Most people plan to be in Japan for spring to see the cherry blossoms, or autumn for the coloured leaves, but winter in Japan is excellent as well. Japan has fabulous ski resorts and lots of snow activities, but the highlight of our trip was the Sapporo Snow Festival.
Now in its 70th year, this annual 10-day event includes over 300 snow and ice sculptures displayed in three different locations in Sapporo - the biggest city on Japan’s northern island (Hokkaido). These amazing creations are up to 25 metres high and some of the more complicated structures took over 3,000 workers, 23 days to complete!
The snow and ice creations are lit up at night and some have stages and performances throughout the evening. Sapporo also hosts several ice carving competitions and the local school children participate in their own competition to build the best snowman. Locals are then encouraged to vote for their favourite entry.
Food is important in Japan and The Snow and Ice Festival is no exception, with speciality foods on offer day and night. One of the specialties of Sapporo is a dish locals call "Genghis Khan" which is a lamb barbeque hotplate dish, cooked at the table in front of you. When you want to come inside from the cold, why not try the historic Sapporo Brewery?
Winter is the perfect time to sip steaming hot cups of green tea, sample many of Japan’s hot pot dishes and the perfect time for bowls of noodles, such as Soba, Udon and Ramen. For those travellers not keen on exotic food, try Japanese curry and rice – it is very mild. Japan also does bread and cake options really well, but one of my personal favourite dishes is gratin. It is a bit like an individual white sauce casserole, often topped with cheese and made with pasta, coming in many flavours like potato, prawn or chicken. Served piping hot it is delicious on a cold winter day.
If you are skiing on the main island take some time out to visit Japan's snow monkeys - they spend their days sitting in the hot onsen springs. Skiing is possible for all skill levels and the quality of snow and the facilities in the many ski resorts is exceptional. Ski lessons are offered in English, and after a big day on the slopes the Japanese hot baths are the best!
Winter is also the best time to view Mt Fuji. If you are lucky, you can even see this famous mountain top from Tokyo! For the best views of Tokyo city, you should spend some time at Sky Tree - the tallest structure in Tokyo (634 metres). It has an observation deck and restaurant at the top.
Tokyo has many attractions that can be enjoyed when the temperatures are low. One of Tokyo's newest must-see attractions is Team Lab - an amazing Digital Art Museum of interactive and moving displays. It offers visitors the chance to experience a world of borderless art works which move in and out of rooms and which can be touched and explored. For a 3D experience like no other, make sure you get our office to book your advance tickets to this cutting-edge unique attraction.
With Qantas announcing direct flights from Australia to Hokkaido, a visit to see Japan in winter is even more accessible and it is the perfect place to take a family holiday over our long December/January holiday period.
Speak to our office today about visiting Japan, in any season!