10 Events and Things to Do in Japan in December

woman winter snow Places to visit in Japan
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Bryce was born in California, but raised from the age of 3 near Seattle, Washington. He’s been living in Tokyo for about 7 years, and graduated from Temple University, Japan with degrees in economics and international business. He loves traveling of course, but also cooking, snowboarding, some video games as well. His biggest interest is songwriting/music production, more specifically electronic music… (think Skrillex, Marshmello, Daft Punk, etc.) He also has terrible humor as you’ll notice, but he hopes you’ll enjoy it!

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Japan is blessed with four very distinct seasons throughout the country. Some places get colder and more wintery than others, but there are great winter vibes to be enjoyed almost anywhere. December marks the beginning of winter, and as the holidays come around, there are plenty of festivities to partake in. Take a trip to a snowy village, hit the slopes, enjoy a festival, or marvel at the many romantic light displays. Bundle up and get out there to enjoy Japan’s vibrant winter fun!

1. Christmas Illuminations

The light displays at Midosuji is one of Osaka’s best winter illuminations

Just like it’s a tradition in some countries to decorate your house with lights for Christmas, Japan loves to brighten the night with spectacular winter illuminations, and you can almost be certain to come across some of them if you travel the country during the colder months. There is a plethora of illuminations to choose from – especially in Tokyo – and strolling through a sea of twinkling lights is quite a magical experience.

2. Kobe Luminarie  

Kobe Luminari
The thousands of colored lights at Kobe’s Luminarie are a breathtaking sight

Originally a collaboration with Italy, the Kobe Luminarie is an impressive event made up of hundreds of thousands of lights. This incredible feat between architects and electricians lights up the night and attracts millions of visitors every year. The magnificent display is one of the oldest in Japan, and also serves as a memorial for the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. If you find yourself in Kobe in early to mid December, this is a must see. 

Dates: First few weeks in December

Website: Kobe Luminarie (Japanese only)

3. Snow Sports

Japan has great skiing and snowboarding for all levels

This is one of our favorite things about winter, and Japan is world-famous for its outstanding snowboarding and skiing opportunities, with plenty of options for any skill level. Not only are the slopes varied and well-kept, many ski resort towns also have a local and lively vibe. Head to Hokkaido to visit Niseko and experience Japan’s famed powder snow. If you’re in Kanto or Kansai, Hakuba or Shigakogen are prime locations for snow fun, and there are even resorts that can be visited on a day trip from Tokyo. If you’re looking for something a little off the mainstream tourist radar, some of our favorites are Nozawa Onsen and Madarao.

4. Shirakawago

Shirakawago gasshozukuri
The charming houses in Shirakawago are built to withstand the region’s heavy snowfall

Known as the fairytale village of Gifu, this UNESCO World Heritage site is a charming little town known for its unique architecture and nostalgic atmosphere. With 100-year-old houses constructed in a distinct style known as “gassho,” the village is steeped in traditional vibes. “Gassho” means “to press one’s hands together in prayer” and refers to the slanted thatched roofs, which are built to withstand the large amount of snow that falls here every winter. There are plenty of restaurants here as well as opportunities to see the interior of the houses, making for a great winter getaway.

5. Chichibu Night Festival

fakepeterpan, (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0), via flickr

Head to Saitama for the Chichibu Night Festival. Featuring huge floats, music, lanterns, and locally made sake, this event is nationally recognized as one of the three great float-centered festivals, also known as hikiyama. Just a few hours from Tokyo, the event takes place every December 2nd and 3rd and is a great chance to kick off the winter in a festive way together with the locals. The large floats, weighing between 10 to 20 tons and carried around by human power, are reason enough to visit this impressive festival!

Dates: December 2 – 3

Website: Chichibu Night Festival

6. Christmas at Tokyo Disney Resort

othree(CC BY 2.0), via flickr

Christmas in Japan is quite different from the celebrations in western countries, as in Japan it’s a holiday spent with your better half rather than focusing on religion or on opening presents together with your family. Christmas is easily one of the biggest holidays across the world, but it certainly is enjoyed in many different ways, and Tokyo Disney Resort offers one such way to enjoy this festive time. Head to Tokyo Disneyland or Sea between November 8th and December 25th for a heavily Christmas-infused experience.

Dates: November 8 – December 25

Website: Disney Christmas Event

7. New Years Countdown

new year countdown
Celebrate New Year in Japan the way you like it – traditional or with a party

New Year’s Eve is the one night of the year where the trains run all night long in Tokyo. There are many different ways to enjoy the countdown to the new year, whether it’s a traditional experience at a shrine, or a nightlife kind of celebration at a club. Either way, there is plenty of fun to be had, and no shortage of positive energy.

8. Hokkaido

Due to its cold climate, Hokkaido is probably one of the most wintery places you can find in Japan. This northernmost prefecture definitely has the most snowfall, so many events are centered around that, making it the perfect place to be immersed in wintery scenery. With its vast amount of stunning nature, it’s a great place to take in breathtaking views of the all-white snowy landscapes. Apart from great skiing and snowboarding opportunities, other ways to enjoy the snow include snowmobiling and snowshoeing.

9. Winter Foods

Warm up with one of Japan’s filling and steaming hot winter dishes, such as oden

On a cold winter day, getting warmed up from the inside with a hot meal is simply the best. The cold weather really enhances your appetite, wouldn’t you say? Well, if not, we are sure the sight of Japan’s mouthwatering winter cuisine will do the trick! Dishes such as soups, nabe (hotpot) and sukiyaki are especially popular during this time of the year.

10. Snow Monkeys

Snow monkeys
Watch Japanese macaques bathe in the mountain hot springs

Shigakogen is not only an incredible snow sport destination, it’s also home to the Jigokudani Monkey Park. Japanese macaques, an endemic species of monkey, have laid claim to a hot spring tucked away in Nagano’s mountains, and there is a place where you can observe the monkeys bathing and relaxing in the onsen. There are also a few accomodations quite close to the Jigokudani Monkey Park which offer an outdoor onsen to their guests so you can enjoy a steaming soak surrounded by heaps of snow – just like the monkeys!

We hope one or more of these incredible experiences are up your alley and will help you plan an epic winter trip to Japan. Temperatures can get quite low even in metropolitan areas, especially if it’s windy, so stay warm and enjoy all the great winter fun Japan has to offer!

Japan Wonder Travel Tours 

Japan Wonder Travel is a travel agency that offers guided tours throughout Japan. 
From private walking tours to delicious Food and Drink tours, we can help you organize the best tours just for you! If you want to explore Japan and learn more about the history and backstories of each area you are visiting, our knowledgeable and friendly English speaking guides will happily take you to the best spots! 
In addition, we can provide you with any assistance you may need for your upcoming trip to Japan, so please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or need some help! 

Tokyo Tsukiji Fish Market Food and Drink Tour
Explore the most lively and popular fish market in Tokyo and try some of the local’s favorite street foods and sake with one of our friendly and knowledgeable English speaking guides! 

tsukiji tour

Tokyo 1–Day Highlights Private Walking Tour (8 Hours)
There’s no better way to explore an area than taking a tour with a knowledgeable local guide. You will have the chance to learn about the history and interesting background stories of Tokyo, as well as discover some hidden gems which can be hard to do without a guide.

Asakusa Tokyo private tour

Mt. Fuji Day Trip Bus Tour from Tokyo
Experience the breathtaking views of Mt. Fuji by visiting the highlights of the area on our guided sightseeing bus tour! Departing from Shinjuku in central Tokyo, you can travel comfortably to all of the best spots in the area by bus.

mount fuji chureito pagoda

Kyoto Private Full Day Walking Tour
On this full-day private tour of Kyoto, you will be able to see the highlights of Kyoto in just one day and at the same time develop a deeper understanding of both the culture of the area and Japan as a whole.

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