Updated July 28, 2022
Does It Snow in Japan? Your Guide to Winter in Japan
Whether you’re visiting or planning to live in Japan, one question you're probably wondering is: “does it snow in Japan?.”
Don't worry — Winter in Japan is one of the most enjoyable times of the year. And while Japan is beautiful year round, certain areas offer a winter wonderland with endless snow activities.
For people who love the powdery snow blanketing their surroundings, snow in Japan is a beautiful sight. Here’s everything you need to know about the winter months in Japan, from how much snow Japan gets by area to the numerous winter activities popular here. It’s a fun experience for sure!
In this article: 📝
Does It Snow In Japan During Winter?
So, let’s answer the question directly: does it snow in Japan?
The short answer is yes! It does snow in Japan during the winter months, with most of North and Northwest Japan experiencing the highest snowfall. The Japanese call these areas 雪国 (yukiguni) or snow country.
During the winter months, you can expect a fair amount of snowfall in various parts of Japan's northern and central areas, including the Tohoku region. This comes from the cold air masses that flow from Siberia. These air masses pick up moisture from the Sea of Japan while passing over Japan itself.
Snow falls heavily along the coast of the Sea of Japan as well when wet, cold air collides with the mountains. This creates a strong pocket of snowfall along the mountainous regions of Japan, which covers these areas (like the Hokuriku region and Niigata) in thick white caps that cover the mountains and towns.
Snowfall in Japan is also influenced by the water in the Sea of Japan. The water keeps adding moisture to the atmosphere, which falls as snow.
However, that doesn’t always mean every place is covered in a blanket of white. Much of Southern and Eastern Japan receives scant amounts of snow during the winter — if any. For example Okinawa doesn't receive snow at all.
Snow in Japan is known for being deep, light, and fluffy. Usually, you'll find fluffy or heavy powder depending on the temperature of the storm. Most days will bring light to medium-density powder, with some times when warmer storms bring heavier snow.
How Cold Is Japan In The Winter?
Japanese winters can be some of the coldest in the world, or they can be a lot more mild, depending on where you live. Usually, winter in Japan starts around December and lasts until the end of February. But the winter season can begin as early as late November and end in April or May in colder regions.
So how cold does Japan actually get during this time?
Well, many areas of Japan get chilly, with temperatures of between 2°C to 10°C on average. Some locales, like Nagano and especially Hokkaido, stay on the cooler side for most of the year. Rikkubetsu in Hokkaido, for example, has an average temperature of -11°C during winter season.
So if you love snow and are OK with bitter cold temperatures, Hokkaido might be the place for you.
Another common question is “how much snow does Japan get?” The answer, again, varies depending on the region you’re in.
Most records indicate that the mountains of Japan receive between 762 cm-1524 cm (300-600 inches) of snow per year. However, most of these measurements are taken by observers in towns near ski resorts. Ski mountains in the upper elevations can get twice as much snow as nearby towns.
Hokkaido (the northern island of Japan) sits at a higher latitude than most of the country, similar to Mongolia and Northern China.
Because of its location and proximity to Russia, the air is much colder than most of the country, and it bears most of the brunt of Russian winds. Snow here is lighter and more powdery on average.
Further south, along the eastern area of the Honshu region, temperatures are warmer. The high moisture content, proximity to the sea of Japan, and the many mountains result in heavier powder snow. The air, however, can be colder in the mountainous regions.
Areas in western Japan like Nagano and Hokoriku do get large amounts of snow, depending on the year.
Which region has the best snow in Japan? That changes year per year, depending on the weather patterns of each season. It’s best to visit different regions and see which one you prefer.
Does It Snow In Tokyo?
If you plan to work in Japan, chances are good you’ll find yourself in Tokyo. It’s an enormous metropolitan city — in fact it's the biggest city in the world. So, does it snow in Tokyo?
Yes, it does — but it's usually pretty light. In a given winter, there will likely be a handful of days when snow is falling, but it's rare for it to actually accumulate on the streets and sidewalks. Tokyo almost never sees heavy snowfall like Hokkaido and western Japan. The rapid urbanization of the region and its position in the Kanto region gives it a less harsh winter.
Many people don’t realize that, even though most other parts of North and Northeast Japan receive heavy or even heavy snow, the capital itself only experiences light to moderate levels.
|Annual Average Snowfall in Japan 2012-2021 (in cm)
Source: Japan Meteorological Agency
Even during the cold and crisp months of December and January, Tokyo's average amount of snow is a mere 5cm (2 inches). Winter temperatures in Tokyo go from anywhere between 2°C to 10°C. This hotter weather and the Heat Island effect in the city gives it a fragile layer of snow.
Of course, this does not mean that you won’t experience snow in Tokyo. The city itself gets most of its snow in January and February, where temperatures drop by an extra 2°C. Tokyo has gotten as much as 27 days of snow (in 2014), but it has also had 0 days of snow in some years like 2009 and 2017.
Tokyo’s weather is close to 0°C-2°C with zero humidity during these periods. Many parks become winter wonderlands, from Hama Rikyu to the Imperial Palace East Garden.
Does It Snow In Osaka And Other Cities?
As we noted before, most of Northern and West Japan experience copious amounts of snow. But other cities in Japan don’t experience snow at all. So, does it snow in Osaka and other major cities in Japan?
Other cities like Osaka and Kyoto experience snow, too, with an average of 15.5 and 24.7 days, respectively. Much like Tokyo, Osaka can experience heavy snowfall around January and February. It can even have heavier snowfall than Tokyo, but it has a shorter winter period.
If you’re curious, here are some annual numbers from the Japan Meteorological Agency. You’ll notice that the numbers are lower than usual, so you’d want more data for a more accurate view.
|Annual Average Snowfall in Various Japanese Cities 2017-2021 (in cm)
Source: Japan Meteorological Agency
Kyoto also receives an average amount of snowfall in the winter, with as much as 209mm of snow piling up. Recently, West Japan experienced record levels of snow in December 2021, with some cities having as much as 68cm of snowfall.
Some of the snowiest cities in Japan also hold the record for the most snow globally. Aomori City has the most amount of snow worldwide, with as much as 792 cm of snow per year.
Sapporo and Yamagata also experience some of the heaviest snowfall in the world. While winter in Japan makes these cities super cold, it also makes them perfect for those who love winter visits.
Best Destinations To Visit During The Winter In Japan
If you live in Japan in winter, there are many places you can visit to enjoy different winter activities. Depending on the activity you want to do, every city has something to offer. From Hokkaido to Totori, every city has something you can enjoy in it.
Winter In Nagano
The capital of the prefecture of Nagano, it is known for being the snowboarding capital of the world. With three large ski resorts, it is one of the most popular ski destinations in the country. It also has some of the best onsen or hot spring resorts to give you a good time.
Within the mountains of Nagano, specifically around the Hakuba Valley, you can access as many as ten resorts. With a landscape that changes from farmland to alpine, the city is excellent for those who seek natural, peaceful, and scenic environments.
Nagano also has several onsens or hot spring resorts around its locale. Entire villages offer facilities that can help you enjoy Japan in winter in the warmth of your room. You’ll even find Japanese macaques enjoying the hot springs in their free time.
Winter In Sapporo
The capital of the northern island of Hokkaidō, Sapporo has the highest concentration of people of any city in the world, with 1.95 million residents. The city is famous for its seafood, festivals, and architecture.
Every second week of February, the Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival) is a must-see event that draws huge crowds to the Sapporo Odori Park. This festival celebrates the coming of spring with several portable shrines and sculptures made of snow and ice.
The Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort is close to the city and reachable within one hour of travel. It attracts local and international skiers due to its heavy but powdery snowfall. It’s not the biggest ski resort in Japan, but it’s perfect if you want easy winter months in Japan.
Winter In Akita Prefecture
Akita prefecture is one of the best winter destinations in Japan due to its picturesque fields and gorgeous ski resorts. It’s a winter getaway for people who love snow. It’s also among the most colorful places with many active winter events.
What makes Akita enjoyable is its Yokote Kamakura Festival, where locals build igloos from copious amounts of snow every year. Local towns even build small Kamakura that act as lanterns in the evening. You’ll see them illuminate the dark fields if you visit at night.
There are also festivals in the locale, like the Inukko Matsuri and the Namahage Sedo Matsuri. If you work in Tokyo, Akita is a fantastic place for a weekend vacation.
Best Things To Do During The Japanese Winter
If you’re considering living or working in Japan, then know that winters are some of the most beautiful in the world. Winter in Japan is a momentous event, with almost every other day filled with winter festivals.
The weather is consistently fair during the morning, with chilly nights from November to February. It’ll feel like nighttime is 2-3 hours earlier than it is. Regardless, almost every city in Japan will have its own winter activities.
If you’re staying at an onsen, you can soak in its heat while the snow falls on the surrounding mountains and valleys. For outdoor activities, you have many things you can do. You can take snowmobile rides, dog sledding, and skiing. You can spend the day on a ropeway. You can even ice skate on a frozen lake.
The most common activities when there is snow in Japan include:
- Onsen in snow
- Winter festivals (matsuri)
- New Year shrine visits (hatsumode)
- Snowscape visits
- Christmas parks and lighting events
- Winter wonder events
The most common include skiing, snowboarding, and onsen visits. You can visit almost every prefecture, and they will have these available as long as they have snow. Skiing and snowboarding season in Japan spans anywhere from December to as far as April in North Japan.
As we noted before, winter festivals are aplenty in every city. Almost every prefecture has its own Kamakura festival and other events. During the winter months in Japan, the biggest festivals include the Sapporo Snow Festival, Asahikawa Winter Festival, and the Otaru Snow Light Path.
Preparing For Snow In Japan
When traveling to a country with harsh winter conditions, it’s essential to be prepared. When living in such countries, it’s natural to be worried about whether you’ll be able to go out. When traveling, you carry more than your usual luggage and need to pack accordingly.
One of the biggest mistakes is not preparing for the weather. Make sure you bring the right clothing, especially if you plan on doing any outdoor or sports activities. To protect yourself from the cold and wind, make sure you wear several layers of clothing.
If you’re working in Tokyo, you should still experience frosty weather. Snow in Tokyo can be intermittent, but this doesn’t mean you don’t prepare for it. At the very least, a thick winter coat, mitts, and winter boots are a must.
You want to prepare for heavy snowfall for those who plan to visit or live in Hokkaido, Touhoku, and Chuubu region. While Tokyo can be primarily pleasant in winter, these regions can have the highest snowfall globally.
Check the weather forecast before going to any city or town. It will give you an idea of what to expect from the cold. Follow local winter instructions in your area too. Some locales, for example, warn of snow accumulation outside homes. Some apartments with metal doors can also slam shut so that some bubble wrap can do the trick.
The Bottom Line
When people ask, “does it snow in Japan?” the correct answer is always yes. However, it does not end there, as Japan has one of the most beautiful winters in the world. It’s not simply an expanse of powder snow but also a new way to enjoy a picturesque culture.
Whether you visit or live in Japan during winter, there are a plethora of things you can do. From skiing to ice skating to taking strolls in snowy parks and watching performances, there are many fun things to experience.
Nevertheless, it’s a great time to visit and, if you’re working in Japan, you’ll probably find that it’s a more relaxed environment. Go to Japan and see the wondrous beauty of the Japanese winter. It’s an entirely different world waiting for you.
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