striking blue color is the consequence of aluminum hydroxide in the water. I couldn’t stop looking at these hypnotizing waters and I tried very hard to capture its beauty with my camera.
The guide told me that the color of the water changes depending on the season and time of the day. This is because the water itself is clear and the color is an effect of light diffraction. After Apple used a photo of the Blue Pond for their operating system, the spot has become a famous tourist attraction. Still, with it protruding dry trees, the pond figures as an atmospheric and enigmatic place.
Takaragawa Onsen, Gunma
There is no better place for relaxing during cold winter than at an onsen, a Japanese hot spring, that has been part of the country’s culture since ancient times. This location features plenty of world-class onsen providers that offer various services and a variety of treatments. The ones situated next to the river often have outdoor pools that overlook it, allowing guests to relax among breathtaking views.
Eat Japanese Hot Pot
Winter is a great time for trying some Japanese dining specialties that fit right in with the cold climate. Nabemono (nabe in short) is a traditional hot pot dish that is a Japanese favorite during the cold season. Even the way to eat it makes everyone feel warmer. Traditionally, you eat nabe in groups sitting around the table where the food is slowly cooking on a gas burner. The experience is simply amazing.
Yonekawa Mizukaburi Tadition
It just so happened that during my last trip I traveled to Miyagi prefecture and witnessed a tradition practiced by the locals. I was quite surprised at first to see men in straw costumes with their faces painted in black ink act like divine messengers. I watched them as they prepared buckets of water and threw them on houses in the area to protect them from fire. The sight was so unusual that I still remember it vividly.
It’s during winter and especially around the new year season that one can spot many of these traditions from ancient times still being practiced by local Japanese communities. Visitors are welcome to observe – but always make sure to follow the safety precautions and never interfere with what’s happening.
These and many more things made my winter trip to Japan unforgettable. I traveled East for the first time during the winter and now have made it my traveling custom to visit countries in both warm and cold seasons. That’s how I managed to see a much different, face of Japan, a country that seemed familiar to me but turned out to have so many hidden depths that emerge during wintertime.
About The Author: Savannah is an experienced traveller who loves winter sports and mountains. Whenever not working, she’s at the slopes in the US, Asia or Europe. She’s also interested in photography and film-making.