The Enchanting Destinations: Best Places to Visit in Japan in December
Explore the magic of Japan in December! Discover the top destinations, cultural festivals, and winter wonders in our guide to the best places to visit in Japan in December. Plan your unforgettable winter adventure today!
Welcome to the enchanting world of Japan in December! If you’re considering a visit to the Land of the Rising Sun during this winter month, you’re in for a treat. Japan transforms into a wonderland of cultural celebrations, festive lights, and serene winter landscapes that are nothing short of magical.
In this guide, we will take you on a journey through some of the best places to visit in Japan in December. Whether you’re a fan of bustling cityscapes, traditional cultural experiences, or the serene beauty of nature blanketed in snow, Japan has something special to offer. From the vibrant streets of Tokyo to the tranquil temples of Kyoto, the snowy landscapes of Hokkaido to the famous monkey hot springs of Nagago, each destination has its own unique charm during this season.
So, grab your winter coat and get ready to discover the captivating allure of Japan in December. Whether you’re seeking cultural immersion, winter sports, or simply a serene escape, this guide will help you plan an unforgettable adventure in one of Asia’s most captivating destinations.
Best Places to Visit in Japan in December
Niseko, located in the northern part of Japan’s Hokkaido island, is a world-renowned winter wonderland and a top destination for snow enthusiasts. Niseko in December is a paradise for winter sports enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Visiting Niseko in December is a fantastic idea for several compelling reasons:
- Start of the Ski Season: December marks the beginning of the ski season in Niseko. With its abundant and consistent snowfall, Niseko offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding conditions in the world. The fresh, powdery snow attracts skiers and snowboarders from all over the globe, making it an ideal time to hit the slopes.
- Powder Snow: Niseko is famous for its legendary powder snow, often referred to as “Japow.” In December, the powder is at its prime, providing an exhilarating and almost weightless skiing or snowboarding experience.
- Variety of Ski Resorts: Niseko boasts several ski resorts, each with its own unique charm. The four main resorts—Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Niseko Village, and Annupuri—offer a wide range of slopes catering to all skill levels, from beginners to advanced.
- Hot Springs (Onsen): After a day of skiing or snowboarding, there’s nothing quite like soaking in a traditional Japanese hot spring to relax your muscles and unwind. Many accommodations in Niseko have onsen facilities, providing a blissful après-ski experience.
Sapporo Snow Festival
The Sapporo Snow Festival (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri) is one of Japan’s most iconic and internationally renowned winter events. Held annually in Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido, this festival turns the city into a magical winter wonderland.
The Sapporo Snow Festival typically takes place in early February. However, preparations for the festival usually start in December, and you can often catch the early displays and sculptures being set up.
Odori Park, at the heart of Sapporo, features towering snow sculptures that depict intricate scenes, famous landmarks, and beloved characters. Alongside the sculptures, visitors can enjoy cultural performances, food stalls, and local crafts, offering a glimpse into Hokkaido’s rich heritage.
Otaru Snow Light Path Festival
The Otaru Snow Light Path Festival, held in the charming town of Otaru, Hokkaido, is a captivating winter event that illuminates the cityscape with the soft glow of lanterns and snow candles.
During the festival, the streets and canals of Otaru are adorned with beautifully crafted snow lanterns and ice sculptures. The historic Otaru Canal, lined with old warehouses, becomes a focal point of the festival. It’s a mesmerizing sight to see the lanterns reflected in the calm waters of the canal.
If you’re looking for outdoor adventures, consider snowshoeing or exploring the nearby Tenguyama Mountain for panoramic views of Otaru and the surrounding snowy landscapes.
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Kamakura Snow Hut Village
The Kamakura Snow Hut Village, nestled in the enchanting city of Yokote in Akita Prefecture, Japan, is a delightful and picturesque destination that beckons visitors to experience the winter wonder of traditional Japanese snow huts, known as “kamakura.”
The village is renowned for its kamakura, which are small igloo-like huts made entirely of snow. These huts are intricately carved and decorated, creating a cozy and inviting atmosphere inside. Visiting the Kamakura Snow Hut Village in December allows you to witness the early stages of the snow hut festival preparations, partake in cultural traditions, and enjoy the charm of a snowy wonderland.
Jigokudani Monkey Park
Jigokudani Monkey Park, located in the picturesque mountains of Nagano Prefecture, Japan, is a truly unique and captivating destination. Often referred to as “Hell’s Valley,” this park is renowned for its resident Japanese macaque monkeys, also known as snow monkeys, who are famous for their love of soaking in natural hot springs during the winter months.
The park is nestled within a stunning alpine landscape, characterized by snow-covered forests and rugged terrain. The park provides a unique opportunity for visitors to observe the monkeys up close in their natural habitat. Visiting Jigokudani Monkey Park in December offers a memorable and heartwarming experience, allowing you to witness the snow monkeys’ adorable antics and immerse yourself in the tranquility of the winter wilderness.
- Time: 9 AM – 4 PM
- Entrance fee: for adults was 800 yen (around $7.50 USD) and 400 yen (around $3.75 USD) for children
Ginzan Onsen, tucked away in the serene mountains of Yamagata Prefecture, is a charming hot spring town that transports visitors to a bygone era of traditional Japan.
December blankets Ginzan Onsen in a pristine layer of snow, turning it into a real-life winter fairy tale. The snow-covered streets, charming wooden buildings, and iconic stone bridge create a picturesque landscape straight out of a storybook.
Visiting Ginzan Onsen in December allows you to immerse yourself in a storybook winter landscape, soak in rejuvenating hot springs, savor delicious cuisine, and embrace the rich traditions of Japanese culture.
- Time: open to guests 24 hours a day
- Entrance fee: vary widely depending on the ryokan’s level of luxury and the type of room you choose
Zao Snow Monsters
The Zao Snow Monsters, also known as “Juhyo” in Japanese, are a natural winter phenomenon found in the Zao Onsen area of Yamagata Prefecture, Japan. December is the beginning of the snow monster season, and it’s when the frosty formations start to take shape.
The Zao Snow Monsters are formed when heavy snowfall and freezing winds transform the trees on Mount Zao into fantastical, otherworldly shapes. The result is a breathtaking landscape resembling gigantic snow sculptures, with trees covered in layers of rime ice.
The Zao Onsen area is also a renowned ski resort, making December an excellent time to hit the slopes. You can enjoy world-class skiing and snowboarding while taking in the stunning views of the snow monsters. For those looking for more winter adventure, Zao offers activities like snowshoeing and snowmobiling.
Misotsuchi Icicles, located in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture, Japan, is a dazzling winter wonder that beckons visitors to marvel at nature’s artistry. Visiting this enchanting destination in December offers a magical experience for several reasons:
- Illuminated Icicles: In December, Misotsuchi Icicles come alive with enchanting illuminations. As night falls, the icicles are beautifully lit up, casting a mesmerizing glow that transforms the area into a winter fairy tale.
- Spectacular Formations: The icicles, formed by frozen groundwater dripping from a cliff, can reach impressive heights. Some formations appear like translucent curtains, while others resemble shimmering crystal chandeliers.
- Winter Activities: The Chichibu area offers various winter activities, including snowshoeing and hiking. You can explore the scenic beauty of the surrounding landscape, dusted with snow.
Time: vary from year to year based on weather conditions
Entrance fee: approximately 300 yen for adults (around $2.75 USD) and 150 yen for children (around $1.37 USD)
Nabana no sato, Mie
Nabana no Sato, located in Kuwana City, Mie Prefecture, Japan, is renowned for its spectacular winter illumination event, making it a must-visit destination in December.
In December, Nabana no Sato is transformed into a dazzling wonderland of lights. The illumination features millions of LED lights arranged in intricate displays, including tunnels, waterfalls, and themed gardens. The highlight is the famous “Tunnel of Light,” a mesmerizing corridor adorned with countless LED lights, creating a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns.
- Time: vary depending on the time of year and specific events or displays
- Entrance fee: approximately 2,300 yen for adults (around $21 USD) and 1,200 yen for children (around $11 USD)
Shirakawago, nestled in the remote mountains of Gifu Prefecture, Japan, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its unique and picturesque gassho-zukuri farmhouses. These traditional thatched-roof houses are a prime example of rural Japanese architecture.
Shirakawago’s charm lies in its rustic and timeless ambiance, which becomes particularly enchanting in winter when the village is blanketed in deep snow. Visitors can explore these historic farmhouses, experience local traditions, and enjoy the serene beauty of the snow-covered landscape.
Kenrokuen, located in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan, is one of the country’s most celebrated traditional gardens. In winter, this iconic garden transforms into a serene and enchanting wonderland.
Visitors can experience the tranquility of snow-covered landscapes, admire the delicate beauty of frosted trees, and witness the garden’s exquisite features like the Kotoji Toro stone lantern and the iconic yukitsuri, a method of protecting tree branches from heavy snow.
- Time: 7 AM – 6PM (from April to October), 8 AM – 5 PM (from November to March)
- Entrance fee: 320 yen for adults (around $2.90 USD) and 100 yen for children (around $0.91 USD).
Kinkakuji, or the Golden Pavilion, in Kyoto, is a stunning Zen Buddhist temple that becomes even more enchanting in winter. Its top two floors are covered in brilliant gold leaf, creating a shimmering reflection on the pond below.
In December, the surrounding gardens and trees are adorned with a serene layer of snow, offering a tranquil and picturesque setting. The temple’s architecture and the pristine winter landscape harmonize to create a captivating scene that captures the essence of Japanese aesthetics.
- Time: 9 AM – 5 PM (some times 5:30 PM)
- Entrance fee: 400 yen for adults (around $3.65 USD) and 300 yen for children (around $2.74 USD)
Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea, Tokyo
Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea, located in Urayasu, Chiba, are magical destinations that offer unique winter experiences. In the winter, both parks are adorned with festive decorations, dazzling lights, and holiday-themed parades and shows. Tokyo Disneyland features a magnificent Christmas Fantasy Parade, while DisneySea hosts a Mediterranean Harbor Christmas show.
The parks’ attractions, including iconic rides like Splash Mountain and Tower of Terror, take on a special charm in the winter ambiance. Visitors can also enjoy seasonal treats and shop for Disney-themed holiday souvenirs.
Time: 9 AM – 10 PM (vary depending on the season, day of the week, and special events)
Entrance fee: vary depending on factors such as the type of ticket
- One-day ticket for one park: Approximately 8,200 yen (around $75 USD) for adults, 7,500 yen (around $68 USD) for juniors (ages 12-17), and 4,900 yen (around $45 USD) for children (ages 4-11)
- One-day ticket for both parks (Park Hopper ticket): Approximately 14,200 yen (around $130 USD) for adults, 13,000 yen (around $119 USD) for juniors, and 8,700 yen (around $80 USD) for children
Dotonbori is one of Osaka’s most iconic and lively districts, and visiting in December adds a special touch to its vibrant atmosphere. This bustling area along the Dotonbori Canal comes alive with holiday lights and decorations, making it a must-visit destination during the festive season.
In December, Dotonbori’s neon signs and billboards shine even brighter, creating a dazzling spectacle that’s perfect for capturing memorable photos. Dotonbori is also known for its shopping opportunities, with countless stores offering everything from fashion to souvenirs. You can shop for unique holiday gifts while enjoying the lively atmosphere.
Nara is a captivating destination that offers a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. Visiting Nara in December adds an enchanting layer to this already remarkable city.
During this month, Nara’s tranquil parks and historic temples take on a serene and picturesque quality. The city’s beloved deer, which freely roam Nara Park, become a charming sight against the backdrop of a winter landscape. Nara’s temples, including the iconic Todai-ji Temple with its Great Buddha Hall, are adorned with seasonal decorations, creating a spiritual and festive atmosphere.
Tips for Traveling in December
Traveling in Japan in December offers a unique and enchanting experience, but it’s essential to be prepared for the winter weather and holiday festivities. Here are some tips to make the most of your December trip:
- Dress in Layers: Japan can be cold in December, so pack warm clothing, including thermal wear, gloves, and a good-quality winter coat. Layers allow you to adapt to changing temperatures.
- Festive Atmosphere: Embrace the holiday spirit by participating in local celebrations, viewing illuminations, and trying seasonal treats like roasted chestnuts and hot sake.
- Book Accommodations Early: December is a popular travel month due to the holiday season, so book your accommodations well in advance to secure your preferred choices.
- Visit Winter Illuminations: Many cities and attractions, including parks and temples, are beautifully illuminated in December. Don’t miss these dazzling displays.
- Enjoy Seasonal Cuisine: Savor seasonal dishes like hot pot (nabe), yuzu-flavored treats, and festive desserts.
- Winter Activities: Take advantage of winter sports, snowshoeing, or exploring snowy landscapes, depending on your destination.
- Onsen (Hot Springs): Soothe your winter-weary muscles in an onsen. Japan’s hot springs are especially inviting in the cold months.
- What makes Japan a great destination in December?
Japan’s December charms include winter illuminations, snowy landscapes, and festive celebrations, making it a unique and enchanting time to visit.
- Are there any specific festivals or events in December worth experiencing in Japan?
Yes, December in Japan features various winter festivals, including the Sapporo Snow Festival, the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival, and vibrant New Year’s celebrations.
- Which cities or regions are the best to visit in December for winter activities?
Hokkaido is excellent for winter sports, while places like Shirakawago and Ginzan Onsen offer serene snowy landscapes and hot springs.
- What kind of clothing should I pack for a December trip to Japan?
Pack warm clothing, including layers, winter coats, gloves, and thermal wear, as temperatures can drop significantly.
- Are there any traditional Japanese winter dishes I should try during my December visit?
Yes, try hot pot (nabe), yuzu-flavored dishes, and seasonal treats like roasted chestnuts and mochi.
- Are there any winter-specific travel tips for Japan, such as dealing with shorter daylight hours?
Plan activities accordingly due to shorter daylight hours and be prepared for early sunsets by checking the local sunset times.
- Is travel insurance recommended for a December trip to Japan?
Yes, consider travel insurance that covers potential travel disruptions due to winter weather, such as flight cancellations or delays.
In conclusion, exploring the best places to visit in Japan in December opens doors to a world of winter wonder. From the enchanting winter illuminations that transform cities into wonderlands to the serene snowy landscapes of places like Hokkaido and Shirakawago, Japan’s December offerings are a unique and memorable experience.
The country’s rich cultural traditions, seasonal cuisine, and winter activities add depth to the journey. Whether you’re savoring hot pot dishes, soaking in relaxing hot springs, or participating in local festivals, Japan in December invites travelers to embrace the magic of the season and create cherished memories in a captivating winter wonderland.