Inspiration Destinations Japan Go With the Snow: 5 Amazing Winter Activities in Japan (That Aren’t Skiing) 

Go With the Snow: 5 Amazing Winter Activities in Japan (That Aren’t Skiing) 

December 11, 2023
Torii gate in front of Lake Tazawa, Akita Prefecture, a perfect winter activity in Japan.

Not a skier? Japan’s winter wonderland provides plenty other ways to escape – whether that’s whizzing down a zipline, on horseback or deep in a delicious hotpot.

As a world-class skiing destination, Japan attracts winter sports enthusiasts from around the globe. But this country offers much more than just pristine slopes and powdery snow. From elaborate winter festivals and unusual alpine diversions to relaxing onsens and bone-warming cuisine, Japan has an array to offer beyond the ski fields.

Read on to discover five ways you can extend your frosty adventures.

Visit one of Japan’s epic winter festivals

The Japanese know how to get into the snowy spirit, with a myriad of celebrations throughout winter. There’s a party in almost every ski town, but one of the best-known is Hokkaido’s Sapporo Snow Festival, which features extravagant snow and ice sculptures. And nearby Otaru glows every year during the Otaru Snow Light Path, with illuminations, sculptures and hundreds of floating lanterns along the main canal.

Another of Japan’s snowiest destinations hails the season with the Tsunan Snow Festival, featuring snowmobile rides, ‘snow banana boating’, food stalls, a popular snowboarding tournament and an incredible sky lantern event in which hundreds of lanterns are released into the dark night sky.

Try some wild winter activities

Japan has hundreds of winter sports activities on offer, ranging from low-key to spine-tingling.  

Thrill seekers can try the ZipTour at Lotte Arai Resort – a 1500-metre-long cable that whizzes riders over snow-capped mountains. It’s one of the only ziplines in the world that allows riders to control their speed – so slow down and enjoy the views. 

If you prefer to stay on the ground, try ‘fatbiking’: mountain-biking with snow-adapted tyres. Tour rugged Hokkaido or set out under stars in Nagano. For a slower-paced adventure, strap on specially designed footwear and try snowshoeing, perhaps at the coloured lakes of Goshinkuma where a winter visit allows for an uncrowded experience.

Have an animal encounter in a winter snowscape

Japan macaques, one of the things to see and do in Japan in winter.
Macaques in natural hot springs of Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano.

Looking out across a quiet snowscape, it would be easy to think that every living creature has gone into hibernation. But winter is actually the best time to see some of Japan’s wildlife, such as the macaques of Jigokudani Monkey Park, who venture through in colder months to soak in the natural hot springs.

Near Asahikawa, on the island of Hokkaido, riders of all experience levels can set off on horseback for a guided adventure through tinselly forests. As your steed moves gently through the perfectly white landscape, you have the chance to absorb the peaceful surroundings.

Heat up in a steamy onsen

Minakami Onsen, one of the things to see and do in winter in Japan.
Takaragawa Onsen, Minakami, Gunma Prefecture.

Blessed with thousands of thermal springs said to have healing properties – and when temperatures fall below zero, a soak in steamy water does feel like a cure-all – Japan’s wellbeing enthusiasts are spoilt for choice. Head to the traditional Ginzan Onsen in Yamagata for streets that look straight out of a storybook, or try Minakami in Gunma, where several secluded ryokan offer bathing in forest surrounds.

If you time your visit to Tochigi prefecture to coincide with the Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival, you’ll find hundreds of mini snow huts built on the Sawaguchi riverbed. In the evenings, these are lit up, creating a fairytale atmosphere during your onsen soak.

Warm up with winter comfort foods

The weather outside might be frightful – but Japan’s winter cuisine sure is delightful. There’s nothing like tucking into a steaming soup or sipping hot sake as snow falls outside. Try favourites like shabu-shabu, named for the swish of thin slices of pork being dipped in an aromatic broth. Choose your own adventure with oden, a single-pot stew with a variety of ingredients simmering in a soy and kelp broth, or grab yakiimo (slow-roasted sweet potato) from a street vendor for a hearty snack.

For an unforgettable dining experience, head to Kamakura Snow Hut Village in Nagano, where you can eat steaming hotpot in a lantern-lit igloo.

Looking for more inspiration? Check out 6 Unmissable Japan Experiences.

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