Winter in Japan will look very different depending on where you head for the season. You have plenty of destination options — it's really about the winter experience you want. Meanwhile, those who dislike snow can escape to Okinawa to enjoy T-shirt weather. The mainland and northern Japan offer incredible sights if you don't mind bracing for the cold. Here is a list of nine of Japan's most beautiful winter landscapes. We have a healthy mix of unmissable destinations and a few niche recommendations.
1. Shirakawa-go in Gifu
Shirakawa-go should be on any Japan traveler's list. It's the country's most famous UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with Gokayama in Toyama Prefecture, and is well worth a detour through Gifu Prefecture, where it's located. In the winter, the traditional houses are covered in snow, making the wooden structures pop on a white background.
Book a tour of Shirakawa-go to make the most of your visit. Lunch is included!
2. Kifune Shrine in Kyoto
Located in the mountains north of Kyoto City, Kifune is a picturesque shrine. In the winter, the steps leading to the shrine grounds, lined with lanterns, are covered in a fluffy layer of snow. While downtown Kyoto might not get too much snow, Kifune receives quite a lot of snow every winter, so dress well to stay warm and dry. Be sure to check the weather conditions and access before heading out.
3. Akita's Kamakura Snow Domes
If you love all things winter, you'll love most of the Tohoku prefectures, but if you have to pick just one, we recommend Akita. Much of Akita's prefectural traditions and cultural heritage are related to the winter season, including kamakura snow domes. Various festivals around Akita Prefecture feature kamakura snow domes, though the biggest events are those held in Yokote, Rokugo, and Narayama.
4. Lake Tazawa in Akita
Another Akita spot to visit in the winter is Lake Tazawa. The deepest lake in Japan has gorgeous sights all around its perimeter, but the most notable is Gozanoishi Shrine, a sacred site with a torii gate along the shore. In the winter, you can snap a photo of the red gate against the frozen lake — a genuinely out-worldly sight.
5. Ginzan Onsen in Yamagata
Similar to Shirokawa-go, Ginzan Onsen is a postcard-worthy destination. The hot springs town's main street is lined with ryokan, traditional Japanese inns. A night at one of the town's accommodations is a must, as Ginzan Onsen's secluded location in the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture makes it challenging to plan a day trip here. The town is a pedestrian-only zone, meaning you can stroll peacefully, taking in the sights and hot spring-hopping leisurely.
Yamagata Prefecture has a lot to offer. See what Yamagata food experiences you can book on byFood.
6. Mt. Fuji
Japan's tallest and most iconic peak looks best in the winter, when the top of the volcano is covered in snow. This is the view of Mt. Fuji that most of us are familiar with. The Kanto region's mild winter temperatures also allow for more opportunities to see Mt. Fuji from Tokyo, though we recommend adding a day trip to Lake Kawaguchi to your itinerary.
Lake Kawaguchi, one of the five lakes around Mt. Fuji, stays lively throughout winter. Time your trip to attend the winter fireworks, held every weekend from early January to early February every year.
7. Tottori Sand Dunes
You probably didn't expect to see Tottori Prefecture's main attraction on this list of winter landscapes. But the dunes sometimes get a light layer of snow that covers their peaks for a rare view of winter sand dunes. You can climb up and down the dunes and end your day at the adjacent museum.
8. Tochigi's Art Biotop
We're straying away from natural wonders for this recommendation. Art Biotop is a water garden conceptualized and designed by Junya Ishigami. While the architect used trees from neighboring properties — 318 trees, to be exact — and kept to the balance of a natural ecosystem, the garden's unnatural shapes are crisp in the winter, when the ground is covered in snow, and the ponds act like mirrors, reflecting the leafless trees above.
Art Biotop is located on the outskirts of Nasu, about an hour's drive north of Nikko.
9. Hoshino Resort Tomamu in Hokkaido
Along with Akita, Hokkaido is another prefecture with guaranteed winter fun. With numerous snow festivals, world-class ski resorts, and some of the country's best seafood, it should definitely be on your list if you travel to Japan in the winter. There are so many places to see in winter in Hokkaido, but one truly magical place is Hoshino Resort Tomamu. Located in Tomamu, a small town on the southern edge of the Daizetsuzan National Park, it has everything you need to spend a jolly holiday.
One of the most popular attractions of Hoshino Resort Tomamu is Unkai Terrace, an observation deck with a few unique viewpoints to look down into the valley below. In the summer, many travelers come here to see unkai, or "sea of clouds," which only happens with the perfect weather conditions. But very few people know this observatory is also open in the winter. At an altitude of over 1,000 meters, it's no surprise that you can see frosted trees twinkle in the sunlight between December and March.
For more incredible sights in Hokkaido, check out these unique winter experiences:
Bonus: Snow Walls Along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is a 90-kilometer road that serpents throughout the Japanese Alps. In the fall, it boasts views of stunning foliage. Travelers come here in the spring to see the colossal 20-meter-tall snow walls on either side of the road. This is technically not a winter sight, but it is still worth mentioning because it features, well, a whole lot of snow.
Are you traveling to Japan in the upcoming months? Browse byFood food experiences for guided tours, cooking classes, and more.