Instead of spending the winter cozied up under the blanket, why not head out and enjoy some of Japan’s spectacular winter scenery! From world-class ski resorts and steamy hot springs to frosty winter phenomenons like drift ice and Ice Monsters, there are some truly unforgettable sights waiting for you if you venture out into the cold. Head north and experience one of these spectacular winter getaways.
Zao Onsen Ski Resort and Snow Monsters in Yamagata and Miyagi
One of the largest ski resorts in Japan, Zao Onsen Ski Resort is also imbued with hot spring village charm and is famous for the phenomenon of its Snow Monsters! The trees that live on the highest peaks of Mt. Zao are prey to the Siberian Winds and get covered in ice that settles into strange, striking shapes that resemble monsters looming down on everyone below. Winding your way through the Ice Monsters while skiing or snowboarding is a truly memorable experience that should put Zao Onsen Resort firmly on your list for this winter. The resort has seventeen slopes to enjoy and caters to skiers of all levels from beginner trails to routes running through the forest as well as ski jumps that will satisfy advanced skiers, the longest run goes for a whopping 10km! Once you’re finished, you can sink into one of the hot springs (onsen) to warm up; there are plenty of baths from which to choose, from public onsen to private ones attached to the many accommodation options. You’ll also find a plethora of restaurants, bars and souvenir shops to enjoy which all add to the community feel at this epic ski resort.
Head to Nagano's Northern Alps to enjoy Japan’s biggest ski resort and some of the best powder snow in the world - all just a quick trip from Tokyo. One of the easiest Japan winter getaways to access, it also gets fantastic weather so you can enjoy those blue skies as you dive into the powdery snow. Host to the 1998 Winter Olympics, Hakuba Valley offers slopes ranging from beginner to Olympic level so people come from around the globe to enjoy the exciting terrain and ski on the roof of Japan! You can expect amazing panoramic views, great access to backcountry skiing, a lively nightlife in the evening complete with ramen joints and craft brew, as well as a selection of Japanese inns to relax in at the end of the day.
Centered around Mt. Niseko Annupuri, the Niseko area gets upwards of 50 feet of consistent and reliable snowfall per year. 55 miles southwest of Sapporo, four resorts work together under the name Niseko United which creates over 2,200 acres of untouched wilderness to enjoy backcountry skiing and snowboarding. Many skiers try to conquer Mt. Yotei, a towering volcano that resembles Mt. Fuji, but whether you’re ready for that or not, make sure to snap a picture of the majestic mountain. If you want to try some other winter activities then you’ll find options such as adrenaline-inducing snowmobiling, dog sledding, and snowshoeing. For those who just want to soak in the hot springs and enjoy the views, there are numerous private and public hot springs as well as local bars and restaurants with some of the best of Japanese cuisine. You can also visit the nearby coastal Yoichi City where you can try some of the finest whiskey in Japan and take a tour around the Nikka distillery or even indulge in some of the local wine or seafood. There's plenty to do to keep you busy in this beautiful part of Japan.
Drift Ice Cruises at the Okhotsk Coast in Northeastern Hokkaido
One of the most unique winter getaways in Japan involves heading to the Okhotsk coast to experience the natural phenomenon of drift ice while enjoying the crisp winter breeze. The thick drift ice travels down from the mouth of the Amur River in Russia, and it takes an icebreaker ship to cut through it, meaning you enjoy this icy wonderland splintering firsthand while aboard. You’ll be able to photograph vast expanses of ice and snow as well as witness some of the interesting wildlife that thrive in these harsh conditions. Don’t forget to bundle up! If you’d like to learn more about drift ice, there are some nearby museums in Mombetsu and Abashiri that explain this fascinating process in detail. You can also try your hand at ice fishing if you’re not done being out on the ice, or catch the Drift Ice Festival in February when you’ll be able to see some amazing ice sculptures and enjoy local food and drinks. Don’t miss trying out some of the fantastic seafood in the area including long-legged crab and various sashimi dishes.