From December to March, the Land of the Rising Sun is adorned with a thousand colors, under the Christmas decorations. The winter season in the archipelago is a wonderful one, with its snowy landscapes, snow sports, onsen, delicious food and popular festivals. Winter festivals in Japan are indeed events not to be missed! On the program: light shows, ice sculptures, matsuri and paper balloon releases without forgetting the Japanese New Year. In these chilly months, there is no such thing as being bored in Japan.
💡 Winter illuminations in Tokyo
You have the chance to celebrate Christmas in Japan? Tokyo is a city that shines with garlands and illuminations in winter. During this holiday season, large shopping malls, popular districts and Christmas markets are brought to life by winter decorations and the smell of typical seasonal food. Each year, the illuminations become more and more spectacular in the capital. An opportunity to fully experience the magic of Christmas. Marvel at the giant lighted trees, snowmen and other themed decorations that illuminate the cityscape.
From November to mid-February, you can enjoy the long avenue of illuminated trees and temporary sculptures in the Marunouchi district, near Tokyo Station. This year, the theme will be magical as a reference to the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter. In addition, until the end of December, Roppongi Hills will be the ideal place for a romantic walk along Keyakizaka Street with its blue-lit trees. You can also enjoy the warm atmosphere of the Ronpongi Hills Christmas Market.
Marunouchi shopping center, Tokyo - Harry Potter illuminations. Credit: Keisuke Tanigawa
At the same time, the famous Caretta Shiodome shopping mall, located in Minato-Ku, features a grand Disney-themed attraction. And at the Tokyo Midtown complex in Akasaka district, you will have the pleasure of contemplating the Starling Garden, a colorful sound and light show.
Moreover, other spots like Tokyo Mega Illumination, Tokyo Dome City and Omotesando, a grand avenue located in Shibuya, will definitely blow you away!
🎉 Japanese New Year
If you appreciate atypical parties, you won't be disappointed. In Japan, New Year's Eve rhymes with traditions. Discover the 100% local customs of the Japanese New Year such as the big end of year cleaning, the famous Soba Toshikoshi dish, the ritual of the 108 bells and the first sunrise. The first days of the year are punctuated by visits to shrines and temples, sake and Japanese food with a good dose of superstitions. That's right, at the beginning of the year, the Japanese invite luck and wealth into their homes with the help of prayers, Toso (sake) and Omamori (a kind of amulet).
❄ Sapporo Snow Festival
The city of Sapporo has been celebrating the Yuki Matsuri, the biggest Japanese winter festival that attracts millions of visitors from all over the world to the island of Hokkaido, ever since 1950. Every year, at the end of January and until the beginning of February, the city exposes magnificent snow and ice sculptures. Some creations reach spectacular heights. In addition, Odori Park as well as the places of Susukino and Tsudome are the three spots of the snow festival in Sapporo. During this event, a great international snow sculpture competition is also held. Admire famous monuments and characters while enjoying local food! And, most importantly, don't miss the night-time illuminations and the video mapping!
💧 Yokote Kamakura festival
In Akita Prefecture, around mid-February, the town of Yokote is covered with numerous small and lighted igloos, like a constellation. During two or three days, you can observe a hundred of Kamakura snow houses. Each of them houses an altar in honor of the water god. Visitors are invited to enter the huts to pray to the deity. The Yokote no Yuki Matsuri is a fairy-tale show that dates back more than 450 years. Enjoy a night walk among the lighted igloos in Komyoji Park or Doro Koen Park and enjoy rice cakes (mochi) with a glass of sweet sake - a romantic night to remember.
👻 Zao Snow Monster Festival
On top of the splendid Mount Zao in Yamagata Prefecture, some strange monsters populate the mountains in winter. These creatures, named juhyo, are the result of Siberian winds and heavy snowfalls. The conifers are completely covered by a thick white coat which gives them funny silhouettes of monsters. From the end of December to March, when these natural sculptures are well stocked, the Zao Juhyo Festival takes place, an event renowned throughout the world. At night, these creatures are lit up to create a remarkable scene! Enjoy the many ski slopes of Zao Olsen, while admiring these shapes by lantern light!
🎈 Kamihinokinai Balloon Festival
Every year in the Akita prefecture, the Kamihinokinai balloon festival takes place. On February 10, to celebrate the Lunar New Year, the people of Semboku City have the tradition of releasing large and beautifully decorated paper balloons. The origins of this Japanese winter festival dates back to more than a century ago and it is believed that the lanterns were an offering to the gods for a good rice harvest. Thus, sumptuous prints of geishas and samurais lit up in the night sky, offering an exceptional show. People can also participate in a collective release of small handmade paper balloons on which they write a wish. Make sure not to miss this wonderful night show.
🥶 Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival
Every year, on the island of Hokkaido, the sumptuous Shikotsu Lake is dressed with gigantic ice sculptures with bluish reflections. Located in the west of Chitose, this lake is so deep that it does not freeze, even when the temperatures are very low. The water of the lake is of a rare purity and is recognizable by its blue color. During the ice festival or "Hyoto Matsuri", columns are created several months in advance with water that is splashed onto structures to form ice towers. Contemplate these works of art, illuminated at night and enjoy a magical moment!
⛄ Tokamachi Snow Festival
Every year, around the third week of February, the city of Tokamachi (in Niigata prefecture) celebrates its snow festival. The program includes sculptures, traditional music, fireworks and many other animations for the greatest pleasure of the festival-goers. Visitors can enjoy hot drinks such as amazake or attend a tea ceremony after sledding. However, the main attraction takes place in the evening on a large ice stage. During this popular show, you will experience a grand parade of kimonos. Enjoy some Japanese folklore at the Tokamachi Snow Festival this winter!
⛩ The Chichibu Yomatsuri
In the city of Chichibu (Saitama), on December 2 and 3, the Chichibu Yomatsuri festival is celebrated; a major festival of Japanese floats, held to worship the gods ever since 1713. This UNESCO-listed winter matsuri attracts no less than 200,000 visitors every year. At the heart of the festival, you can enjoy folk dances and traditional music as well as many food stalls. Experience the lively atmosphere of the night parade accompanied by taiko drums under the fireworks show.
Winter in Japan is a time of festivities and traditions. In addition to the Japanese New Year, winter festivals are held from December to March. From the elegant illuminations in Tokyo to the masturi and the beautiful snow festivals... make sure you don't miss these must-see events!