Temperatures drop substantially during the winter in Tokyo. Many of its main attractions change focus, but that does not make the Japanese capital any less interesting for visitors. On the contrary, touring it bathed in snow and ice and making the most of the activities the winter period has to offer can be one of the best experiences of your trip.
From visiting Mount Fuji to contemplating the city from the heights of the Radio Tower, to its exquisite cuisine and celebrations to ward off bad luck, Tokyo has plenty of things to see and do.
1. Discover the best version of Mount Fuji
Temperatures in Tokyo during the winter can drop substantially, reaching sub-zero temperatures and some sporadic but heavy snowfall.
However, in Japan during the winter, as long as it does not rain or snow, the sky usually remains clear, something uncommon during the other times of the year when clouds usually monopolize the horizon. This is good news for the visitor because Mount Fuji remains in full view from the city, revealing its best profile.
If you want to visit it, you can book an excursion to Mount Fuji from Tokyo, which also includes a visit to Lake Ashi, or go on your own, but one way or another it is worth visiting during the winter season.
If you are up for it, the Fujiten Snow resort is located at the foot of the mountain, with its seven ski slopes of varying difficulty levels where you can practice winter sports.
Seeing Mount Fuji crowned by snow and touring it in winter is also an interesting plan if you are visiting Tokyo with children, because Fujiten Snow also has a toboggan run designed especially for the little ones, and special events are held at the resort every night, including fireworks.
2. Immerse yourself in the volcanic hot springs
Traditional baths, or onsen in Japanese, are volcanic hot springs that are a cultural experience in Japan.
These baths have healing qualities, but are also beauty-oriented, as it is customary for them to be arranged with views of outstanding natural sites, such as Mount Fuji or the Five Lakes.
In Tokyo there are many options, some of them themed, such as the Niwa No Yu baths at the Toshimaen amusement park. You can also visit the open-air baths of LaQua, the Daikokuyu neighborhood bath or the Myojin No Yu onsen, which is set in the post-war era.
As you will see, there are of different types and styles and some also include sauna and Jacuzzi, but the tributaries of all have a natural origin in volcanic nappes, even if they are located on islands or inhospitable terrain.
Onsen are popular year-round in Japan, but in winter they gain notoriety for the warmth of the water and because the Japanese believe that the impact of high-temperature hot springs mixed with the frigid winter air aids blood circulation and bone care.
Keep in mind that these traditional baths have some specific rules, such as that men and women cannot share the same pool or ofuro and that in some neighborhood baths access to people with tattoos is forbidden.
3. Visit the medieval village of Shirakawa-go with a tour from Tokyo
The medieval village of Shirakawa-go is famous for its typical houses and its Gassho-zukuri style buildings , a type of architecture that consists of building sloping roofs to prevent snow accumulation, as rainfall is abundant in the mountainous region of Gifu.
Visiting the village during the snowfall is a very interesting experience and the typical Japanese winter pictures you can take there are very nice.
With a two-day trip from Tokyo you will also see the Tateyama Kurobe route, which is known for its twenty-meter snow walls during the winter, in a winding route that leaves only the bulldozer-cleared road in sight.
In addition to Shirakawa-go, this tour takes in Lake Kurobe and the Daikanbo viewpoint.
This tour is available during the winter and will allow you in a two-day tour to discover one of Japan' s great landscapes off the alpine routes, with magical mountain refuges just a few hours from Tokyo.
4. Ward off bad luck by celebrating Setsubun no Hi
If you are visiting Tokyo in February, you can attend the Setsubun no Hi festivals held throughout the country.
This celebration, which celebrates the separation of the seasons, consists of bidding farewell to winter to usher in spring, thus casting out demons and attracting good fortune.
This celebration is little known in Western countries, but in Japan it is a tradition in which roasted soybeans are thrown while the phrase "Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi", something like "demon out, fortune in" is pronounced to chase away demons from the house. The practice of throwing soybeans is known as mame-maki.
Setsubun no Hi is celebrated every year on February 3 marking the last day of winter according to the lunar calendar and is a great opportunity to participate in a local festival and eat fresh sushi, as it is the typical dish consumed during the festivities.
During the celebration it is very common that the guided tours around the city are oriented to this theme.
5. Enjoy snow-covered Tokyo from the observation deck of the Radio Tower
The Radium Tower marks the second highest peak in Tokyo and is the most visited viewpoint in the city.
Inspired by the Eiffel Tower and painted white and international orange to comply with air safety regulations, this 332-meter-high structure has two observation decks and one of the best panoramic views of the Japanese capital during the winter, when snow dresses the skyscrapers and streets of the city in white.
The Radio Tower is, since its inauguration, a central point in Tokyo' s skyline and one of the most visited attractions in the city. If you are visiting Tokyo during the winter I recommend that during a clear day you visit the tower and let yourself marvel at the view it offers.
One of the observation decks also has a transparent glass floor that will give you the sensation of floating in the air.
To make the most of your visit also visualize on the horizon Mount Fuji, which usually hides behind the clouds but during the winter and with clear skies will be seen with its snowy peak.
Details of interest
- Price... Entrance to the Tower's observation decks costs approximately 10 euros.
- Location... 4 Chome-2-8 Shibakoen, Tokyo.
- Hours... The tower observation deck is open daily from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm.
- How to get there... By subway on the Oedo line to Akabanebashi station, Hibiya line to Kamiyacho station, Mita line to Onarimon station and Asakusa line to Daimon station. By train on the JR Yamanote line to Hamamatsucho station.
6. Lose yourself in the enchanted forest of Ueno Park
The peak season for Ueno Park is between March and May. If you are visiting Tokyo during the spring, you will see it full of colors and if you visit it in August, you will find the cherry blossoms in bloom.
But in winter the park holds some mysteries that often only locals know about, and although its leafy trees are often bare, the snow, cold and leaves carpeting the ground bring the enchanted forest to life.
The enchanted forest is, in reality, a path of winding trails of opaque colors and bathed in snow. If you dare to brave the cold, you can walk through the Ueno and during the weekend, when the flow of visitors decreases, listen to the sound of nature to escape for a few minutes from the bustling and dazzling Tokyo.
Ueno Park also houses the largest and oldest museum in Japan, so it may be a good idea to get tickets to the Tokyo National Museum, and make the most of your visit before continuing your tour of the capital.
I also recommend you to visit the Shinobazu pond and if you have the possibility to wait there for the sunset.
7. Experience Christmas in Tokyo's Christmas Markets
Japan has adopted many of the customs of the West, especially when it comes to celebrations, so it will come as no surprise that Tokyo dresses up for Christmas from November onwards.
One of the places where the Christmas spirit is most alive is in the markets, so you can not miss a visit to one of the many that are in the Japanese capital to enjoy the decorations and music, buy all kinds of gifts and eat some of the delicious dishes of the local cuisine.
The Ebisu Garden Christmas market is one of the most beautiful in the city and, as it is inspired by France, there you can find French specialties such as handmade decorations, candles or the traditional mulled wine.
If you want something more local you can visit the Tokyo Skytree market, which stands out for its illumination, or the Roppongi market.
If you want to experience a traditional Christmas market, I recommend Shiba, because it is inspired by German culture and, in addition to the traditional Christmas products, you can eat German sausages, drink beer and hot chocolate and taste the classic glühwein, a mulled wine that is widely consumed in Germany during Christmas Eve.
These markets are the best option if you want to experience Christmas in Tokyo during your stay in the city.
8. Walk through Hanegi Park and see plum blossoms in bloom
Gardening is one of the favorite activities of the Japanese and, for fans of this pastime, parks throughout the country offer a wide range of attractions.
The Japanese cherry tree, or sakura, is the most famous in Asia, but the plum tree, or ume, is the harbinger of spring and also one of the most beautiful with its striking plastic pink color.
Hanegi Park, in the Setayaga district, has the largest plantation in Tokyo and becomes an attraction when its groves begin to bloom in mid-February.
Plum trees are considered symbols of life and rebirth in Japan and are therefore revered by locals. If you enjoyed the trails in Ueno Park, you can't miss the Hanegi ume. But be careful with the branches that stick out of the trees!
Hanegi Park is a bit far from the epicenter of Tokyo's main attractions, but it is a good excuse to also visit the Shibuya district or the Hachiman shrine, if you are interested in samurai stories and tours.
9. Get to know Tokyo through its winter illuminations
Christmas in Tokyo begins, contrary to the West, on November 1 each year and extends well beyond December 25, because many of the street decorations remain until the end of winter.
The Japanese capital stands out for the illuminations of its buildings and for the infinity of bulbs, LED lights, signs and creative designs that recreate a bright and cheerful winter cityscape, magical to discover in every night walk.
The virtual map of the places worth walking through during the winter nights to discover Tokyo illuminated reaches every corner of the city.
The vicinity of Shinjuku Station becomes a glowing forest full of wooden walkways, benches and crowned by the Docomo Tower. The Roppongi district is also illuminated with Christmas lights, as is the Radio Tower and the Tokyo Skytree structure.
During Christmas Eve, it is possible to follow an enchanted trail of lights through the Japanese capital.
The parks are also places that usually glow at night in Tokyo and the best to visit during the winter season, besides the ubiquitous Ueno Park, are the Yebisu and Shibuya gardens.
The best thing about this experience is that you can discover it from any part of the city because Tokyo vibrates with its wonderful lights from November until the end of winter.
10. Enjoy Japanese winter gastronomy
The cold is a good excuse to enjoy Japanese cuisine during your visit to Tokyo in winter. Hot dishes such as ramen, nabe, sobas and sake will be the protagonists of your tour of one of the best cuisines in the world, which is much more enjoyable when the temperature outside reaches below zero degrees.
Winter in Tokyo will also give you the chance to try oden, a delicious stew cooked in dashi on a base of seaweed broth. During the winter this dish is offered at all street food stalls and supermarkets. If you want to complete a totally native experience , you can accompany your meal with a hot sake, the traditional Japanese drink made with rice wine and koji mushroom to ferment and gain alcohol content.
It is also a good time to get fresh sushi, since during Setsubun no Hi it becomes a typical dish and is everywhere.
Temperatures in Tokyo in winter
During the winter the temperature in Japan drops significantly and, although in Tokyo snowfalls are not persistent or daily, they can be copious. The positive thing about the Japanese capital is that during the winter period rainfall is rare.
In December the temperature stays at a high of 12°C maximum and 5°C minimum at night, but in January the minimums drop to 0°C or below.
February usually starts off very cold with temperatures below freezing and then cools down towards the end of the month, recovering to December's average temperatures.
When touring Tokyo I recommend that you always wear warm coats and comfortable shoes, especially because when it snows the city collapses and public transport becomes a hive of activity.
It would not be unusual to have to walk a few extra blocks to the next subway station!
Tokyo in the winter
Winter is one of the best times to visit Tokyo. The influx of tourists drops substantially and the already crowded Japanese capital becomes friendlier to walk around.
If you don't mind cold weather, the winter period is a highly recommended option not only because of all the activities the city has to offer but also because it is the most economical time of the year.
On the other hand, Japan's domestic tourism is also active during the winter and many locals leave Tokyo, so that also frees up public transportation in the Japanese capital. Just keep in mind that during snowfall the subway and trains are often collapsed generating delays.
Prices in Tokyo in winter
Tokyo is not a cheap city in general, but during the winter the prices are cheaper. Due to the lower demand of tourists, you can find some discounted accommodations and winter tours also have lower costs than activities in Tokyo during the summer.
You should keep in mind that this has an explanation: January to March are the coldest months of the year in Tokyo, but also an interesting opportunity to ski in the mountains surrounding the Japanese capital and enjoy other activities typical of the winter period.
What to pack when visiting Tokyo in winter
The weather in Tokyo during the winter will require you to pack a variety of coats in your suitcase , including comfortable shoes and waterproof jackets to cope with the snowfall.
Here is a list of items that you can not miss in your suitcase if you are thinking of traveling to Tokyo during the cold season:
- Wool hat
- Wool scarves
- Waterproof and tactile gloves
- Thermal socks
- Thermal fleece
- Polar pants
- Fleece sweaters
- Waterproof and comfortable boots
- Winter coats
- Waterproof jacket
Alternative plans to protect yourself from the cold in Tokyo in winter
If you travel to Tokyo during the months of December and March you should be aware that cold and snowfall will be common but the city has a wide variety of activities to offer.
However, if you come across a heavy snowfall during your trip or want to combat the cold, you can choose to spend the day in the restaurants of Roppongi or in the closed markets or enjoy some of the Kabuki-za plays.
Tokyo has many museums to visit with a wide variety of themes. In Akihabara you can spend the afternoon in a maid cafe or in a bar in Kabukicho. And you can also try a secret of the locals, which are the kairo, a hot thermal bag that you can put on your back or inside your shoes and it will keep you warm.
The kairo can be bought in supermarkets or konbini stores and they come in different types and sizes.