5 Best Towns to Enjoy the Winter Snow in Japan
American by birth and Japanese by choice, Teni Wada is a Tokyo-based writer focusing on Japanese cuisine, travel destinations, and fashion/beauty trends. Find her blog babykaiju.com where she documents her journey of navigating motherhood and a new career. Instagram and twitter: @wadateni.
Winter in Japan can mean a great deal of snow, but don’t let the cold put you off. In fact, the winter months are perhaps the best times to visit the island nation. Given Japan’s mountainous terrain and numerous volcanoes, you’re never too far from a ski slope - or a hot spring, for that matter. Winter in Japan is also a wonderful opportunity to venture out beyond the urban sprawl and experience the country, its customs, and cuisine like a local. If you looking for things to do in Japan in winter, we suggest you venture out to these 5 scenic snow-covered towns and villages to see Japan as if you’ve never seen it before.
1. Shirakawa-go, Gifu
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a popular winter destination, and it’s easy to see why: You’ll immediately fall in love with these charming, snow-covered thatched-roof farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old. The style in which these roofs are constructed is known as gasshou-zukuri, or resembling a Buddhist monk’s hands clasped together in prayer. Built without a single nail, these roofs are made to withstand the heavy annual snowfall in the Japanese Alps. Several of these gassho-style farmhouses also function as accommodations – so if you're considering memorable things to do in Japan in winter, why not spend the night in one of these rustic homes?
2. Otaru, Hokkaido
When it comes to winter in Japan, the heaviest snow falls in Hokkaido, where you can enjoy the annual Sapporo Snow Festival. But, take a 45 minute train ride, and you’ll be whisked away to the port city of Otaru, a city pivotal to the development of Japan’s northernmost island. Brick warehouses and Victorian style street lamps line Otaru Canal, giving it a distinctly European feel. Visit at night and be charmed by Otaru’s Snow Light Path, an event held in February where the streets of Otaru are decorated with snowmen and candlelight.
3. Ouchi Juku, Fukushima
Walk in the footsteps of samurai in the village of Ouchi Juku, a former post town on Aizu-Nishi Kaido that which connected Aizu, Fukushima with Nikko, Tochigi during the Edo Period. Ouchi-juku feels like a living museum, as the town has been restored to its former glory. Traditional thatched buildings, a trademark of post towns, line the unpaved main street, where you’ll find plenty of quaint shops, restaurants, and Japanese inns. Warm up with a local specialty - fish grilled at an iriori, or sunken hearth - then head to Ouchi-juku Town Pavilion to explore more of this historic village.
4. Yuzawa, Niigata
Yuzawa is the backdrop for Snow Country (Yukiguni), a novel penned by famed Japanese Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata. Yukiguni, a name for the area facing the Sea of Japan, receives intense, long-lasting snowfall that can be as 4 or 5 meters deep. While isolation is a central theme of the book, you won’t feel alone here - Yuzawa lies in the heart of Japan's Snow Country Tourism Zone, a government initiative to encourage tourism to encourage domestic and international travelers to visit this breathtaking winter wonderland.
5. Ginzan Onsen, Yamagata
A winter night walk down the snowy streets of this hot spring town will immediately invoke feelings of natsukashii, the Japanese word used to describe a feeling or yearning for times gone by. Ginzan Onsen is truly a sight to behold, with wooden inns lining its namesake Ginzan River. These structures were built between the early 20th to mid 20th century. Gas street lamps flicker softly in the night, casting a gentle amber light on the snow and surface of the river.
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