Japan is lucky enough to experience all four seasons in their full glory, and winter is no exception. With world-class skiing and snowboarding on offer, steamy onsens to soothe your tired muscles after a long day on the slopes, incredible natural landscapes, and animals to discover and some of the best quirky attractions around, you’re spoilt for choice in the cooler months!
Niseko Ski Village, Hokkaido, Japan
Skiing & snowboarding
Japan is deservedly famous for its amazing snow. Here are two of our favourite options, whether you’re into big resorts with all the bells and whistles, or something a little more low-key and traditional.
Niseko in Hokkaido is Japan’s largest and most popular ski resort, and with good reason. Here, you’ll find copious amounts of dry, powdery snow, excellent infrastructure and plenty of apres ski fun. It’s suitable for all levels with ample groomed runs for beginners and intermediates. Niseko is also a favourite among experienced skiers and boarders, as the terrain offers great opportunities for off-piste and backcountry action.
For a quieter, authentically Japanese experience with fewer tourists and truly world-class skiing, head to Appi Kogen in Iwate. The resort boasts more than 45km of ski runs, most of which are on the slopes of Mt Maemori and a couple on nearby Mt Nishimori. The runs here are wide and long, with more than half stretching for over 2km. There’s also a family section with mini courses, sledding and snow tubes for the kids.
Dogo Onsen, Ehime, Japan
Japan has its volcanically active topography to thank for the plethora of hot springs dotted around the country – in fact there are more than 3000 to choose from, and winter is the perfect time to indulge. Be sure to research and observe ‘onsen etiquette’ before your visit to avoid offending the locals or making a goose of yourself!
This picturesque mountain town in Hyogo is home to 7 public onsens. Don a yukata (traditional Japanese dress) and take a stroll around the charming village streets lined with willow trees before sliding into one of the hot springs and soaking your cares away. If you can, take a dip in an outdoor onsen while it’s snowing for an exhilarating and truly magical experience. Day trippers can grab a day pass to all the onsens for 1200 yen. But we recommend staying at least a night at one of the 80+ ryokans (traditional inns) for a pass to the hot springs and a more immersive experience. See what we did there?
Japan’s oldest onsen Dogo in Ehime is housed in a beautiful wooden building, a fascinating maze of passages, stairs and rooms with steaming hot springs. And we mean really hot! When you’re done bathing, you can take an optional tour of the emperor’s private onsen for an extra fee. After a visit here it’s not hard to see how this historic place inspired such artistic works as Botchan, a 1906 novel by Natsume Soseki, and more recently the popular 2001 Miyazaki film Spirited Away. Packages range from 400 to 1200 yen.
Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, Nagano, Japan
Unforgettable experiences for animal lovers
The Japanese love animals – the cuter the better! If you’re on the same page, you’re in for a treat. Check out these two somewhat unusual offerings, both perfect for the winter months.
Snow Monkey Park
Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park in Nagano is the perfect winter experience before or after your ski trip. You’ll see around 100 local snow monkeys bathing in the hot springs here. The monkeys aren’t at all shy, and may come right up to you to say hi! The 1.6km hike from the bus to the hot springs is long, sometimes slippery and steep in parts, so it may not be suitable for young children or the elderly. Our top tips: dress warmly and go as early in the morning as possible to avoid the biggest crowds of tourists. Admission is 800 yen.
Why not try something a little different? At Tokyo’s Harry Hedgehog Café you can cuddle a hedgehog and even buy one if you fall head over heels, as the café is also a pet store. The spiky residents are available in a variety of colours including ‘cinnamon’, ‘albino’ and ‘salt and pepper’, so the only question remaining is whether to go for the tea or coffee! The café has two locations in Tokyo: Harajuku and Roppongi. A visit will cost you 1000 yen for 30 minutes including a complimentary drink.