Snow Mecha and Other Winter Japanese Activities
September 7, 2011 10:10 AM   Subscribe

What to do during a January honeymoon in Japan?

My fiancé and I are getting married in October, but we're aiming for an unconventional honeymoon afterwards: Japan in winter. We'll be in Japan from December 27th to January 14th with a full rail pass. What winter-only things can we do whilst we're there? What do we do on New Year's Day? Where can we go to ski? What Japanese activities are less fun in winter? (I could guess most of them, like skinny dipping in Hokkaido, but I'm more interested in the less obvious ones.)
posted by spamguy to Travel & Transportation around Japan (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Ski: My experience is that it is not great to ski on Honshu until well into the New Year, but this is a great time to go to Hokkaido and you have enough time to do it (even by train). I loved Niseko. If the timing is good consider also the snow festivals (yukimatsuri) in Sapporo and even better in Otaru.

New Year's Day: You should go to the department stores and watch little old ladies and young women in stylish heels beat each other up for the fukubukuro or lucky bags, where they buy mystery merchandise at a fixed price before knowing what they get.

New Year's Eve: Do hatsumode with everyone else! Go to temple, wait in line, make wishes clap your hands and ring the bell. Eat carnival foods. Starts at midnight. You can do this in a big city temple or a small town one, as you can imagine the atmosphere is different. I have done both and enjoyed both.

winter only: On ONLY approximately the 24 December and 2 January can you see the emperor and go into the grounds of the palace in Tokyo. There are an unimaginable number of people but it is quite an experience.

You can go skinny-dipping anywhere that has a good rotemburo (outside public bath) and Hokkaido has some awesome ones. Closer to Tokyo the obvious ones are Nikko (good snowshoeing) and Hakone.
posted by whatzit at 10:18 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Niseko in Hokkaido has the highest snowfalls of any skihill in the world, and is also a popular place with foreigners (especially Aussies) in the winter months.

While skinny dipping in the ocean may not such a great idea, going to outdoor hot spring resorts is, and they are all over the country.

A unique New Year's activity would be to listen to the temple bell ring at midnight, and then go to a shrine first thing in the morning. Tokyo would be a convenient place to do this, but it would be very crowded.

Winter food is the best in Japan, especially fish. There's nothing like going to Omi-Ichiba in Kanazawa in winter. In fact, I would recommend travelling to Kanazawa and the Noto Peninsula. It'll be cold with lots of snow, but it's beautiful, the food is good, and there is lots to see and do.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:24 AM on September 7, 2011

Hatsumode is on New Year's Day, not eve. But it's a good thing to do.
posted by adamrice at 10:38 AM on September 7, 2011

Doesn't hatsumode start at just after midnight, hence on January 1st? I could be misremembering as I suck at dates and haven't been in a couple years.
posted by whatzit at 11:57 AM on September 7, 2011

No, Hatsumode starts after sunrise on New Year's Day. Hatsumode is visiting a Shinto Shrine.

On New Year's Eve, some people visit a Buddhist Temple to hear the temple bell ring at midnight. Generally speaking, though, New Year's Eve is spent with family watching television (the Red and White song competition on NHK) and eating and drinking.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:59 AM on September 7, 2011

Nagano is pretty nice, I think. I worked the Olympics there and greatly enjoyed it. Snow monkeys.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:09 PM on September 7, 2011

My wife and I stayed at a niceish hotel in Kinugawa (the Kinugawa Plaza Hotel, website is in Japanese, sorry) in the winter a couple years ago. They have an onsen, with both indoor and outdoor baths, but they also had a little complex down the road. There were maybe ten private baths there, and the hotel gives each guest yukata's for room wear, and warm coats and wooden sandals for venturing outside.

I've been here long enough to get kind of blaze about it, but sitting in a rotenburo when there's a sudden flurry of snow so strong the world turns white reminded me how amazing this place can be. Walking back from the bath complex in a yukata, wearing wooden sandals, with my wife, with snow falling all around us was as close to a perfect moment as I've had here.

You don't need to go to Kinugawa (though Nikko is nearby, and they have the Tobu World Square!), but if you are coming here in winter, you really, really should stay at a nice ryokan for at least one night, and sit outside with your new spouse in a hot bath with snow falling all around you.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:20 AM on September 8, 2011

Like KokuRyu, I also see hatsumode starting from the 1st. The carnival foods and traditional new years stuff is still there for the entire first week at most bigger shrines. My local shrine also does a bonfire with sake and food around midnight on the 31st, so maybe some shrines start on the eve.

I'll second finding a good onsen town with ryokans that have outdoor private/family baths, and other public baths within walking distance, so you can walk around bath-hopping in your yukata.
posted by p3t3 at 2:46 AM on September 8, 2011

Just note that lots of retail establishments are closed over the New Years holiday. So you'll want to make sure you have enough cash on hand and reservations for lodging appropriately set up in advance.
posted by gen at 12:58 AM on September 27, 2011

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