Winter and snow are both beautiful and stunning, but the cold can be loathsome after some time. However, I spent one winter in Japan and came to a better realization — that only I detest winter and the extreme cold it comes with if I still had to report for work and go on with the daily tasks. But winter on a holiday can be amazing, especially when you have complete control of the what things you’d want to do and when you want to do them.
Visiting Japan can be an incredible experience no matter where you’re from or what kind of tourism you’re looking for. It’s a beautiful, historic country with rich traditions and a fascinating culture. Understandably, however, many who travel there tend to target the spring and summer seasons. These are popular times for travel, to begin with, and they tend to bring out the most natural beauty of the land. That said, there is no season during which a trip to Japan isn’t worth your time! Accordingly, we wanted to highlight some of the fun things you can see and do during the winter in Japan.
1. Attend The Kitami Yakiniku BBQ Festival
If you’re from the West, you may associate BBQ primarily with the American South, where it’s known as a special type of meat preparation that takes on different flavors in different regions. However, East Asian cultures do a wonderful job with BBQ as well – it’s very different but in many cases every bit as delicious. Incidentally, it’s also an excellent type of cuisine to eat during the winter.
If that sounds appealing, and you’re curious about one of the marquee winter festivals in Japan, you can visit the city of Kitami and attend the annual Kitami Yakiniku BBQ Festival. Here, thousands of people gather outside to eat piping hot BBQ in the freezing cold weather, making it an almost bizarre experience. The temperatures can be very cold, but the atmosphere is festive and the food is wonderful.
2. See The Sapporo Snow Festival Art
This is another annual festival that takes place in Japan, and in this case in the town of Sapporo. The main locations are Odori Park and Susukino, and the idea of the festival is basically for artists and sculptors to put together huge, beautiful displays out of snow and ice. Some of the creations you’ll see are absolutely stunning, and at night there are often lights set against the snow sculptures to give them a wholly different appeal. It’s a beautiful festival to visit.
3. Relax At Takaragawa Onsen
Known as the best hot spring in Japan, the Takaragawa Onsen is a natural stop for any winter vacationer. The actual word “onsen” means “hot water,” and there is one in almost every major town or city in the country. If you’re visiting during the colder months of the year, however, you might want to make an effort to enjoy the best of the bunch. It’s a large public bathing area, a very relaxing one, and one that’s sure to keep you warm and comfortable even in the coldest of temperatures.
4. Catch A Glimpse Of The Geisha
There are a few sights that represent Japan to much of the world, and some aren’t visible during the winter. For instance, the famous cherry blossoms of the country won’t be in bloom just yet, and some of the famous country locations aren’t as accessible. You can, however, make an effort to see geishas in person, which to some is the quintessential Japanese experience.
Geishas have been represented in a variety of ways, sometimes in films and games, sometimes in novels, etc. One game about them actually touches on the truth, however. “Geisha Wonders” describes these women as Japanese hostesses trained in skills like dance, music, and poetry. You likely won’t see them exhibiting these skills because geisha parties and events are very exclusive. But there are places, primarily in Kyoto, where you can see and even photograph geishas no matter what season it is.
5. Ski The Japanese Alps
If you’ve never been to Japan or thought about vacationing there, you may not think of it as a ski destination. As a matter of fact, however, some of the resorts in the “Japanese Alps” are every bit as impressive and enjoyable as those in the European Alps or the American Rocky Mountains. If you like to ski, you’ll find towering peaks, inviting fresh powder, excellent resorts, and even some more of the aforementioned hot springs, which can be indescribably lovely after a long day on the slopes. Japan may just stand to become your new favorite ski destination.
This article is originally published in collaboration with Geisha Wonders. Words and photos were supplied but are now personally updated. Last update: November 1, 2018.