Hokkaido, the Tohoku region, and some of the prefectures on the side of the Sea of Japan, are known for being heavily covered in snow during the winter. If you are going to Japan during the winter, it is a good idea to try and visit some places where you can experience the true Japanese winter. This time, we have put together 5 spots that we recommend to visit - we hope they will be useful as a reference!
1. Enjoy ice sculptures and kimono shows! Tokamachi, in Niigata prefecture, is famous for its snow festival
Niigata prefecture is known to be a region with heavy snowfall. The city of Tokamachi is known to be the first place in Japan where the locals got together to celebrate a snow festival, making it the "birthplace of the modern snow festivals." It is celebrated around mid-February every year (lasting for 3 days) and, during the festival, large works of art made of snow are placed all over the city. In addition, the festival includes other activities that take place in a total of 27 places, including the city and the "Omatsuri Hiroba," festival venues in villages in the mountains. The activities include tea ceremonies on the snow where you can enjoy local delicacies, giant slides made of snow, and sports meetings. The giant snow stage, which has been registered in the Guinness World Records, offers live music performances and a most whimsical and gorgeous kimono show. The climax, featuring bright winter fireworks, is a highlight that you should not miss.
*Tokamachi Snow Festival
2. Sapporo, Hokkaido, a town always bustling with tourists from Japan and overseas
Sapporo is the largest city in Hokkaido, and a variety of events make it very lively during the winter. Among these, the "Sapporo Snow Festival" is especially noteworthy, as it is a snow festival representative of Japan that receives more than 2 million visitors every year - the celebrations include snowball fights, an exhibition of ice sculptures, and even a carnival. This snow festival started with some local students placing 6 ice sculptures in Odori Park, and it keeps growing as the years go by: even the self-defense army participates in it now! The snow used in the venues, which are 3 in total, amounts to about 6,500 5-ton trucks! And the number of ice sculptures is more than 200! The festival also includes an international ice sculpting contest in which teams from all over the world, regions, and cities compete to create the best ice sculpture. The venue thus offers an international atmosphere where both participants and visitors can communicate and establish friendly relations. The festival is held every year starting at the beginning of February and lasting until mid-February, so make sure to participate if you are around at the time. (Dates differ depending on the venue, so be sure to check the latest information in advance).
*Sapporo Snow Festival
3. Enjoy a large snow wall in Tateyama-machi, Toyama prefecture
The snow-covered landscape of Toyama is highly popular among tourists both from Japan and overseas. Especially famous is the Tateyama Murodo plain which, at 2,450 m above sea level, is one of the greatest areas of heavy snowfall in the world. Since it is a snowdrift, the accumulation of snow is especially large here. In "Otani," near Murodo, there are places where it even surpasses 20 m. The "Yuki no Otani" giant snow wall is created by removing the snow on the road that crosses Otani. This process takes about 1 month, and it is done with a bulldozer and following GPS instructions to locate the road covered by the snow. The sight of the final result is simply overwhelming! Many bus tours visit "Otani" from mid-April to mid-June. The "Otani road", which is only for pedestrians and runs for about 500 m, is open to the general public, and visitors are allowed to walk through the dynamic snow wall.
4. Enjoy the view of Nagano's Chikumagawa River and Shinanogawa River in Nagano prefecture and Niigata prefecture from the train window
The area along the road of the local train Iiyama line, which connects Nagano Station with Echigo-Kawaguchi Station in Niigata, is known to be one of the areas of heaviest snowfall in Japan. During the winter, you can enjoy the beautiful view of the mountains covered in snow, and of the silver-colored rural landscape from your train window. Depending on the weather, you can enjoy a different view: blue skies and a silvery world on fine weather days, and a completely pure white world on snowy days. The train zigzags alongside the river before it gets into the mountains. If you are looking to enjoy a relaxing train journey in Japan that allows you to indulge in the view of small deserted stations and charming villages, this is definitely for you. The bento lunch box and the Japanese sake from Nagano and Niigata that you can have in the train while you enjoy the view will surely enhance the experience.
5. Mt. Iwaki in Aomori prefecture, where you can enjoy both playing in the snow and hot springs
Mt. Iwaki in Aomori prefecture is a beautiful mountain that can be seen from anywhere in the vast Tsugaru Plain. A snow festival and other events are held in this mountain every year around the middle of February. In addition, the Iwakisan Hyakuzawa Ski Station, from which you can enjoy a bird view of the Tsugaru Plain while skiing, offers a variety of activities for a fun day out, including snowshoeing around Mt. Iwaki, a snowmobile ride with an instructor, snowman-making, kamakura-making (kamakura are small houses made of snow), and snow fights. And if you get tired of playing in the snow, you can always take a relaxed bath in the hot springs in Mt. Iwaki. This is a lesser known spot that we would like to recommend to those who want to make the most out of their snow experience in Japan.
How did you like the article? The spots featured here offer plenty of activities unique to Japan, such as tours through snowy landscapes, festivals, and hot springs. Make sure you enjoy the snow if you are visiting Japan during the winter!