14 Best Places to Visit in Japan During Winter Season

14 Best Places to Visit in Japan During Winter Season

Make this your best winter vacation yet!

Japan is definitely a popular destination in the winter. From magical winter villages to steaming onsens, there are numerous things to see and things to do exclusively during this season, all across the country. With so many amazing places to visit, you might be wondering which cool places of interest are must-visits. But don’t worry, here’s our list of the best places to visit in Japan during winter to help you in deciding where to go first.

Also read: 15 Best Winter Illuminations in Japan You Have to See IRL

Magical towns and winter villages in Japan

1. Shirakawa-go, Gifu Prefecture

winter village japan

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Once an uncharted mountainous region, Shirakawa-go is now especially popular for its traditional gassho-zukuri (thatched-roof farmhouses). Here, you’ll find many a gassho-zukuri converted into hotels, restaurants, and museums. But a must-visit in winter is Ogimachi, Shirakawa-go’s largest village and main attraction. This magical winter village in Japan gets covered in two metres of snow at the peak of the season. Plus, the village and its farmhouses are lit up in a spectacle that draws in numerous tourists on selected Sunday evenings in January and February.

TripZilla Tip: Given the sheer popularity of these events, there is a limit on the number of visitors allowed into the village during this period. So, you’ll need to make a reservation in advance!

2. Sounkyo Onsen, Hokkaido Prefecture

When visiting Japan in December, a nice soak in an onsen is a great reprieve from the wintry conditions. Sounkyo Onsen in Hokkaido is the perfect place to be as this popular resort town has several bathhouses — both private and public. The town is located in the picturesque Daisetsuzan National Park with beautiful waterfalls, such as Ginga no Taki and Ryusei no Taki. Moreover, you have to visit the famous Obako rock formation — which resembles traditional Japanese folding screens. 

Sounkyo Onsen is also home to one of Japan’s top winter attractions: the Sounkyo Ice Waterfall Festival, which occurs from late January to late March. Expect large and illuminated ice and snow structures, as well as maze-like tunnels and icy interior caverns. There’s even a fireworks display at night!

Also read: 12 Hot Spring Towns in Japan to Relax & Unwind on Vacation

3. Asahikawa, Hokkaido Prefecture

Located in the centre of Hokkaido, Asahikawa is primarily known for the Asahiyama Zoo. However, the city is also one of the most popular places to visit in Japan during winter for the Asahikawa Winter Festival — Hokkaido’s second-largest winter festival! It’s known for its huge, elaborate ice sculptures inspired by famous characters such as Mario and Totoro. You can also take a look at the amazing art pieces entered in the International Ice Sculpture Competition, where glistening sculptures look like they’ve been frozen in time. 

Moreover, expect fun activities too, like snow slides, snowmobile rides, and horse-drawn sleigh rides; it’s a winter paradise! So, if you’re in Hokkaido in late February, head down to this magical icy celebration.

4. Zao Onsen Ski Resort, Yamagata Prefecture

Zao Monsters, places to visit in japan winter

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If you’ve been doing some research about places to visit in Japan in the winter, you might have seen the famous Zao Snow Monsters in Yamagata. Okay, these aren’t real monsters — but rather, a field of trees covered in heavy snowfall from the frosty climate up on Mount Zao. The dizzying winds add movement to the formation of the layers of snow on the trees, transforming them into tall and terrifying juhyo (snow monsters). 

Now, there are several ways to see these fantastic creatures for yourself: skiing to the area, riding a snowmobile, or at a nearby cafe with a cuppa in your hand! The view gets even more mysterious at night, as the area is illuminated by colourful lights. If seeing these is at the very top of your bucket list, do stay at the Zao Onsen Ski Resort and visit from mid-February to mid-March, when the monsters are at their largest. 

5. Akita Prefecture

Looking for another winter village in Japan? Don’t miss out on Akita Prefecture! It is home to several unique winter festivals and the beautiful Nyuto Onsen Village. The latter is one of the most famous hot spring towns in Japan for its open-air bath concept, which allows you to enjoy your soak while admiring lake and forest views. Its seven onsens also have beauty and health properties, such as helping with high blood pressure and rheumatism!

Additionally, Akita gets a ton of visitors in the winter for its lively festivals. The Yokote Kamakura Festival is well-loved for its igloo-resembling snow huts, which are large enough for a group of people to sit inside. A popular activity at this festival is chilling inside the hut while grilling some rice cakes and sipping on amazake (a type of sweet rice wine). Meanwhile, the Inukko Matsuri Festival promises towering snow statues of dogs, which are said to protect families from misfortune and bring about good harvests. 

6. Ginzan Onsen, Yamagata Prefecture

Welcome to the most picturesque winter village in Japan: Ginzan Onsen. The traditional Japanese wooden buildings — most of which are hot spring inns — create a magical and cosy atmosphere, reminiscent of the heartwarming films from Studio Ghibli. So, be sure to take lots of photos when you’re there! 

Apart from the two public baths available, there are several public warashiyu (footbaths) found along the Ginzan River. It’s the perfect place to get a quick, yet relaxing soak when you’re tired from walking or just looking to warm up a little. Just find an empty space, remove your shoes, and dip your feet into the water. 

Not to mention, you’ll find tons of gift shops, eateries, and cafes in the onsen town; you won’t be bored at all, we promise! Looking to fully immerse yourself in the homely vibes of the town? Rent a costume from the Taisho period while exploring the area. Since the town is up on the mountains of Yamagata, it’s one of the quieter onsens in Japan — the perfect getaway for the weary.

7. Toyama Prefecture

places to visit in japan winter

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From rejuvenating onsens to ski resorts where exhilarating adventures await, Toyama Prefecture has something for everyone. This winter wonderland is home to the breathtaking Omaki Spa Kanko Ryokan, which can only be reached via boat. Nonetheless, the peace and serenity it holds make the journey there worth it! 

Speaking of boats, the Shogawa Gorge Cruise stands out as one of the top Japan winter attractions. Hop on this sightseeing boat that takes you around Komaki Dam and Omaki Ryokan, and take in the wintry sights of the Shogawa Gorge. Moreover, Toyama has its own gassho-zukuri village — Ainokura Gassho-style Village. Here, you can learn about the way of life of the traditional Japanese through the architecture, food, and performances. 

Other incredible places to visit in Japan during winter

8. Oirase Gorge, Aomori Prefecture

Receiving the coveted title of a Special Place of Scenic Beauty in Japan, the Oirase Gorge is one of the best places to visit in Japan during winter. This 14km gorge is literally (and figuratively) frozen in time. Its lush natural forest transforms into a winter paradise; lakes and waterfalls freeze over, and sparkling crystals light up. Each waterfall looks absolutely magical, like a grand landscape painting brought to life! The views here are entirely unique, with each icicle distinct from one another. 

9. Gujo Hachiman Castle, Gifu Prefecture

In Gujo Hachiman, Gifu, a towering castle sits atop a hill and overlooks Gujo City. It is Japan’s oldest reconstructed wooden castle, and will remind you of castles from fairy tales; there’s even a natural moat surrounding the castle! The castle served as a home to 19 generations of feudal lords for over 300 years. Safe to say, it’s a building that holds a great deal of history! 

The view here is particularly breathtaking in the winter, as thick snow accumulates on the castle’s rooftops and terraces, as well as the trees in the hillside gardens. Visit at dawn, when a faint mist shrouds the city and castle, making the area appear to float on clouds in the sky. This has given rise to the castle’s nickname, Castle in the Sky. So, if awe-inspiring views are your thing, Gujo Hachiman Castle should be on your list of top places to visit in Japan during winter. 

10. Lake Toya, Hokkaido Prefecture

Lake Toya in Hokkaido boasts a host of winter activities and stunning views. Expect clear blue skies and snowy peaks as you take a walk along the large lake. There are also tons of fun winter activities there, like horseback riding and sledding through the snow. Head up the ropeway to Mount Usu, an active volcano in Hokkaido, and treat yourself to stunning aerial views of the town. 

At night, the star activity and one of the top Japan winter attractions is the Illuminated Tunnel in Toya Town. An estimated 400,000 light bulbs illuminate the open-space area in the centre of the hot springs, creating a magical spot for photo shoots with friends and loved ones! 

11. Restaurant Kamakura Village, Nagano Prefecture

Have you ever dreamt of sitting in an igloo before? Well, in Nagano Prefecture, you can even have a whole meal in one! Restaurant Kamakura Village in the small town of Iiyama is a pop-up restaurant that makes many travellers’ winter dreams come true. It’s open for only one month, between late January and late February (usually when snowfall is the heaviest in the Japanese Alps). Patrons can enjoy a warm and hearty meal of a Japanese miso hotpot with pork and local vegetables — topped off with a glass of  amazake — as they enjoy the magical snowy views outside! 

12. Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, Nagano Prefecture

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If you’ve already done some research on places to visit in Japan during winter, then you’ve probably seen the Jigokudani Monkey Park as a top choice. It’s one of the more unique experiences in Nagano, as you’ll be able to see Japanese macaques (also known as “snow monkeys”) up close! 

The central attraction of the park is the man-made pool. Here, the monkeys gather for a group soak in the hot springs. They’re used to being in close proximity to humans, so you can watch them interact in their most natural state. Avoid touching or feeding them, though! And while the park is open all year round, winter introduces a completely unique atmosphere, with the trees and monkeys covered in snow. 

Also read: 21 Unique Things to Do in Japan That You Can’t Do Anywhere Else

13. Misotsuchi Icicles, Saitama Prefecture

Do a quick Google search of the Misotsuchi Icicles and you’ll want to put it on your bucket list of places to visit in Japan during winter. These magical icicles are reminiscent of those spewed out by Elsa from Frozen, illuminated in the evening to bring out their magnificence. The towering 10-metre-high wall of icicles stretches over 30 metres wide, formed along the Arakawa River

This amazing Japan winter attraction is usually open at the peak of winter, from January to February. Still, the exact dates change each year, so do check their website when planning for your Japan winter adventure! 

14. The Blue Pond, Hokkaido Prefecture

Of course, we can’t forget to mention The Blue Pond when naming the best Japan winter destinations. It was created due to the installation of the dam on the Biei River, which was essential in stopping the mudflow from the 1988 volcanic eruption of Mount Tokachi. Hence, the pond contains a mixture of minerals, resulting in an unrealistically beautiful shade of blue. 

Ever since then, the Blue Pond has become a popular tourist attraction, as visitors flock to admire the view. During winter, the pond starts to freeze and the trees are dusted in white; it’s a beautiful sight that has to be captured in photographs. If you visit at night, you’ll see the water glowing in a beautiful shade of emerald, illuminated by the lights below. 

Also read: 12 Stunning Winter Train Rides Around the World

Don’t you want to get on a plane now and experience the magical winter in Japan? Now you can plan your spectacular adventure — from spending a night in a winter village in Japan to visiting several of their top winter attractions!

About Author

Beautrice Oh
Beautrice Oh

Beautrice enjoys exploring new places and jumps at any chance to try something new. She loves learning about different cultures through their food, landmarks, and hidden local spots (if she can find them)! Always enthusiastic for an adventure, she plans itineraries that fully immerse herself in the destination’s culture, and will never forget to bring along her camera to capture the memories.