Spread the love

Winter in Japan offers an array of outdoor adventure activities across the country, with skiing easily one of the most popular reasons for Australians to visit during the coldest months. But if you’re not a ski fanatic, or if outdoor pursuits in the countryside are not your thing, Japan’s urban metropolises – relieved from the summer heat – re-energise and embrace the magic of winter making it an excellent time of the year to visit.

With their reimagined seasonal charm and character, here’s a guide to some of the activities you can enjoy in Japan’s cities during the winter months.

 Christmas markets

 Christmas might not be a major holiday in Japan like it is in Australia, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find plenty of festive events and decorations to enjoy around Japan’s cities at this time of year. In fact, wandering around German-style Christmas markets is a popular activity in select cities in December – especially at night when the cosy stalls and seasonal illuminations really come to life.

Depending on where your itinerary takes you, highlight Christmas markets to look out for include The Tokyo Christmas Market and Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills Christmas Market, the Osaka Christmas Market, and Yokohama’s Red Brick Warehouse Christmas Market.

Ice skating

Making the most of the cold temperatures outside, why not try the unusual experience of open-air ice skating during your winter trip to Japan? Most ice rinks are open into the evening providing a great opportunity to have some carefree fun while appreciating the winter illuminations and city skyline around you.

The Coach Midtown Ice Rink located in Tokyo’s Roppongi area and the Art Rink at the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse are regular skating spots in the winter months, but it’s worth doing some research before you travel as temporary ice rinks can pop up in various urban locations.

Winter illuminations 

Spectacular illuminations are enjoyed all throughout winter in Japan giving city streets and parks an inviting warm glow on even the coldest of nights. While you’ll encounter magical illuminations around almost every corner on your urban exploration, there are a few must-see hotspots including the Tokyo Mega Illumi at Oi Racecourse, Tokyo’s Omotesando Illuminations and Roppongi Hills Illumination, and the Tokyo Blue Garden Winter Festival. Meanwhile in Osaka, don’t miss the opportunity to see Osaka Castle transform into a colourful nighttime spectacle or the artful Osaka Hikari Renaissance illuminations in various locations including Nakanoshima Park.

Food, drink, and cosy hospitality

 As people retreat inside from the chilly weather, winter is ideal for experiencing some of Japan’s best indoor offerings for food and drink, from the liveliest and most trendy venues to the more peaceful and traditional. While you could head to a casual and cosy izakaya (traditional-Japanese style pub) to try a hearty hot pot dish such as oden or nabe, you might choose to seek some respite from the busy streets with the homely and calming hospitality of a traditional teahouse.

Japan’s craft beer scene has also gained momentum in recent years, with cities all over the country now home to independent breweries where you can explore a selection of innovative flavours. Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe are some of the craft-brewing hotspots in Japan, but even the smallest cities are developing a thriving craft beer scene of their own. As well as innovating with new ingredients and brewing methods, pairing food with beer is also an important part of the craft beer culture in Japan, so you can expect to enjoy a delicious dish or two while spending time in these friendly and creative establishments.

Soak in an onsen (hot spring)

After a day out exploring the sights, what better way could there be to unwind than to soak in the warm waters of a traditional Japanese onsen. With onsen bathing having been part of Japanese culture for thousands of years, many of Japan’s cities are home to historic onsen buildings including the bathhouse of Dogo Onsen Honken in the heart of Matsuyama which was built in 1894. Dating back to 1923, the characterful wooden structure of Funaoka Onsen in Kyoto is also one of the city’s oldest bathhouses, while Tokyo’s Daikoku-yu onsen offers a selection of indoor and outdoor bathing pools in a charming retro atmosphere.

Unsurprisingly, Japan’s revered pastime of onsen bathing has, in many places, been reinvented for modern times. For example, Thermae-yu in central Tokyo is akin to an impressive spa resort complex featuring hot spring baths, stone saunas, a selection of spa treatments and its own café, bar and restaurant. Whether you’re looking to experience a slice of Japanese history or indulge in a luxurious experience, there are plenty of onsen-bathing options in Japan’s cities to suit your taste or mood.