Japan is becoming increasingly popular as the ideal destination for a winter vacation – and it is easy to see why: It juxtaposes ancient tradition and modern ideals, it is reachable via non-stop flights from the U.S., it delivers a steamy culinary scene, and, of course, it offers boundless natural beauty when cloaked in snowy white.
Even more compelling: Japan is much less crowded during and prices tend to be much cheaper in the winter. The weather is mostly dry and sunny, and although the temperature drops, it does not often go below freezing. But families who insist on a white Christmas can rest assured that the northern parts of Japan have epic snowfall and some of the world’s best skiing and winter sports to go with it.
Japan takes on a whole new identity in winter as the culture changes with the chilly weather. Local foods focus on warmth, from savory soups to hot pots, with regional variations as travelers move from town to town.
A Japanese winter vacation will deliver family memories to last a lifetime. Consider this list of unforgettable winter trip ideas courtesy of Tourist Japan:
Best Winter Family Vacations in Japan
Skiing & Festivals in Hokkaido
Situated at the most northern part of Japan, Hokkaido is the largest and northernmost prefecture and famous for its terrain, ideal for skiing and winter sports. Beyond this, Hokkaido also is notable for the volcanoes, nature parks and natural hot springs – known as onsens found in the region.
For families who are looking for a skiing experience like no other, a visit to one of the popular ski resorts is sure to impress even the most avid skier. Niseko, Furano, and Rusutsu are the most well-known.
Another famous family favorite in Hokkaido is the Sapporo snow festival. The festival is one of the biggest and most essential winter activities in the region showcasing large-scale snow statues and grand ice sculptures. And you can top every day off with a steaming hot bowl of Hokkaido-style ramen with miso butter.
Snow Monkeys in Nagano
The Jigokudani Yaen Koen – aka, the Snow Monkey Park – is situated in the Joshinetsu National Park in Nagano. The park is the habitat that houses the snow monkeys who live in the region and was established to promote the conservation and protection of the monkeys. Known as Japanese Macaque, the monkeys run wild and enjoy the onsens in the area. On cold winter days, the monkeys love to bathe in the hot water and relax amid the stunning natural surroundings – but what primate doesn’t?!
Yokote Snow Festival
Situated in southeastern Akita Prefecture, the town of Yokote annually holds the Kamakura Festival in mid-February. Children admire the igloo-like structures and shelters built from snow and are also invited inside the Kamakura snow houses, to enjoy snacks and stories. The festival’s holiday snack includes rice cakes and a non-alcoholic version of sake, known as amazake.
Tokyo in Winter
Whether as a stopover en route to a snowier spot or as a destination itself, Tokyo is worth the trip. It’s winter is crisp, cold and clear in winter, not unlike New York City, and there is plenty to do outside and inside. Here are our five best picks for family activities in Tokyo during winter:
- Stroll through Omotesandō A famous upscale shopping district, Omotesandō is the main pedestrian walkway between the ever popular Harajuku district and Aoyama. Although it is known for high-end boutiques, Omotesandō is a great destination during the winter months as the zelkova trees that line the streets are completely covered in lights. The wide boulevard leads to a large Christmas tree filled with some colorful 30,000 lights. Omotesandō is sure to deliver holiday spirit and fun for everyone in the family.
- Tokyo Midtown Illumination There are many light displays in wintertime Tokyo and they all capture the essence of the season. The Tokyo Midtown Illumination is one of the most popular in Tokyo, among locals and tourists. It gets very busy right around Christmas, so beware of the crowds, but it starts in the middle of November so this light installation is not to be missed.
- TeamLab Experience No visit to Tokyo in any season can be complete without a visit to TeamLab borderless, an imaginative and innovative experience fun for visitors regardless of age. The exciting museum which is split into five exhibitions: Future Park, Forest of Lamps, Borderless World, En Teahouse and the Athletics forest, is a thrilling and fun experience for the whole family. The museum is designed from digital and interactive lights and design. The building and project were developed together with Mori Building Co. Ltd and the large-scale space spans two floors and can take several hours to explore.
- Christmas at Tokyo Disney This spot needs no introduction but non-Japanese should know that the Tokyo Disney Resort is one of the best Disney parks in the world because of its cleanliness and professionalism. The park is always decked out for Christmas and filled with festive cheer.
- A Snow-Covered Mount Fuji Perhaps the most notable icons of Japan, Mount Fuji is extra special when capped with snow. While Mount Fuji can be viewed from various places in and around Tokyo, it is visible from many other areas in central Honshu, as well. Consider taking the family on a Mount Fuji Tour to get a close-up look at the snowy peak and the surrounding five lake region. Neither you nor your kids, will ever forget it.
by Kylie Goldstein, Writer, Tourist Japan, November 2018
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