10 Best Winter Destinations in Japan!

Shirakawago winter Japan

Here in Japan, we can enjoy four distinctive seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Each of them fascinates tourists with respective characteristics. Especially winter, when the temperature drops and white snow completely transforms the landscape in mountainous areas, is the best time to travel around the country searching for stunning sceneries that you have never seen before. Here are the top 10 destinations for your winter trip to Japan!   
Also read; 7 Best Ways to Enjoy Japan in Winter

1. Hakodate (Hokkaido)

Hakodate is the third largest city located in the southern part of Hokkaido. It plays a role as a transport hub connecting Hokkaido to the main island, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations with almost 5 million visitors every year. During winter season, the climate remains relatively mild with less snowfall compared to other areas in Hokkaido.

Goryokaku is a historical spot which was once used as a fort in the late Edo period. The construction was originally started aiming to strengthen the defensive force against western countries after Japan opened some of the main ports including Hakodate Port for international trade. The unique shape of the fort is just like a star, which attracts a number of visitors along with Goryokaku Tower, an observation tower opened in 1964 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Goryokaku!

Don’t forget to try fresh seafood caught and directly delivered from Hakodate Port! Hakodate boasts fresh seafood that is enjoyable all year round, but winter is definitely the best season as the ocean gets colder and offers a suitable environment for fish to grow. Hakodate Asaichi is a lively morning market with 250 small shops and restaurants selling high-quality seafood and local specialties. Start your day in Hakodate with a special breakfast which helps you get ready for the day!  

Opaning hours at Goryokaku
9am – 6pm
Admission ¥900 (adult)

Hotels to stay in Hakodate

2. Monkey Onsen (Nagano)

Snow Monkey Park is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Nagano Prefecture. The park is home to wild monkeys which inhabit around the area, and during winter season, visitors can enjoy watching them bathing in outdoor hot springs! If you are lucky, you might be able to come across 50-60 monkeys bathing in the relaxing hot spring together. Enjoy taking pictures of the adorable monkeys but please note that touching them is not allowed. Winter is considered as the best season as the temperature goes down and monkeys flock there more often to escape from the severe weather and heavy snow. Make sure to wear a walking shoes as you need to hike a steep path until you finally get to the park located at 850 meter above the sea level.
Planning your visit to the Snow Monkeys in Nagano

Opening hours at Snow Monkey Park
8:30 – 5pm (summer season) 9am – 4pm (winter season)
Admission: ¥800 (adult)

3. Ginzan Onsen (Yamagata)

Ginzan Onsen is one of the most famous hot spring resorts in Japan. Located deep mountainous area in Yamagata Prefecture, it was accidentally discovered by people working in a silver mine nearby during the Edo period. This was also the reason for its name; ginzan literally means silver mine in Japanese. The water is clear, a bit salty, and has a smell of hydrogen sulfide which offers a range of health benefits. Time seems to go by slowly, with a peaceful atmosphere created by historical buildings and inns dating back in the Taisho period. Winter brings a lot of snow every year which covers the entire area silently. Enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the white world while soaking in a relaxing hot spring!
Related article; Places to Visit in Yamagata

4. Kinkakuji (Kyoto)

Kinkakuji is a world-famous Buddhist temple located in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. The main structure is often referred as Golden Pavilion, as the most of exterior is covered with shiny gold leaves, making it an outstanding tourist attraction among the other many shrines and temples of Kyoto. Built in 1397, it was originally used as a private villa for Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the 3rd Shogun of the Muromachi Shogunate which ruled the nation during the time. Along with other prestigious historical spots in Kyoto, it is listed on UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It has a beautiful traditional Japanese garden with a pond called Kyoko-chi, which allows visitors to take a relaxing stroll and take pictures of the iconic temple from different directions. It occasionally gets dressed in white snow during winter season, and the contrast of gold and white is just amazing!

Related article; The Best Places to Visit in Kyoto― An Overview Per Area

Opening hours Kinkakuji 9am – 5pm
Admission ¥400 (adult)

5. Nabana no sato (Mie)

Nabana no sato is a flower theme park located in Kuwana city, Mie Prefecture. It boasts a wide range of seasonal flowers and plants, making it the most popular tourist attraction in the city. You might feel a bit confused as winter is normally not suitable to enjoy blooming flowers, but it attracts many visitors all year round. Since they have a big greenhouse, which offers a suitable environment for flowers to grow regardless of season, you can enjoy some beautiful flowers throughout a year. It protects them from the cold weather in winter, and fascinates visitors with countless beautiful flowers like the pretty begonias.

Winter is in fact the most visited season because there is a famous illumination event which is held every night during the winter season. The entire garden is brightly lit up with sparkly illuminations with a different theme every year! The Tunnel of Lights is one of the highlights; a spectacular light display where you can walk through and taking stunning pictures!   
Related article; Best Places to Visit in Mie

Opening hours (During the illumination season) 10am – 9pm
Admission ¥2,300 (adult) 
※free admission for children under elementary school age

6. Shirakawago (Gifu)

Designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, Shirakawago has been among the must-visits in Japan for foreign tourists over decades. The small village is located in the deep mountainous area with a number of traditional Japanese houses and buildings preserved in a great condition. The peaceful landscape takes you back to the old Japan, with the green rice field in summer and a world of white in winter. Take a deep breath, and walk around the small village where the local community has been lasted for centuries in harmony with nature. 

Gassho-zukuri refers to a traditional architectural style of houses typical to the village. The steep thatched roof prevents the houses from collapsing because of the heavy snowfall. Some of the houses are currently used as inns, which brings you a special experience.
Related article; Visit Shirakawago: The Japanese Fairy Tale Village

7. Chichibu three largest icicles (Saitama)

Chichibu three largest icicles refers to three major icicle spots located in Chichibu city, Saitama prefecture. It consists of the following three icicles: Misotsuchi Icicles, Onouchi Hundred Icicles, and Ashigakubo Icicles.

Misotsuchi Icicles is a beauty of nature created by clear water from Arakawa river. The icicles grow to about 30 meters in width and 8 meters in height, and appear only the coldest time from January to February. Onouchi Hundred Icicles and Ashigakubo Icicles are artificial icicles created and maintained by locals. Onouchi Hundred Icicles is located in a scenic valley, and visitors can take memorable pictures from a suspension bridge! 

Related article; The Best Places to Visit in Saitama

8. Drift ice (Okhotsk Sea)

Hokkaido always brings us extraordinary experiences beyond our imagination. This is where you can feel the dynamic nature directly within Japan, and Okhotsk Sea is home to one of the most impressive sceneries that can offer. The sea is located the northeast of Hokkaido, geographically separated from the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan by several islands.

During winter season, almost 80% of the sea gets covered with drift ice. It continues to grow until it finally appears near the coastlines, transforming the sea into a frozen world overnight! Take a cruise ship “Aurora” to enjoy the stunning scenery closely, which also could give you a chance to witness the wildlife such as cute seals lying on the ice! It will definitely be one of the highlights of your trip.

Opening hours 9am – 5pm
Admission ¥3,500 (adult)

9. Metasequoia (Shiga)

The 2.4 km peaceful road with 500 metasequoia trees on both sides, located in Shiga prefecture, never stops enchanting visitors. It is widely known as a scenic spot with the beautiful trees standing straight to the sky silently, but strongly. As you drive through the road, the row of the tall metasequoia trees fascinates you with different scenery for each season and the beautiful white world created by snow makes it the best destination for your winter trip.
Related article; The Best Places to Visit in Shiga

10. Kenrokuen (Ishikawa)

Kenrokuen is a huge garden with 11.4 hectares area situated in the center of Kanazawa city, Ishikawa prefecture. Designated as one of the three great gardens in Japan, it attracts a number of visitors all year round along with Kanazawa Castle which is located nearby. It is said to be originally created by the Kaga clan, which governed the area during the Edo period. The garden fascinates visitors with a number of iconic structures such as a traditional Japanese tea house, authentic stone lanterns, beautiful ponds, and pleasant bridges. Everything is designed to perfectly match the stunning landscape and surrounding nature. 

Pine trees in the garden are covered with a number of ropes stretching from the top to cover the whole tree. It is called Yukitsuri, which is a traditional way to protect the branches from the heavy snowfall! 
Related article; 10 Best Places to Visit in Ishikawa

Opening hours Kenrokuen Garden
7am – 6pm (May 1 – Oct. 15) 8am – 5pm (Oct. 16 – February)
Admission¥320 (adult)

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As winter continues for a couple of months, make sure to plan your trip accordingly depending on what you can do and see in each month. Early December is perfect for those who want to enjoy both autumn leaves and winter attractions. And crowds can be usually expected during the New Year holidays, so avoid the late December to enjoy your trip with less stress if you want to travel in a quiet time. From January to February, when we have the most severe winter weather with more snowfalls of the year in some regions, you can get a better chance to catch a glimpse of scenic spots or tourist attractions beautifully covered with white snow!   

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Happy traveling!

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