May 19, 2019

Cover photo by Todd Easterbrook.  

Japan infographic

For many years, Japan winters flew under the radar for snow seekers who opted for the North American Rockies or the European Alps instead but in the past few decades, Japan has been coming into its own, asserting itself as a winter hotspot for snow seeker and winter lovers. From world-class powder at the ski resorts to unique wildlife to rich ancient history perfectly preserved in small mountain villages, Japan truly has it all.


Vallerret’s Top Picks:

1. Yamanouchi - With a population of about 15,000 Yamanouchi is a decent sized town nestled into the Japanese Alps. This town is home to Shiga Highlands, one of the largest ski resorts in Japan but if snow sports aren’t your thing, this area has a lot to offer. Yamanouchi is perhaps most famous for the Jigokudani Monkey Park where Japanese macaques are often found bathing in the natural outdoor hot springs.

monkey park in japan
Photo by Todd Easterbrook

2. Hokkaido: Located in the northern part of the island, Hokkaido is generally one of the first areas in Japan to get snow with snowfalls occurring as early as late October or early November. This area truly has it all: mountains, national parks, thriving cities, natural hot springs, and world-class skiing. Sapporo, the largest city in the region with a population of 2 million, hosts the Sapporo Snow Festival each year at the beginning of February but the areas outside of the bustling cities are where this region really begins to shine. Check out the Noboribetsu Onsen hot pools, Shiretoko National Park, Mount Yotei, Jigokudani ‘Hell Valley, Lake Toya and Niseko ski resort. For wildlife viewing, Lake Akan is a place to spot whooper swans, red foxes, and sika deer.

snowy mountains in hokkaido japan
Photo by Charlotte Workman

3. Takayama - Takayama is a popular location for those looking to escape the bright lights of Tokyo and Osaka. Located about halfway between the two cities, Takayama provides a quiet rural getaway for those looking for a bit of preserved history and culture. Buildings from Takayama’s old town date back to the Edo period (1600-1868). Hide no Sato Folk Village is another architectural attraction featuring 30 thatched roof A-frame farmhouses with traditional utensils and decor from the area inside. This area holds two popular festivals, one in spring and one in autumn.

Snowy roofs in japan
Photo by Charlotte Workman

Other photography treats you can’t miss:

Tokyo: Most international travelers are likely to start their trip in Tokyo and while many will be quick to get out of the city, a quick tour around will be well worth it. While Tokyo rarely sees snowfall, winter days have the benefit of fewer tourists and clearer skies meaning you have a better chance of seeing Mt. Fuji towering above the city in the distance. If you’re short on time, take the bullet train to Gala Yuzawa, Tokyo’s closest ski resort only 75 minutes away.

Hakone & Mt Fuji: Of course there is no better substitute for seeing Mt. Fuji that to get nice and close. Head to Hakone in the Fuji0-Hakone-Izu National Park to see the famed towering volcano. The colder months of winter will bring clearer skies with a better chance to see the mountain in its full glory. Like many areas in Japan, this region is also famous for its hot springs but if you want to get into the heart of the region, take a scenic ride on the Hakone Tozan Train which gradually climbs through the mountain taking you across bridges and through tunnels, providing you with an unclose view of the remote wilderness.

Kanazawa: This historic town is often blanketed in a cloak of snow providing for numerous photo opportunities with a distinctly Japanese twist. Check out the Kanazawa Castle during the day and in the late afternoon, head to Knerokuen, famous Japanese gardens featuring pine trees held up with ropes to better protect them from the heavy snow. For a limited time in winter, this garden is lit up at night but if you don’t catch it at the right time of year, fear not, numerous spots in central Kanazawa are lit up from fall to winter each year, leaving the town a colorful winter wonderland where it always feels like Christmas.

Kushiro:  For more Japanese wildlife, head to Kushiro to see the famous and endangered red-crowned cranes. The Kushiro Marsh is a breeding ground for the Japanese crane and to get a good view of these magnificent birds, you can float down the river in a raft or spend the whole day canoeing your way through the marsh. If you time it right, you might even see the cranes’ famed and elegant courtship dance.

Nagano: This picture-perfect village lies in the Chubu region and is a mecca for snow seekers and nature lovers alike. Home to the 1998 Winter Olympics, winter sports are a big part of the culture in Nagano but that’s not all it has to offer. Check out the Kiso Valley, an ancient chain of villages in the region that have dedicated themselves to preservation. If you’re looking for a portal into the past, this is as close as you’ll get. Walk the 7.8 km route to see what it was like to be a merchant during the ancient times from the Samurai Period

Best time of the year to go:

Japan is a great country to visit year round but with some of the best powder in the world and relaxing hot springs to keep you warm, winter is obviously preferable. Winters in Japan last from December to February with relatively mild winter temperatures. In the mainland of Honshu, the Winter typically provides clear skies making it more likely you’ll get a peak of Mount Fuji. Further north into Hokkaido and with a crazy 19m of snow falling each year it feels like the snow doesn’t stop falling, a powder skiers dream and a chance to capture moody winter landscapes.

While we’ll always prefer winter, Japan is truly great in all seasons. Many people visit in the spring when the famous cherry blossoms are in bloom while others opt for autumn to see the autumn leaves at their peak. May through October are typically the rainiest months averaging about 180mm of rain each month.

foggy wintry mountain japanPhoto by Charlotte Workman

How to get there:

Most international flights going into Japan will land at Narita Airport, just outside of Tokyo, although Tokyo does have another, smaller international airport called Haneda which is closer to the city center. If you’d rather skip Tokyo all together, it may be more cost efficient to fly directly into Kansai (close to Kyoto and Osaka), Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Naha (for Okinawa).

Once you’ve landed, there will be copious options for getting to the city center from busses to private taxis to trains. You do not need to book your transportation into the cities in advance.

Winter skiing in Japan

The Weather Scoop:

Peak winter (December - March) will have chilly days averaging around 6°C (43°F), however, due to its maritime climate, the temperature rarely drops below freezing. Snow begins to fall in November and with plenty of ski resorts, you’ll have plenty of options for getting up the mountains. Summer sees temperatures with an average low around 20 - 24°C(68-75°F) and average highs from 22-27°C(72-80°F) but the humidity can make it feel much warmer.

Winter snow in japan
Photo by Charlotte Workman

Getting from point A to point B:

Unlike some of our other favorite winter destinations, Japan is one country you can visit in the winter that doesn’t really require you to hire a car. Most of the country is easily accessible by trains or buses making getting around much easier than places like Iceland.

While not a large country, Japan’s travel infrastructure is either expensive and quick or slow and cheap. High-speed trains will set you back quite a bit more than slow long bus rides so it’s totally up to you and your budget on how to get from place to place. If you’re looking to splash out, you can hop on one of Japan’s high-speed trains which will give you a comfortable and fast ride at a cost. Individual tickets can cost hundreds of dollars. If you’d rather save your money for more camera gear, you might opt for the local train options which will cost less but will take at least double the time to arrive at your destination.

An even cheaper option is traveling by bus but what you save in money, you lose in time. While the high-speed train can get you from Tokyo to Osaka in 2 hours, the local bus will take 10 hours for the same trip.

Another option that is gaining popularity is traveling Japan by planes. Domestic airlines tickets will be on par with the high-speed trains so if you’re really short on time and have the cash to spend, planes could be a great option for you.
Whatever you choose, we would not recommend seeing Japan in a hire car. Rental cars are much more expensive than public transit navigating high traffic roads and limited parking will add unnecessary stress to your trip.

Winter lake in japanPhoto by Charlotte Workman

A home for the night:

Finding accommodation that will give you quick access to your own winter dreamland is not difficult in Japan. No matter where you stay, you’re never far from a ski resort or a natural hot springs but if you want an authentic winter experience, consider staying in these snowy villages dotted around the country: Shirakawa-go, Nikko, Otaru, Niseko, Ginzan Onsen, Hakuba, Nyuto Onsen, Ouchi Juku, Yuzawa, and Lake Kawaguchi.

Accommodation options are as varied as the country itself. You can easily find budget options or luxury hotels in any town you visit. Hostels are plentiful and offer a shared kitchen, WiFi, laundry and single or dorm rooms. A typical hostel bed in a dorm room ranges from 2000-3000 yen and a private room with a shared bathroom is about 5600-8000 yen. Of course, you can always opt for Airbnb for apartment style accommodation as well as normal hotels.

For a cultural experience, you could book a ryokan (a traditional Japanese Inn) where you’ll sleep on a futon in a tatami mat room or stay at a Japanese Buddhist temple. You’ll be encouraged to participant in morning chants and meditation with the monks.

Winter in japan
Photo by Charlotte Workman

Budget trip or spendy vacay?:

Japan is not the cheapest country to visit but with a little bit of planning, you can drastically make your winter trip to Japan a little more affordable. Cost of living in Japan is relatively high which directly translates over into the tourism industry. If you are conservative with your travel costs and try to cook or eat cheaply as much as possible, you should plan to budget about 60-70 Euro per day (and obviously more if you plan to eat out and stay in fancy accommodation.) One other thing to note is that Japan is a cash-based society and many places that you might expect to accept credit cards may very well only accept cash.

Walking above the clouds in japanPhoto by Charlotte Workman

Must haves Packing List:

  • Lenses
  • Extra batteries (at least double of what you’d normally take)
  • Filters
  • Sturdy tripod
  • Shutter release
  • Laptop for post-processing
  • Powerbank to charge batteries
  • Power adapters (Iceland uses European 2-prone plugs)
  • 3-4 SD 64GB SD cards
  • External hard drive to back up your photos
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Photography gloves
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Insulating jacket
  • Waterproof trousers
  • Merino wool base layers
  • Merino wool socks
  • Warm winter boots
  • Warm hat
  • Ski/snowboard gear
  • Swimming suit for the hot pots

Other things to have:

  • Google Translate App
  • maps.me offline map of Japan
  • Weather App

japan infographic

Why Japan can be challenging:

For most visitors, the Japanese language is far from familiar so expect to struggle communication and be prepared to get creative with your hand gestures. On top of the language barrier, getting from one region to the next may not be a cheap feat. The high prices of the bullet trains mean you’ll either be expected to pay top dollar or budget more time for slower transportation options.

Why we love Japan in the Winter:

While Japan is certainly famed for its world-class ski resorts, the country has so much more to offer than snow sports. Japan is a country steeped in rich history and culture which somehow manages to perfectly balance adventure and relaxation. Spend a day on the mountain and relax in one of the hundreds of hot pools dotted around the country. Explore the ancient preserved villages of Japan one day and the next, spend the day observing and photographing the unique wildlife. Large urban metropolises, remote mountain villages and some of the best cuisine in the world put Japan at the top of our list. We promise you won’t leave this country unsatisfied!

 

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SIZING CHART

FIND YOUR SIZE:

  1. Measure around the widest part of your hand with a relaxed open palm.
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NB: We design our gloves to be snug for best camera feel possible. This sizing chart reflects snuggly fitted gloves.

    Unisex Sizes XS S M L XL XXL
    Hand Girth cm  18 - 20  20 - 21 21 - 22 22 - 23 23 - 25 25-28
    inch  7.1 - 7.9   7.9 - 8.3  8.3 - 8.7 8.7 - 9.1 9.1 - 9.8 9.8-11.0
    Hand Length cm  16.0 - 17.5  17.5 - 18.5 18.0 - 19.0 19.0 - 20.0 20.5 - 22.0 22-24.0
    inch  6.3 - 6.9 6.9 - 7.2 7.1 - 7.5 7.5 - 7.9 8.1 - 8.7 8.7-9.4
     EU Size Equivalent  EU 7.5  EU 8 EU 8.5 EU 9 EU 10 EU 11
     Unisex Glove Models: Markhof Pro 2.0 | Skadi Zipper Mitt | Ipsoot | Alta Over-Mitt | Merino Liner Touch | Primaloft/Merino Liner | Urbex
    Female Sizes XS S M L XL
    Hand Girth cm 16.0 - 17.5 17.5 - 18.8 18.5 - 20.0 20.0 - 21.5 -
    inch  6.3 - 6.9 6.9 - 7.4 7.2 - 7.9 7.9 - 8.5 -
    Hand Length cm 15.5 - 16.5 16.3 - 17.2  17.0 - 18.5 19.0 - 20.0 -
    inch  6.1 - 6.5 6.4 - 6.8 6.7 - 7.3 7.5 - 7.9 -
     EU Size Equivalent  EU 6  EU 7 EU 8 EU 9 -
    Female Glove Models: W's Nordic