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Does It Snow in Japan in December? 6 Best Places to Enjoy Winter

best places to enjoy snow in japanJapanese Life & Travel

Hi, it’s Junko from Japan. Does it Snow in Japan in December? The answer is YES! But the amount of snow and the best time varies depending on the area you visit. The weather in the snow season is greatly different from region to region in Japan. For example, Tokyo seldom has snowfall through the winter season while Yamagata prefecture where I currently live has the first snow at the beginning of December. Divided by areas, the Hokkaido area and the Tohoku (Eastern North) are the two largest snow country regions with heavy snowfall. The Japanese Alps mountainous areas are also famous for having a lot of snow.

In this post, I’ll introduce popular destinations for your winter season trip in Japan by themes such as ski resorts and hot springs. Hope it helps you to find your best places!

Ski Resorts

Nayoro Piyashiri in Hokkaido prefecture

When it comes to skiing, you can never ignore the Hokkaido area. It’s located in the northernmost in Japan and has a lot of ski resorts. The most popular and famous resorts among foreign tourists must be Rusutsu Resort and Niseko United. You can easily find English information about these two ski resorts, so I’ll introduce another one, a well-kept-secret place. It’s NAYORO PIYASHIRI SKI RESORT which is proud of the finest snow quality in Japan.

NAYORO is known to those in the know. Therefore it’s not crowded and empty. You can enjoy the wonderful powder snow to your heart’s content! Here is the video that introduces the NAYORO ski resort.

On the other hand, NAYORO isn’t a big city like Sapporo, and it doesn’t have many sightseeing spots or leisurely facilities. But if you want to focus on skiing, I think NAYORO is one of the best places in Japan. The only thing I must warn you is that Hokkaido prefecture in winter months is simply cold. I’ve grown up in a snowy country and am used to the heavy snow, yet HOKKAIDO IS FREEZING even on sunny days. The average temperature of NAYORO during the snow season is below the freezing point. Don’t forget to make yourself as warm as possible to protect yourself from cold air and wind.

Nayoro Piyashiri Ski Resort’s official website is here

It has an automated translation link at the bottom of the site.

Shiga Kogen in Nagano Prefecture

Shiga Kogen ski resort in Nagano prefecture is also a good choice for enjoying snow sports. It’s located on Japan’s main island and can be accessed by bus or train from Tokyo station. Also, Nagano prefecture is one of the biggest mountainous regions and has the most ski resorts among all prefectures in Japan. The quality of the snow is proven. The SHIGA KOGEN area is proud of the massive amount of snowfall and you can ski until early March.

Since the SHIGA KOGEN has 18 various slopes in total from beginners to advanced, I can recommend it for everyone while NAYORO is for earnest ski players.

If you stretch your legs to JIGOKUDANI YAEN KOEN (Jigokudani wild monkey park), you can see unique snow monkeys bathing in the hot spring. JIGOKUDANI is the only place you can see snow monkeys in Japan!

Snow Monkey’s official website in English is here

Nozawa Onsen in Nagano Prefecture

If you want both ski resorts and hot sprint resorts, the NOZAWA ONSEN area in the same Nagano prefecture would be nice as well. Nozawa Onsen city is a small town that still holds the classical air of Japan in the old days. What you can experience in NOZAWA ONSEN village may not be gorgeous, but it’ll surely make your mind and body eased. You would have a great time if you’ve already satisfied with major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.

Here’s the official promotional movie of the Nozawa Onsen sightseeing area.

Nozawa Onsen’s official website in English is here

The Winter Weather in Nagano Prefecture

Though Nagano prefecture isn’t in northern Japan but in central Japan, the region has much snow and cold weather since it’s located in a mountain range called the Japanese Alps. Though not as cold as Hokkaido, the average temperature in winter is from minus 3 degrees Celcius (27 Fahrenheit) to 6 degrees (43 Fahrenheit).

Myoko in Niigata prefecture

MYOKO in Niigata prefecture is a ski snow resort area that is getting popular among tourists and ski players from Australia. What MYOKO makes popular are the huge amount of snow and the close distance between ski slopes and town areas. As for the snow, the snow in MYOKO is highly valued by ski players since it’s not too dry but keeps moderate humidity.

The MYOKO area welcomes foreign tourists and you can easily find hotels and restaurants where English is available. Niigata prefecture is located on the Sea of Japan side of Japan’s main island. If it’s from Tokyo, you can go to MYOKO by Shinkansen (bullet train) or bus. Also, ski slopes are a stone’s throw from hotels in MYOKO. You can enjoy skiing anytime you want!

MYOKO isn’t a big city, but a rural Japanese city. There are no flashy things but is the real local life of Japan. I think you can have a good time with hot springs and nice local restaurants. Niigata is one of the biggest Sake produce areas, and it’s heaven for Japanese Sake lovers!

Here are some promotional videos of Myoko and the link to the English official site.

Myoko official website in English is here

Hot Spring Resorts

Japan is the kingdom of hot springs, and every prefecture has many good hot springs areas. Yes, it’s hard to narrow it down to one, but let me talk about GINZAN ONSEN here. It’s a small hot spring city in Yamagata prefecture where I’m from and currently live!

The GINZAN ONSEN hot spring area is located in Obanazawa city in Yamagata prefecture. The name GINZAN means silver mine in Japanese, and the place once flourished as a mining area in the Edo period (around the 1600s). The entire city of GINZAN is full of historical Japanese-style buildings. Once you enter the GINZAN area, you may feel as if you traveled to Japan in the past time. Seeing is believing, see the video below and you’ll know what I mean. These sceneries are so uncommon.

The hot spring building in Spirited Away, a Ghibli movie, was modeled after GINZAN ONSEN. Here you can spend great times with good hot springs and delicious local dishes. The GiNZAN area usually starts to have snow in early December, and the peak season is from late January to February, and the snow remains until March or early April. During the winter months, the whole city is colored white and looks so fantastic.

English introduction of Ginzan Onsen on Yamagata’s official website is here

Sapporo Snow Festival

If you prefer big cities with various sightseeing spots, you can’t miss Sapporo and Sapporo Snow Festival. It’s one of the biggest and most popular winter festivals in Japan. Sapporo city is decorated with giant snow statues created by citizens and teams from all over the world. Unfortunately, the Sapporo Snow Festival in 2022 was called off, but I want to expect the next year.

Sapporo Snow Festival’s official website in English is here

However, even if the Snow Festival is canceled, Sapporo is a wonderful city to visit. I really love Sapporo. It’s a big city, but the streets are wide and clean. Not as crowded as in Tokyo. Winter illuminations start here and there in early December, and just walking around the city gives you a great time. Above all, Sapporo is full of delicious food distinctive to the Hokkaido area! I believe Hokkaido would be a great choice for your winter trip if you love nature and delicious dishes.

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