10 Best Things to Do in Kansai in Winter

Amanohashidate snow Kansai
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Bryce was born in California, and raised near Seattle, Washington! He’s been living in Japan for about 5 years now, the first 3 spent studying at Temple University Japan. His main passion in life is writing and producing music, more specifically EDM if anyone is curious! He is very fond of snowboarding, cooking, traveling, playing video games; all of which he’d ideally enjoy with the company of his great friends. 

Kansai is a place full of historic sights, contemporary fun and an abundance of things to do year-round, so regardless of the season you’ll always be able to find something here to enjoy! This time around, however, we will look into what winter has in store for those exploring Kansai during the colder months. With many popular tourist areas illuminated, visiting famous landmarks can be an even more breathtaking experience than usual, but Kansai also offers plenty of exhilarating fun like snowsports and festivals to keep you warm, not to mention all the mouthwatering seasonal dining options. Without further ado, let’s get to our list of the best things to do in Kansai in Winter that will help you plan your winter adventure!

1. Arima Onsen

arima

Staying warm is clearly one of the first priorities when embracing the winter season, and with an abundance of hot springs (onsen) and century-long bathing traditions, Japan’s got you sorted. Arima Onsen has a long history and an even longer list of onsen to check out, making the town an absolute must-visit Kansai winter destination. One of its claims to fame is the hot spring water itself, which is divided into two categories: kinsen (gold water) and ginsen (silver water), both of which are believed to relieve various ailments due to the high contents of minerals.

2. Universal Studios Japan

nintendo world universal studio japan
The Super Nintendo World is an area unique to Universal Studios Japan

Once refreshed and relaxed from your onsen visit, let your rejuvenated energy out at one of Japan’s most popular theme parks. Universal Studios Japan is a great experience, even if you have already visited branches at other locations around the world. It opened up in 2002 in Osaka, and was the first park to open up in the continent of Asia. Some of the special parts of the park are the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and the Super Nintendo World, that opened in 2021. This is a fun area that is exclusive to the Japan park. 

3. Biwako Valley 

go.biwako, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If theme parks aren’t your thing, visiting serene Biwako Lake might be right up your alley. An astonishing 4 million years old, this is one of the world’s oldest lakes, offering soothing natural scenery. The Biwako Valley has fun activities like zip lining and snow sports available, all with an incredible view of the lake. Japan’s fastest ropeway will whisk you up the mountain in just 5 minutes in an entirely glass-encased gondola, and the 360-degree view is incredible!

4. Winter Illuminations 

Illuminations are a wonderful part of Japan’s winter traditions. Many westerners are accustomed to neighborhoods being lit up during the holidays in their home countries, but Japan takes illuminations to a whole other level! Kansai has a wide array of stunning illuminations. Midosuji, a street in downtown Osaka, is the perfect place to enjoy the lights on your way out to enjoy the city’s nightlife or food scene. Another great option is the Kobe Luminare, a huge structure that is lit up each year by hundreds of thousands of lights.

5. Okuibuki Snow Resort

skiing
12 different courses are available at Okuibuki Snow Resort

If you’re like us and need your fill of snow in winter, head to Okuibuki Snow Resort for a full-on snowsports experience. With 12 courses offering a well-balanced range of difficulty, this is one of the best snow resorts within reasonable commuting distance from the bigger cities in Kansai, and there’s plenty of accommodation to be found here. In case you’re looking for even more fun in the snow and would like to base your entire trip around it, make sure to look into Nagano and Niigata, two prefectures that both offer amazing ski resorts.

6. Winter Festivals

Toka Ebisu Festival fukusasa lucky bamboo
The Toka-Ebisu Grand Festival is one of Kansai’s wonderful winter events

Japanese festivals offer a unique chance to experience local traditions and fully immerse yourself in the culture, and they often feature a lively and vibrant atmosphere that is sure to keep you smiling. Each season has its own festivals, and winter is of course no exception – and some festivals may be even more spectacular due to the Japanese New Year! Some notable festivals to check out are the Toka-Ebisu Grand Festival and the Kasuga Wakamiya On Festival.

7. Koyasan

Koyasan
The Okunoin cemetery is one of the highlights when visiting sacred Koyasan

If you’re looking for a spiritual getaway, look no further than Koyasan. As the central location of Shingon Buddhism, in Koyasan you’ll be immersed in nature and a palpable spiritual atmosphere. There are also many hiking trails on the mountain, so you’ll be able to stay warm or even break a sweat. There are plenty of things to do on and around Koyasan, and the area easily offers enough for a weekend trip. 

8. Hatsumode

hatsumode-meiji-jingu
Across the country, people flock to Shinto shrines to perform hatsumode, the first prayer of the year

Another spiritual activity and a wholesome tradition at the beginning of the year, hatsumode is held at Shinto shrines and even some Buddhist temples. The main idea is to show gratitude for the previous year’s good health and success, and pray for their continuation in the year to come. Kansai is especially good for hatsumode as it has many historic and prominent shrines, providing the perfect surroundings and atmosphere for the first prayer of the year.

9. Amanohashidate

Amanohashidate snow
The snow-covered, pine-clad sandbar is a rare, but breathtaking sight

Do you like snow? Do you like beaches? Well, if so, we have something for you to check out. The Amanohashidate sandbar is located north of Kyoto, which sometimes gets covered in snow during the winter. It’s a tough sight to catch as the snow usually melts with the sunrise, but it is absolutely unforgettable! You may not be able to catch the phenomenon on a short trip, but don’t worry too much as there are plenty of things to do around the area that’ll make the trip worthwhile anyways. In fact, Kono Shrine is a great place for hatsumode

10. Winter Food

Shabushabu
Shabu shabu hotpot is a wintery favourite

Japanese cuisine is varied and delicious, and some foods are perfect when you’re trying to get warm on a cold day. Each region of Japan has their own specialties, also when it comes to local winter meals. In Kansai, dishes such as shabu shabu, nikujaga, yudofu and chawanmushi are very popular, just to name a few. These winter dishes are mainly based on soup or broth, and will surely help you stay warm on your travels.

Osaka winter illuminations

There are plenty of things to do and sights to see in the Kansai region, even during the colder months, and we hope this article has given you some inspiration for your winter trip to Japan. We wish you a warm and fun winter in Kansai! 

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