Winter in Japan runs from December to February. The weather is dry and cold, with January being the coldest month. It snows in the north of Japan and at higher altitudes elsewhere in Japan, so it’s the best time for winter sports.
- 1 January (New Year’s Day)
- 13 January (Coming of Age Day)
- 11 February (National Foundation Day)
- 23 February (Emperor’s birthday – observed on 24 February)
Peak travel time
31 December and the first few days of January are a major holiday time for Japanese people.
- December usually sees the last of the autumn leaves, and this year the foliage season is forecast to be later than usual.
- Many towns and cities have illuminations over the winter months, generally all through December and sometimes lasting until mid-February.
- The snow monkeys can be seen soaking in their onsen, surrounded by snow..
If you’re going somewhere outdoors or scenic, take daylight hours into account when planning your sightseeing. In Tokyo, the sun sets as early as 5pm in December and January and sunrise is about 6.30am in December and January. Because of the seasonal differences some sights, such as gardens and temples, will have different opening hours for summer and winter.
If you’re considering driving in alpine or northern areas, you should have experience in driving in snowy or icy conditions. Chains or snow tyres may be required.
A sampling of winter events
Arashiyama Hanatoro – 13-22 December. Lanterns light the streets of Arashiyama with many temples and shrines being illuminated too.
Nozawa Fire Festival – 13-15 January
Tokyo Sumo Tournament – 12-26 January
Setsubun at temples and shrines throughout Japan – 3 February. The ceremonies vary from place to place, but all involve throwing beans to drive away bad luck.
Sapporo Snow Festival – 4-11 February. Fantastic snow sculptures are on display.
Baikasai Plum Blossom Festival at Kitano Tenmangu shrine, Kyoto – 25 February. See plum blossoms, tea ceremonies and geisha all at once!
Do you have any questions about travelling around Japan? Please feel free to contact me.
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For further information, the ebook Japan Just for You is a practical step-by-step guide to planning your trip to Japan, starting with developing your own personal trip concept. It’s now available on Apple, Amazon and Kobo, and other stores.