1. Natural Beauty
From snow-covered mountains to silent frozen lakes and delicate shiny droplets frozen on tree branches, the natural scenery in winter seems more mysterious than any other season, boasting a pure frozen beauty. Famous winter spots include Shiretoko in Hokkaido (designated a World Heritage Site), with its intact grand nature and Mt. Hakkoda in Aomori which offers a white panoramic view from the ropeway ride to the top of the mountain. The coastline of the Japan Sea in Hokuriku offers a wild and savage ocean scenery, which is completely different from summer. Castle towns with their charming old atmosphere take on an elegant feature when covered in snow. Chances to bump into wild animals are higher in winter; you can see Japanese red-crowned cranes, migrant birds flying in snowy fields, as well as deer and wild rabbits running in glades.
Various festivals inherited in each region mirror the severe winter life in the North. Joyful festivals to shake off the cold are held in various regions, focused on snow, ice and the winter scenery. Major festivals include the Sapporo Snow Festival (Hokkaido, February 5-11, 2011) which overwhelms visitors by showcasing snow statues of various sizes modelled after world-famous architectures, the Kamakura Festival (Akita, February 15-16, 2011), a traditional event in Yokote Akita in which children eat rice cakes and sing songs in snow igloos equipped with an altar, and the Lake Towada Winter Story (Aomori, February 4 -28, 2011) which showcases fireworks and live shows of the Tsugaru Jamisen (banjo) by the snowy lakeside decorated by snow statues and lights.
3. Hot Springs
Hot springs, a gift from the land, is especially fun in winter as you can take a warm bath while enjoying the cold snowy scenery. The hot water with abundant minerals warms body from the inside, chasing the cold away. An open air bath (rotenburo) in winter is a must-try. Need a little courage to be naked outdoors where the temperatures are below zero? Do not worry. Once in the bath tub, your body will be kept warm while the cold air would feel comfortable on your burning face as you sit in the hot water. The northern region has a large number of hot springs, and it is not difficult to find hot springs near accommodations.
4. Winter sports
Skiing represents winter sports. With a great amount of snow of excellent quality, northern Japan has many ski resorts where quite a number of foreigners visit. Hokkaido is highly regarded for its “powder snow” by skiers, and is home to world-famous resorts, including Niseko. Within easy access from Tokyo by rail and road, the mountainous regions of Nagano and Niigata are meccas for skiing in various types of resorts. Ice-skating is also fun to try at the many indoor ice rinks around the metropolitan areas. Frozen lakes in high mountainous regions, including Megami Lake in Nagano, also offer places to enjoy ice-skating.
5. Fun Activities
Various activities – like walking, riding, snowmobiling and driving – on frozen lakes are available only in winter, and can be done in places like Lake Akan, Hokkaido. Other popular activities on frozen lakes include fishing for surf smelts by casting the line in a small hole on the surface of lakes, making big snowmen, and throwing snowballs between two battling groups, which is popular not only for children but adults as well. Local children enjoy sliding on casual plastic sleds in parks and snow slopes on street corners.
Winter is the best season to enjoy many kinds of seafood, such as yellowtail, scallop, crab, salmon, flatfish and oyster. Typically popular Japanese delicacies – such as sushi, sashimi and seafood bowls – are more delicious in winter than in any other season. As the hot broth of ramen and udon are the deciding factor of taste, they are originally dishes served in winter. Nabe (hot pot) also represents a winter delicacy in Japan; sharing a Nabe with the family or a group of friends enhances the warm atmosphere. All over Japan, various Nabe which are unique to each region with local specialties are available; for example Kiritampo Nabe in Akita, Ishikari Nabe in Hokkaido, Kaki Nabe in Miyagi and Motsu Nabe in Fukuoka. Why don’t you try a Nabe with local delicacies during your visit?
The winter season brings a lot of good shopping bargains, including fresh seafood at the markets and limited-editions of seasonal sweets and drinks. A variety of winter fashion items – such as clothes, scarves and gloves – are displayed in store windows, inspiring shoppers to dress in the latest winter trends in Japan, which doubles as protection against the cold. After the New Year, the sale season starts, making it a great time to buy any item at discounted prices.
Lake Mashu, Hokkaido
Sapporo Snow Festival
Higashinaruko Onsen, Miyagi
Lake Towada Winter Story, Aomoril
Minami Uonuma, Niigata
Old Street, Ishikawa