11 of the Best Winter Views in Japan

Thoughts of winter in Japan may conjure up images of snow-covered mountains, thatched roofs powdered with white, and the warm glow of a hearth flickering out of a ryokan window. Despite winter in Japan bringing cold, dry, even frigid weather, the stunning Japanese winter landscape warms the heart, making a winter trip to Japan all the worthwhile. In this article, we have selected locations across Japan that make you feel as though you’ve been whisked away to a winter wonderland, so read on to find out where you can see some of the best winter scenery in Japan.

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Does It Snow in Japan?

While many may most closely associate images of cherry blossoms with Japan, Japan is actually one of the snowiest countries in the world, with some prefectures like Hokkaido seeing over 500 centimeters of snow annually! Although areas in the north, such as the Tohoku region and Hokkaido, have particularly snowy winters, every prefecture in Japan all the way down to Kyushu (excluding Okinawa) can see snow from time to time.

The word for snow in Japanese is “yuki,” and to celebrate the white powder, every year, multiple “yuki matsuri” snow festivals are held around Japan, such as the Yokote City Yuki Matsuri and the Sapporo Snow Festival. Particularly snowy areas such as Niigata are also referred to as “yukiguni,” which literally translates to “snow country.”

Best Winter Views in Japan

There are many areas in Japan where winter wonderland scenery spreads out before your eyes, and below are some that truly capture the beauty of wintertime in Japan!

1. Shirakawago (Gifu)

Nestled in the scenic mountains of Gifu Prefecture, the traditional village of Shiwakawago transforms into a winter wonderland as the frosty season closes in. Famous for its traditional thatched-roof houses known as “gassho-zukuri,” this UNESCO World Heritage site is unlike anything you’ve ever seen with its straw roofs adorned with snow, resembling hands joined in prayer.

Late December to late February is when you are most likely to see Shirakawago covered in snow. Winter illumination events held in January and February (ticket reservation required) further enhance the magical ambiance, turning Shirakawa-go into a fairy-tale-like destination that emphasizes the timeless charm of this historic village.

Best time to see the winter scenery: Late December to late February

2. Ginzan Onsen (Yamagata)

Ginzan Onsen, hidden away in the picturesque mountains of Yamagata, offers enchanting winter views that more than plead this historical hot spring town’s case as a must-visit winter destination. The town's nostalgic ambiance, accentuated by the soft glow of lanterns, creates an intimate and serene atmosphere. Here, guests can indulge in relaxing “onsen” hot spring baths while surrounded by the snowy landscapes, making it an idyllic winter retreat.

Full of charming eateries, shops, and accommodation facilities, visitors can feel as though they have traveled back in time to a bygone era. There are several day-trip onsen and foot baths that allow you to enjoy the ambiance of the area.

Best time to see the winter scenery: Late December to early March

・Stay at Ginzan Onsen

If you want to stay at Ginzan Onsen, make sure you book well in advance, as getting a winter booking can be a battle for the famous ryokan and onsen such as Ginzanso. Constructed during the Taisho period (1912-1926), Ginzanso embodies the architectural style of a romantic era, with all of its rooms retaining traditional Japanese aesthetics.

It houses both regular rooms and deluxe rooms with attached private onsen, all of which offer splendid scenery of the surrounding nature. Ginzanso also offers delectable seasonal meals that feature local ingredients, with special wagyu beef from Yamagata Prefecture being the star of the show.

3. The Snow Monsters of Zao (Yamagata)

Rime is a natural phenomenon where water droplets freeze upon making contact with surfaces such as trees, creating a layered frost or ice coating. Enter the pristine coniferous of Zao, fostering the perfect conditions for rime to occur, and BAM! The famous Zao Snow Monsters come to life!

The otherworldly appearance of the Zao Snow Monsters is one of Yamagata Prefecture’s key attractions during the winter and is unlike anything else on Earth. While many people can go out “monster hunting” as they make their way down the ski slopes, non-skiers can enjoy the wintery beasts at Zao Ski Resort by taking the Zao Ropeway all the way to the top. The cable car also has special operation times from late December to late February so visitors can enjoy the spectacle of the illuminated Zao Snow Monsters!

Best time to see the winter scenery: December to February

4. Hokkaido Drift Ice (Hokkaido)

Embark on an unforgettable journey to witness the enchanting drift ice phenomenon in Hokkaido. Known as “ryuhyo” in Japanese, every year, sheets of ice make the journey from the Amur River in Russia all the way down to Japan’s northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido via the Sea of Okhotsk, where they are warmly welcomed by locals and travelers alike.

A popular way to enjoy the frozen sea is with a cruise through the icy waters, giving you an unparalleled, up-close encounter with this breathtaking natural spectacle. You may even see some sealife spending their days among the slabs of ice! Klook offers one such tour, taking you through the frosty waters on an icebreaker ship, giving a unique opportunity to witness this fantastic spectacle.

Best time to see the winter scenery: January - March

5. Yokote Kamakura Festival (Akita)

Not that you needed yet another reason to visit the Tohoku region during the winter, but if you did, the Yokote Kamakura Festival in Akita Prefecture would be it! Offering a unique blend of tradition and winter beauty, the Yokote Kamakura Festival celebrates the enchanting beauty of winter and showcases the region's cultural heritage through the traditional art of crafting “kamakura” snow huts.

Taking place in an area with some of the country’s heaviest snowfall, this 450-year-old festival has become a visual spectacle that provides an opportunity for the community to come together during the cold of winter. Locals turn their fiery passion into the creation and display of kamakura, which are even more stunning when lit up at night! Whether you're strolling through the illuminated streets, interacting with the locals, or simply marveling at the intricacy of the kamakura, this festival promises an unforgettable winter experience.


6. Jigokudani (Nagano)

Is “Hell Valley” up there on your bucket list of top winter destinations to visit in Japan? Perhaps better known as “Jigokudani,” this freezing frosted dale in Nagano is blessed by steamy geothermal waters that attract snow monkeys that come to bathe in the winter.

These delightful creatures, officially known as Japanese macaques, showcase an innate understanding of how to stay warm in the harsh conditions of nature, and the contrast between the monkeys' playful antics and the serene winter surroundings creates lasting memories for those fortunate enough to witness this spectacle in Jigokudani.

Best time to see the monkeys bathing: January - February

7. Otaru (Hokkaido)

On the western coast of Hokkaido, the seasonal allure of Otaru radiates bright even in the darkest hours of the winter night. The city's canal, adorned with softly falling snow, becomes a picturesque scene straight out of a fairy tale. Otaru's streets, lined with well-preserved stone buildings from the early 20th century, exude a nostalgic ambiance that is further heightened by the winter's blanket of white. As the snow gracefully covers the cityscape, the soft glow of gas lamps along the canal creates a romantic atmosphere, inviting visitors to explore the enchanting beauty of Otaru's historic district.

Winter in Otaru is not just about the visual spectacle; it's also a culinary journey through the city's renowned gastronomic offerings. Known for its delectable seafood and sweet treats, Otaru's winter delicacies include fresh seafood caught in the nearby seas, complemented by the indulgence of local desserts.

Best time to see the winter scenery: Early December - Late March

・Stay in Otaru

After you have your adventure for the day, head back to one of Otaru’s premium accommodation options, such as Hotel Torifito Otaru Canal, where the past and present come together to create an atmosphere of classic modern luxury. The hotel’s restaurant features over 50 kinds of dishes that make use of local seasonal ingredients, so eat up and recharge for the exciting day ahead!

8. Kenrokuen (Ishikawa)

As you wander through Kenrokuen in winter, each carefully manicured tree and strategically placed stone reveals a harmonious balance between nature and human artistry. The contrast between the soft snow and the bold architectural elements, such as the historic teahouse Kanazawa Gyokusen, creates a visual extravaganza that captures the essence of seasonal beauty. Kenrokuen's winter charm transcends the boundaries of time, offering a glimpse into the poetic aesthetics of traditional Japanese gardens, where every snowflake contributes to the garden's ever-evolving narrative.

The garden's history actually dates back to the Edo period (1603–1868), with the Maeda family, who ruled the Kaga Domain (present-day Ishikawa Prefecture), maintaining and developing the garden. It evolved into the beautifully landscaped masterpiece seen today and is now considered one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. Beautiful all year round, Kenrokuen cannot be missed during the winter.

Best time to see the winter scenery: January - February

9. Sapporo Snow Festival (Hokkaido)

The Sapporo Snow Festival stands as one of Japan's most renowned winter events, captivating spectators with its breathtaking display of colossal snow sculptures. Held annually in February in the city of Sapporo, Hokkaido, this festival transforms the urban landscape into a world like no other. During the festival, Odori Park serves as the primary venue for the snow sculptures, featuring an array of intricate and massive creations that vary widely in themes, ranging from detailed buildings to popular characters.

 The roots of the Sapporo Snow Festival trace back to 1950 when local high school students created a few snow statues in Odori Park, and the event has since evolved into a globally recognized celebration of artistry and winter magic. The iconic snow festival has become a symbol of Hokkaido's winter majesty, drawing millions of visitors each year who come to witness the ephemeral beauty of these frozen masterpieces.

10. Kobe Luminarie (Hyogo)

The Kobe Luminarie is an annual illumination event held in January that bathes the city in a radiant sea of lights, creating a mesmerizing visual journey that goes straight to the heart. This enchanting display of illumination holds deep significance for the people of Kobe, as it is a poignant tribute to the victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake that struck Kobe in 1995. This event not only commemorates the lives lost and the devastation caused by the earthquake, but also symbolizes the resilience, unity, and hope of the community in the face of adversity.

The dazzling light installations, often featuring intricate and artistic designs, transform Kobe's streets into a magical realm during the winter nights, and visitors can stroll through the illuminated pathways, experiencing a sense of unity and optimism that radiates from the vibrant display.

11. Ouchijuku (Fukushima)

Winter in Ouchijuku introduces a quietude that enhances the town's rustic allure. Away from the hustle and bustle of modern life, visitors can meander through the narrow pathways, appreciating the simplicity of life in this town that seems frozen in time in the Edo period. The season invites a contemplative stroll, where the winter blanket adds to the historical narrative of this picturesque destination.

During its heyday, Ouchijuku's economy was centered around providing services and accommodation for weary travelers as an important post town. The town's iconic thatched-roof houses were well-suited for the heavy snowfall in the region and have stood the test of time, treating us to their nostalgic magic still today. Beyond the charming exterior in winter, Ouchijuku provides an authentic glimpse into Japan's rich cultural tapestry, inviting those who venture here to immerse themselves in the peaceful ambiance of a well-preserved time capsule.

Best time to see the winter scenery Late December - Early March

Finding Magical Winter Scenes in Japan

Where will you find magic in the Japanese winterland? Will it be by a crackling fire? A steamy onsen? Or out under the stars as you take in the breathtaking illumination scenes of a vibrant city night? Everyone has their own ideal winter scenery, but with the many breathtaking winter views in Japan, perhaps a destination on the above list will bring a bit of sparkle to your winter. Wherever you go and whatever you do, an unforgettable journey is awaiting you, and even on the coldest of days, the heart of adventure beats with warmth.

Thumbnail: AaronChenPS2 / Shutterstock.com

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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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About the author

Alexander Litz
Having moved to rural Yamagata Prefecture after junior high school, Alexander bounced around Tokyo, Seoul, and Taipei until he eventually returned to Yamagata, where he carved out a career as a travel writer and tourism professional. A serial traveler, feverous nature enthusiast, and advocate for adventure, Alexander has explored over 40 countries and all 47 prefectures of Japan. He has made it his life’s work to bring sustainable tourism to rural areas in order to promote, protect, and preserve local culture, traditions, and ways of life.
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