Japan is a magical place in winter. When cooler weather rolls in, some of the coolest destinations are revealed! While Japan is famous for its excellent snow, there is so much more to see and do in the land of endless discovery. If you’re looking to skip the slopes, check out some alternative options for the snow-lover who isn’t into skiing or snowboarding.

Rejuvenate Your Body In an Onsen

Onsens, where one can bathe in mineral waters that ease muscles and increase blood flow, are open year-round and winter is the perfect time to enjoy them. These onsens are a wonderful place to relax and take in gorgeous landscapes you can only see in the winter.

Consider Kinosaki Onsen, a historic hot spring resort in Hyogo Prefecture. The whole town lights up in the winter. Slip on a yukata, stroll around town, and visit the seven tattoo-friendly public bathhouses.

Kinosaki is on the San’in Main Line on the JR railway and is accessible from Osaka and Kyoto. It’s definitely worth a visit!

Watch The Snow Monkeys Play

When the winter gets cold, even the monkeys hit the onsen! Japanese Macaques or “Snow Monkeys” are a highlight of the Japanese winter season. Watch them bathe and frolic in the snowy forest at the Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano Prefecture.

The monkeys visit the park year-round and can be seen soaking in the hot springs in winter. December to March is usually the best time to witness them bathing. To get there, buses run to Kanbayashi Onsen near the trail leading into the park from many popular destinations around the prefecture. From Kanbayashi Onsen, it’s a 25 to 40-minute walk to the Snow Monkey Park. Alternatively, if you’re coming via train or bus, you may also disembark at the Snow Monkey Park bus stop and walk 35 minutes to the park. Be advised that visitors are prohibited from touching or feeding the wildlife.

Check Out The Sapporo Snow Festival

One of the most famous events in Japan is the Sapporo Snow Festival. Every year in early February, about 400 giant ice sculptures draw crowds from all over the world.

Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido and has its own international airport so it’s easy to get to as well as being one of the most popular destinations in Japan. Take in the sights and stunning illuminations while enjoying the local beer! It’s worth a trip.

See The Snow Monsters of Zao

Mt. Zao is known for its ski resort but also for the unique formations that turn the mountain trees into “Snow Monsters” or “Juhyo”. In the winter, these fir trees get covered in ice and turn into towering pillars of snow. This phenomenon is rare and Mt. Zao is one of the few places in the world where conditions allow for it.

Zao Onsen Ski Resort is located in the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture and is accessible by bus from Yamagata Station.

Go Ice Fishing on Lake Gando

Nestled in Iwate Prefecture is Lake Gando. It’s called “the coldest place in Honshu”! From mid-January to late March, you can rent some gear and try your hand at ice fishing for smelt. Once you’ve caught enough, you can ask the rest house to fry it up for you tempura style.

The Tohoku Shinkansen runs service between Morioka and Tokyo, so getting to Iwate prefecture is easy. Once you’re there, the lake is about an hour from Morioka Station. You can rent fishing gear at the Gandoko Rest House.

Japan is an incredible place to visit in the winter. There are so many unique experiences and events you should not miss out on! The picturesque landscapes are starkly beautiful and many cities are lit up and photogenic– it’s magical! There is so much to discover in Japan during winter. These ideas are just the start!

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