Winters in Japan are anything but dreary and dull - there are still so many incredible things to do and see, some of which are even enhanced by the winter months (or only around at that time of year). Here are five different iconic views of Japan's winter, which may end up being places you'd like to add to your vacation itinerary.
Shirakawa-go covered in snow
The UNESCO listed Gassho style houses at Shirakawa-go are worth a visit no matter the time of year - but there's something about those thatched roofs being covered in snow that makes the area all the more charming. One thing is for sure, though - bundle up, and wear some sturdy waterproof snow boots - this area of Japan gets one of the world's largest amounts of snowfall!
Snow and ice sculptures at the Sapporo Snow Festival
There are a number of spots in Japan that hold snow festivals during the winter season, but Sapporo's has to be the biggest and most well known. The event is held over several different sites, with all manner of impressive sculptures to check out - as well as fun outdoor activities like snow rafting. If you're looking for a reason to head all the way up to Hokkaido then this should definitely sway your vote, but accommodation books up quickly. There is more information about the festival on their website here.
Snow monkeys hanging out at the Jigokudani Monkey Park
The snow monkeys at the Jigokudani Monkey Park have the right idea - escaping the cold by taking a dip in the hot springs here. If you're after an incredible animal encounter this has to be up there with the best, and seeing them in their natural environment is one of those travel memories that lasts a lifetime.
Kinkaku-ji standing out amongst a white winter wonderland
Japan is unique to some parts of the world in that it has four quite distinct seasons, so no matter the time of year that you visit you're bound to experience the beauty of nature in one of its many forms. There's something to be said about visiting Kinkaku-ji (or the Golden Pavilion) when it has a dusting of snow on it, and on the surrounding trees. If you could bring a fairytale landscape to the real world, this might just be it.
Winter Illuminations across the country
Another joy of Japan's winter seasons are the illuminations that serve to bring some brightness to the cold months. Illuminations are held all over the place, from amusement parks to shopping malls - you'll even find them adorning trees on prominent shopping streets (check out Omotesando for some beautiful ones).
If you're looking for ways to inject some color or some fun winter experiences to your vacation, some of these might fit the bill! Even though it can be a chilly time of year, the events that this season has to offer will have you feeling anything but cold.
I'll be doing a winter road trip down to Honshu and hope that there is snow in Kyoto. I think it will be too early though, since I'll be in Honshu late December to mid January. I will definitely check out Shirakawa-go and the Jigokudani Monkey Park. I also hope I'll be able to see a wild serow while I'm at the monkey park. I heard they hang around there.