Snow may start early as November in some parts of Japan, usually peaks in February, and may last to May in some areas. When winter comes, much of Japan is blanketed in snow. As the snow settles, the season of snow activities start, and Japan becomes a winter wonderland. Snow resorts provide a safe place for fun in the snow for all ages. Having no experience in the snow should not hinder you from trying and enjoying it as there are activities that suit everyone.
An array of snow activities
Most resorts have parks for children with playgrounds, sledding slopes, and spaces for snowman building and igloos. Notable family-friendly resorts include Mt. Jeans Ski Resort Nasu famous for its snow escalator, Grandeco Snow Resort equipped with snow striders, and Minakami Kogen Fujiwara Ski Resort with its gigantic inflatable slide. Minakami Kogen Resort 200 has a kids’ park with a variety of sledges, tubes, and even a snow tube carousel. Most of these resorts also offer day-care services, so parents can take some time off to enjoy the slopes yourselves.
The most popular winter activities in Japan are snowboarding and skiing. However, for those seeking a unique snow adventure, snowshoeing - suitable for all ages – is a great way to explore scenic, untouched winterscapes. Modern spiked snowshoes are a standard option worldwide for exploring the snow-covered wilderness, but if you prefer a unique Japan experience, opt for the Kanjiki snowshoe – light and durable footwear making exploring easier – the traditional bamboo snowshoes used since ancient times.
For those who lack the time (or patience) to learn skiing or snowboarding or prefer to simply have fun with the snow, consider sledging – option with snow racers is also available - or snow tubing, or the various choices of snow vehicles, including fatbike, snow bike, snow mobile and snow buggy. Even for non-license holder, you can have a go at these snow vehicles too! If you would like to have some time with the animals, you could consider sleighing instead, whereby your carriage can be drawn by horses or reindeers.
How about a unique winter activity that can also fill your stomach? Try ice fishing in Japan, or locally known as Wakasagi Tsuri. Wakasagi refers to a type of smelt fish found in Hokkaido, while tsuri means fishing in Japanese. What used to be a means of obtaining food during the old times has become a winter recreation. Even with zero experience, you can try ice fishing in Japan at places with freezing temperatures, such as Aomori, Ibaraki, and Nagano Prefectures!
What to wear
To cope with the cold, it is important and vital to always dress warmly, so as to enjoy your time comfortably and safely. By having a few layers of warm clothing, you can easily remove any layer when indoors with heating. For the outermost layer, a lightweight jacket that can well retain body heat and protect you from harsh winds is ideal. For inner wears, it is also essential to wear those made with heating, thermal technology. Thermal socks, gloves and warm head wear helps too! Proper non-skid boots aid you in walking on the snow and can help prevent you from slipping on icy paths.
Where to go
Hokkaido Prefecture is certainly one of the most popular winter destinations in Japan. On the other hand, Akita Prefecture has spectacular snow festivals like the Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival that features hundreds of big and small snow domes dotted around the city. Nagano Prefecture has the adorable snow monkeys bathing in onsen found in Jigokudani Park. Niigata Prefecture features the easily accessible ski area from Tokyo – Gala Yuzawa – conveniently connected with a shinkansen station. You will be mesmerized by the views and ambience of Yamagata Prefecture’s Ginzan Onsen as it reminds you of Hayao Miyazaki’s Oscar-winning film, Spirited Away, inspired by its scenery. So much to do in Japan during winter, so start planning now!