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A Japanese Winter Holiday

It’s probably not the first place that comes to mind if you’re thinking about a winter holiday - be that for winter sun or skiing - but Japan hosts many, many things to do in the chilly season.

From late-December to early-March, it’s cheaper to travel to Japan.  You’ll also find that although shrines, temples, museums, and a number of other attractions are still open to visit, you’ll be surrounded by much less of a crowd. It’s the off-season, which means you’ll have the time and space to soak in the truly unique experiences awaiting you in the likes of Tokyo, Hokkaido, and Gifu, amongst many others.

Witnessing Mount Fuji is on the bucket lists of millions of people across the world, and if this is you, winter is definitely the best time to see Fujisan in all its snow-capped glory. December and January are renowned for crystal clear skies, low humidity, and the true spectacle of the country’s highest peak. For the best views head to the lesser-visited city of Shizuoka, or frame the mountain through the streets of Fujiyoshida. You can’t climb the mountain from September to July, but you can still hike the Fuji Five Lakes region if you’re that way inclined.

The Fuji Five Lakes are home to hundreds of places to stay, including ryokans incorporating onsen. A ‘ryokan’ is a traditional Japanese inn, while ‘onsen’ refers to the surrounding hot springs. Of course, you can have one without the other, but when in Fujikawaguchiko! An onsen is a natural hot spring bath, created as a result from the plentiful volcanic activity in Japan. You can go traditional and join a communal bath, but in the dead of winter it might be worth researching facilities with a private onsen. Imagine lying back in hot water, surrounded by nature, while the air outside is crisp and snowflakes are falling down around you. A truly unique, restorative experience.

For another immersive, but contrasting, Japan-in-winter-specific excursion, you’ve got the Zao Snow Monsters. By February, these conifer trees have been encrusted by snow and solidified by icy winds, creating magnificent, natural forms not unlike something from The Grinch. If you’ve taken our advice on onsen, you might find yourself at the Zao Onsen Ski Resort - so take the ropeway to the final station and you’ll be greeted with the incredible phenomena named juhyo by the Japanese. The snow monsters are prolific for miles, making this a must-see for snow-lovers the world over.

And finally, no winter compendium is complete without that unforgettable, chocolate-box-village. That “I can’t believe people actually get to live here”, Christmas-town vision. Shirakawa-go in Gifu is the exact place. Located in Ono, this perfectly-preserved village is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with around 1,500 inhabitants living in traditional gassho-zukuri. These beautiful, triangular buildings bring to mind gingerbread houses or garden centre displays, and when they’re coated in a layer of snow with a backdrop of snow-dusted pines, you’ll ache for Christmas Day.

Of course, these recommendations aren’t extensive! You’ve got the Shirahige Waterfalls in Hokkaido, the Winter Illuminations in Tokyo, perfect ski conditions in Nagano, snow monkeys in Jigokudani, and a whole host of indoor and outdoor activities for absolutely everyone. Oh, and all the ramen you can eat!

27th November 2023