Winter in Japan is a snow-covered skiers paradise, with few crowds thanks to spring’s more famous cherry blossom season, green summer landscapes and the autumnal warmth of the country’s natural landscape.
There’s more to Japan in winter than just skiing, though, with much to explore away from the perfect pistes. Here are five highlights we think you should experience.
The Illuminated Ice Falls of Oirase Gorge
Oirase Gorge is located just an hour and 20 minutes from Hachinohe, at the north of Honshu, the main island. This gorge is one of the most beautiful river valleys in Japan, with vibrant and fast-flowing waters that freeze over during the winter months.
With numerous waterfalls, including Choshi Otaki Waterfall, visitors to the Oirase Gorge can gaze at rare ice falls and witness the beauty of icicles and frozen streams, all of which have been carefully lit with LED lamps that don’t melt the ice.
During the winter months, Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryu Hotel, located alongside Oirase Gorge, runs night tours for visitors to view the spectacle of the frozen waterfalls.
Yuki Daruma Festival
Starting in early February every year Hakusan city, located in Ishikawa Prefecture on the opposite of the Honshu island from Tokyo, puts thousands of snowmen on display, handmade by the villagers in all shapes and sizes.
They line the streets of Shiramine and Kuwajima, and in the evening the insides of the snowman are illuminated with candles creating a magical atmosphere. Brilliant for children and adults alike, this is a snow festival not to be missed.
Nanto Fukumitsu Snow Illumination Festival
Nanto, located near Toyama on the famous Three Star Road route to the west of Honshu, is in a mountainous area where the Nanto Fukumitsu Snow Illumination Festival takes place. During this annual event, huge paper balloons are let loose, floating up to the heavens with Kuwa Mountain serving as a backdrop.
As they rise into the air, they release red banners, creating a marvellous effect. Visitors to the festival can eat hot pot, enjoy a mochi making competition, write messages on the paper balloons and take part in a picture contest, along with many other activities.
Crystal Snow on Mount Aso
Covering an area of 280 square miles, Aso-Kuju National Park stretches across Oita and Kumamoto on the southern Kyushu island. The unique landforms and other geographical features of the park, sculpted by volcanic activity, make Aso-Kuju a must-visit destination.
The sight becomes even more striking with a dramatic dusting of snow during the winter months, the mountain taking on a crystalline look that glistens under the low sun.
Mount Aso Nakadake Crater is one of the most popular attractions on the mountain. The crater can be reached on foot, by car, or by ropeway. Visitors can also stop and explore the Aso Volcano Museum and Kusasenri, a spot famous for its double crater and rural landscape where cattle and horses graze.
Enjoy the thrill of being transported in the crisp, open-air along scenic winter trails and absorb the breath-taking views of the Japanese mountains – while being led by a pack of well-trained huskies.
Located in the northern-most main island, Hokkaido, there are trails more than 10km long, allowing you to explore some of Japan’s lesser-known backcountry routes with tours available which range from two to six hours.
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