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Japan: The Magical Snow Country

Exploring Japan

Japan has long been a coveted destination for many people: The bright lights of the metropolis of Tokyo, the unique and delicious cuisine, the incredible level of technology; however, there is so much more to Japan than its urban landscape.

For about half of the year, a large part of this country is transformed into a real winter wonderland. Many areas on the west coast experience heavy snowfalls that make these places not only beautiful, but also popular when it comes to winter holidays. These rural areas have retained an air of tradition that, you will agree, is very different from what you’ve seen in other parts of the globe.

So, if you’re ready for your coolest vacation so far, pack your warmest clothes and ski equipment, and book your flights, because here are some of the most bucket list-worthy destinations in the snowy landscape of the Land of the Rising Sun.

Gokayama and Shirakawa-go

These tiny, UNESCO World Heritage-listed villages in the heart of the country are what many call a true, authentic Japanese experience. The landscape is covered in charming little “gassho-zukuri” farmhouses with steep roofs, surrounded by picturesque snowy mountains and evergreen forests. Some of these buildings date back to the Edo period, meaning that they are several hundreds of years old—so they certainly have lots of stories to tell. Visit some of the local inns and enjoy a traditional breakfast to experience what life is like in a village where time stopped moving. If you time your visit right and end up visiting during January or February, you might catch a glimpse of Shirakawa-go when it’s beautifully lit up at night!

Sapporo Ice Sculptures

If you’re looking for a more eventful winter holiday in snowy Japan, take the bullet train to Sapporo for a week. This large city is the capital of Hokkaido and is quite a different experience from the previous suggestion on this list. The famous Sapporo Snow Festival is held here each year, which features spectacular ice sculptures and attracts literally millions of visitors every time, both from Japan and from all around the world. This is also a great destination for families, as it features fun activities such as snow slides the kids will love. Finally, foodies will have the time of their life, trying the freshest, most delicious seafood at the local markets, including dishes such as kaisendon.

Ski in Niseko

On the northern end of the snow country, just south from the city of Sapporo, you can find Niseko, one of the most famous and most visited spots among Japan ski resorts. Thanks to that popularity, nightlife and dining opportunities abound, and foreigners are always welcome. Besides all the skiing opportunities in the area, the views should not be neglected either. The nearby Mt. Yotei, that is actually an active volcano, is a sight to behold in itself—but no worries, its last eruption was thousands of years ago. It is also often said that it resembles the famous Mt. Fuji; it certainly is similarly majestic.

Yuzawa, Buried in Snow

Located in Niigata prefecture which is notorious for some of the heaviest of snowfalls, Yuzawa is a town where life has adapted to these unique weather conditions. Taking advantage of the abundance of snow, here, too, there are numerous ski resorts to enjoy with picturesque mountain ranges to serve as a backdrop. After enjoying plenty of movement during the day, you can drop by one of the ryokan inns for a hot bath and sleep on a tatami mat, to get a taste of traditional Japanese customs.

The Warmth of Manza Onsen

As referred to earlier, when in the Snow Country, an experience that is an absolute must is visiting an onsen. Onsens are traditional bathing facilities located on hot springs which abound in Japan thanks to the many active volcanoes present on the islands. Manza Onsen is one such town 1,800 meters above sea level, located on the western edge of Gunma prefecture. Here, visitors can choose from many ryokans with hot springs and take a relaxing bath while enjoying beautiful, snowy sceneries. There is nothing better than spending an afternoon soaking in the natural thermal waters.

Yamanouchi Wildlife

As mentioned, there are quite a few unique occurrences in Japan that you will not see anywhere else in the world. One such is certainly Jigokudani Monkey Park in Yamanouchi. This is where you can see monkeys (more precisely, Japanese Macaques) bathing in hot springs from up-close, which is a truly interesting sight. These monkeys pay no mind to humans, so you can see them in their real habitat, unbothered. There are also hot springs in the area for people to enjoy, so make sure you stay the night and relax a bit more!

Ice and Snow in Asahikawa

Beside Sapporo’s world-famous winter festival, there is another similar spectacle worth checking out. The Asahikawa Winter Festival, held in February, also boasts some impressive sculptures each year. They are the most beautiful when the sun has already set and lights shine through them, so don’t miss out on taking a stroll through Heiwa Dori, marveling at the amazing craftsmanship of the creators of the sculptures. While you’re there, take a trip into the Asahiyama Zoo as well and watch the penguins as they swim underwater!

Japan is a magical country; there is no doubt about it. However, many people fail to discover some of the hidden beauties these snow-covered landscapes hide. If you’re a lover of winter views or enjoy blood-pumping winter sports, Japan should have its place on your bucket list of must-visit destinations!

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