A Guide to Japan’s Top 7 Snow and Winter Destinations

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A Guide to Japan’s Top 7 Snow and Winter Destinations

Although winter is considered the low season for most of Japan's popular sightseeing destinations, some of the country's best attractions are best enjoyed with the help of a little snow. Wintertime is the best time of year to visit for powder hounds, hot springs enthusiasts and seasoned alpinists, as well as foodies and photographers. Enjoy winter in Japan to the fullest and discover the nation's best cold weather sightseeing spots.

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A Guide to Japan’s Top 7 Snow and Winter Destinations

Nyuto Onsen Town

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Nyuto Onsen is a resort town nestled at the base of the mountains in Akita Prefecture, made up of eight distinct hot spring ryokan (traditional inns). Tsurunoyu is the oldest and most famous of them, with some areas dating back hundreds of years, to the heyday of samurai and warlords. Akita is one of Japan's snowiest regions, and is known for its beautiful winter scenery, energetic snow festivals and towering 'snow monsters' made of hoar frost, which appear high up in the mountains during the winter months.

The Japanese Alps

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The Japanese Alps are a large and scenic mountain range located in central Japan. There are seven main cities which all have decent access to the mountains and their own unique climbing trails. Toyama City in Toyama Prefecture, where you'll find the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, the historic wonders at Takayama and Hida cities in Gifu Prefecture. In Nagano Prefecture, Omachi and Azumino cities, as well as the ancient post town of Shiojiri and the 'Gateway to the Alps', Kamikochi, which is located near Matsumoto City.

Shirakawa-go and Gokayama

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The remote village of Shirakawa in Gifu Prefecture is one of Japan's most iconic wintertime scenes. The houses here are traditional, thatched roof farmhouses known as gassho-zukuri, an architectural style unique to Japan's cold weather regions. Along with neighboring Gokayama in Toyama Prefecture, Shirakawa was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.


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Located in Nagano, Jigokudani or 'Hell Valley' got its name from the cloaks of steam escaping from its many natural hot springs. Jigokudani is a famous sightseeing spot in winter, not only for the picturesque mountain setting, but for its thriving population of hot spring loving monkeys, the native Japanese macaques. While you can't bathe with the monkeys, book a ryokan at Shibu Onsen for some rejuvenating hot spring bathing.


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Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, is host to Japan's most famous winter festival. The Sapporo Snow Festival, is held each year in February and attracts millions of spectators each year. During the festival, the city is decked out in festive lights, vendors hawking winter wares and the nearly 20-acre Odori Park becomes a stage for ice sculpting teams to show off their skills. Festival goers can also enjoy winter sports like sledding, live music and piping hot amazake (sweet rice wine) while they admire the snow sculptures.

Naeba and Kagura Ski Resorts

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One of Japan's most-visited ski areas, Naeba Ski Resort in Yuzawa, Niigata Prefecture is also one of the country's largest, with 22 runs suitable for all levels of expertise. The resort is connected to the nearby Kagura Ski Area via gondola, and combined tickets are available for unlimited access to both resorts. At the foot of Mount Naeba the ski resort town has plenty of shops and dining options as well as two hot springs to relax in after a long day on the slopes.


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Mount Zao in Yamagata Prefecture is famous for its ski resort, onsen area and the adorable nearby Zao Fox Village, a research facility that has experienced a boom in tourism recently. The mountain is also known for its 'snow monsters', which are formed around the peak when hoar frost builds up on the trees, creating eery, humanoid shapes which tower over visitors. The frost-covered trees or 'juhyou' of Mount Zao have become a popular winter sightseeing spot, and are best enjoyed in February.

In Conclusion

With so many great winter destinations in Japan, it can be difficult to choose just one. The nation's best wintertime sightseeing and activities are diverse, and range from skiiing across the mountains of Niigata to trekking through the Japanese Alps, cozying up in an ancient onsen or snapping photos of winter wildlife. Don't let the cold weather deter you from exploring Japan's best winter tourism spots.