Japan in winter
November 29, 2016 8:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm spending 9 days in Japan over the Christmas and New Year's holidays. I'm pretty well-covered as far as general Japan tourism suggestions, but I'm wondering if anyone has any thoughts on places to go and things to see that are *particularly* scenic, lovely, uncrowded-but-accessible, or otherwise worthwhile in the winter months. (I am aware that Japan is a world-class skiing destination, but I don't ski.) I currently plan to spend my time in Osaka/Kobe, Kyoto, Tokyo, and the Kii peninsula, but am flexible if something else enticing presents itself.
posted by eugenen to Travel & Transportation around Japan (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Climb Mount Takao. It's easy-ish to climb and within Tokyo city limits (if you're feeling less energetic, there's a railway partway up). There's a nice temple on the way up also. On a clear day in winter, there are great views over the Tokyo metropolis, Mount Fuji and the Japanese Alps. Mornings are generally less crowded, and Takaosanguchi Station is 45 minutes -> 1 hour from Tokyo Station.

I've been. It's really nice.
posted by plep at 9:47 AM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you get time (which might be tough given your schedule) it might be worth exploring the less-populated and wilder Tohoku region in the north of Honshu. Some highlights - Matsushima Bay, Yamadera, Kakunodate, Lake Tazawa, Hirosaki. Sendai is the largest town and is very pleasant itself; Matsushima Bay is very close to Sendai, with Kakunodate and Lake Tazawa being accessible via the train to Akita, Hirosaki via the train to Aomori/Hokkaido, and Yamadera being accessible via local trains from Sendai to Yamagata.
posted by plep at 10:00 AM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

We were in Japan over New Year's 2015 and the best part of the whole journey was a train ride from Kyoto to Takayama along the coast (connecting through Toyama). The entire journey looked like this, taken on the Toyama-Takayama leg. The Toyama-Nagoya train ride, which that was part of, is supposed to be one of the most scenic rides in Japan, and I won't argue with that.
posted by telophase at 11:05 AM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yamadera is worth it, and Sendai was actually my favorite part of my Japan trip. I agree plan a train ride somewhere scenic – the one telophase mentions above is probably great. Kyoto did not super impress me, Tokyo was amazing. I would go either far south or far north – as as you can see from my mention of Sendai, I would go north. The mountains are supposed to be nice as well.
posted by tooloudinhere at 12:41 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Definitely the snow monkeys in Nagano.
posted by trialex at 4:41 PM on November 29, 2016

The Japanese leg of David Bowie Is opens on 1-8 in Tokyo and will include stuff from Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence.
posted by brujita at 6:04 PM on November 29, 2016

Seconding the snow monkeys near Nagano. See if you can get a reservation at the ryokan nearby -- you might get to share the inn's outdoor bath with a local macaque.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 8:30 PM on November 29, 2016

As a general rule, anywhere north of Sendai, plus Kyushu, Shikoku and Hokkaido should be the quieter areas at this time of year. In other regions, it's best to look for places that don't have a shinkansen connection, because so many visitors seem to believe that they should only travel by bullet train when they have a JR pass.

With these recommendations, the scenery is the "unique in Japan" category, is enhanced with snow, and easily accessible.

Last December I visited Kakunodate, which is awesome in the snow. It feels a bit like stepping back in time. The other advantage was that with so few visitors around the end of the year, I got a personal tour at one of the samurai residences.

This year I'm going to try and see the sand dunes at Tottori in the snow, and possibly snow monsters at Zao ( I also don't care about skiiing).

Amanohashidate is another option, especially if leaving from Osaka or Kyoto. And if you're willing to cover the distance, the night view from Mount Hakkodate is absolutely worth the trip.

I'll add my nthing for Yamadera too, but with the caveat that you might need to be prepared to climb over a bunch of snow to reach the summit. I visited in early March, and even then the stairs had not been comprehensively cleared. I'm guessing that the ratio of visitors to snowfall is decidedly in the favour of the latter.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 9:49 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

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