Does it snow in Japan is a normal question if you are planning a trip to this lovely country during the winter. But, the right question is why does it snow so much in Japan! Because there is lots and lots of snow in Japan.
The famous photos of Mt. Fuji with its snow-covered peak and blue sky in the background you could be take any time of the year. With all that snow, there is no wonder that Japan is famous for its winter, and spring, ski resorts and some fantastic ski and snowboarding spots.
Does it Snow in Japan?
All parts of Japan facing the Japan Sea get a lot of snow every winter as the humidity from the sea gets cooled by the cold wind from Siberia and Manchuria.
It helps that the Sea of Japan never freezes, so it constantly provides moisture to the air, which turns into the snow as it cools off.
The Pacific Ocean side of Japan is protected by the central mountains, so you will notice it gets much less snow. Snow does not accumulate much and temperatures rarely drop below freezing.
As you go south, it gets even warmer because of the warm Black Current, which flows from the south. Cities such as Hiroshima and islands Shikoku, Kyushu and the south islands rarely see any snow.
When does it snow in Japan?
Many parts of Japan get a serious amount of snow every winter. Japan’s winters are very long, lasting from early December to late February or early March.
The average snowfall is between 300 and 600 inches. This amount is probably bigger in the mountains, but statisticians rarely leave their offices and climb mountains to check it out.
The climate of Japan is a product of the ocean that surrounds Japanese islands, the land geography and the ocean currents. Japan has four distinct seasons.
Spring is between March and May, summer between June and August, autumn between September and November, and winter between December and February.
Winter comes with plenty of snow and below-freezing temperatures. In Tokyo, the average December temperature is 54°F (12°C) during the day. It falls to 41°F (5ºC) at night.
January temperature ranges between 35°F and 37°F (2°C and 3°C) and in February, the afternoon temperature ranges from 42°F to 50°F, dropping to 37°F at night.
These are averages. Things are of course much colder in the mountains.
Where does it snow in Japan?
Hokkaido, the Japanese northernmost and second-largest island, is known for its snow and its ski areas. The temperatures are colder than the country’s average and the powder is said to be lighter.
Honshu, Japan’s main island, is located further south. It has the country’s most popular ski areas. It is a bit warmer than Hokkaido, but the mountains are higher and the higher you go the colder it gets.
Winter magic away from the ski slopes
Not all the places you will see in Japan that get plenty of snow are known for their ski resorts. Some are offering traditional Japanese culture, hot springs and the magic of snow-covered streets, rooftops and gardens.
They are beautiful any time of the year but are particularly enchanting in winter.
Ginzan Onsen, Yamagata
Ginzan Onsen, located on the Ginan River, is famous for its hot springs and the traditional wooden inns called ryokan. The streets are lit by gas lamps and look truly magical in winter.
Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture
Nikko is home to a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, a Buddhist temple and two Shinto shrines. There are more than 300 religious buildings in the complex with magnificent architecture and decoration.
Nikko Toshogu Shrine was built in the 8th century. Nikko also has a number of Onsen healing hot springs.
Nyuto Onsen, Akita
Located in Towada-Hachimantai National Park, on the shores of Japan’s deepest lake, Nyuto Onsen is known for its natural hot springs and ancient quaint wooden inns.
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One of Japan’s northern cities, Otaru is known for its canal, old brick buildings, and quirky Victorian-style streetlights. The city has a charming European vibe, especially in the winter when everything is covered by snow.
Ouchi Juku, Fukushima
Ouchi Juku is a historic post town that was restored to its original traditional look. It is full of charming old ryokan inns, famous for the local delicacy- fish grilled on a traditional sunken hearth.
The historic villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are famous for their traditional 400-year old thatched-roof farmhouses called Gassho Zukuri. The charming small houses line the slopes of the Shogawa River Valley in the remote mountain area.
When covered in snow, they are looking very much like a fairytale. The villages are located near the Japanese Alps and will make you feel transported into the past.
The site has been declared UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many old houses are now offered as tourist accommodation.
Where to go skiing in Japan
Since the winter Olympic games in Nagano in 1998 and then in Sapporo in 1972, the world has discovered skiing in Japan. The country is now one of the best and most famous winter holiday and skiing destinations.
There are almost 450 ski areas in Japan, some just fun hills used by locals but many world-class ski resorts. Here are just a few among the most famous.
Furano is one of Japan’s most popular ski resorts. Located in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost city, Furano is located next to Hokkaido’s magnificent Daisetsu-zan National Park and is famous for the average of nine meters of snow every winter.
The resort offers 25km (16mi) of groomed ski runs suitable for all skill levels, including advanced. Kids can enjoy the Family Snowland and adults can have fun skiing, snowboarding and dog sledding.
Furano is one of Hokkaido’s steepest mountains, with a vertical drop of about 950m (3,117ft). This traditional Japanese resort village has two ski zones: the Kitanomie, which operates from mid-December to late March, and Furano, which operates from late November to early May.
Both are connected to the village of Furano by a resort shuttle. A ski pass works for all 11 ski lifts. Furano offers a range of accommodations, restaurants and bars and is popular with families.
For more information about the resort and its facilities, check their official website.
Happo One Resort, Hakuba Valley
Hakuba Happo-one is one of Japan’s most famous and biggest ski resorts. The resort enjoys the breathtaking view of the Hakuba Mountain’s three peaks as well as Myoko, Asama and Togakushi volcanoes and Yatsugatake mountain ranges.
Happo-one is known for its super dry and consistent powder snow conditions. There are 22 lifts and the highest lift is at 1,831 m. There are 52 km of slopes for skiing and snowboarding at elevations between 760 and 1,831 m.
Besides the accommodation at the Happo-one resort, many tourists stay at the village located below the resort. Happo village also offers plenty of shops, bars and restaurants.
The Happo village is the main transport hub to all the other ski resorts in the area. Japanese resorts rarely have the Western type of accommodation in one place.
They generally offer a wide range of options such as hotels, apartments and houses. For more information on the Happo-one resort and its facilities, check their website.
It is a town and a mountain range in Hokkaido’s Mount Yōtei, and Annupuri ranges. Niseko United resort is part of the Mountain Collective and is famous for its world-class facilities and high-quality powder snow.
The resort also has a range of restaurants and traditional onsen (hot springs). Soaking in the hot springs water after a day on the frigid slopes is pure heaven.
Niseko’s ski season is at the times of its best light powder snow, typically between November and March. Niseko United resort consists of four connected ski resorts – Annupuri, Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu and Hanazono.
It is popular with skiers for its long courses and backcountry access, but also its world-famous nightlife and after-dark skiing. All Mountain pass serves all resorts.
For more information on the Niseko United facilities, check their website.
Nozawa Onsen, Nagano
Nozawa Onsen Village is located at the foot of Kenashi-yama Mountain, about one hour from Nagano City. This charming hot spring village dates back to the 8th century.
Its hot springs and traditional inns from the Edo period have been completely restored. Check the listing of the traditional inns if you are interested in booking one of them.
Many are small family-run establishments where you can get the feel of the true Japanese traditional life. With the opening of Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort, Nozawa has gained popularity as a ski area with a variety of terrains and amazing snow.
Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort is located above the Nozawa village and offers more than fifty kilometres of trails on 297 hectares of skiing surface, starting at the elevation of 1085 meters.
The resort offers something for everyone: easy wide-open runs, as well as some difficult mogul runs for the experts. There is also a terrain park with rails, jumps, boxes and an eighty-meter log pipe for the adrenaline junkies.
Nozawa is also famous for staying open late into the season and for the number of wonderful onsen hot springs To learn more about the Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort, check their official website.
Rusutsu is one of Hokkaido’s most famous ski resorts, known for some of Japan’s heaviest snowfalls and probably the best powder snow in the world. It is located an hour and a half from Sapporo and it offers activities year-round.
The ski area is spread across three mountains – West Mt., East Mt., and Mt. Isola, each with unique terrain and a variety of groomed trails. There are 42km (29mi) of groomed slopes, four gondolas, 14 lifts and 37 runs.
These range from wide, gentle slopes safe for all skiers and snowboarders as well as challenging runs for advanced skiers. The advanced skiers particularly appreciate free runs and the lift that provides access to the backcountry.
There is a range of hotels in the area with a selection of different types of restaurants. A few smaller dining spots are located near the base of the mountain.
The resort is family-friendly and kids can enjoy tubing, dog sledding and snowmobiling. The resort also has a pool and an onsen.
To learn more about Rusutsu, check their official website.
Shiga Kogen, Nagano
The Shiga Kogen Ski Area consists of 18 ski resorts combined together to create the largest ski area in Japan. It is one of the largest ski resorts in Japan and it offers gondolas, 48 lifts, and ropeways that can all be accessed with a single ski pass.
There is a free shuttle that connects all the resorts during the ski season. Shiga Kogen is divided into two areas. The southern area heads to the top of the 2305 meter tall Mount Yokote.
It has a number of ski runs and hot springs on the way to the summit. The northern area heads to Oku Shiga Kogen. It is flanked by several over 2000-meter high peaks, which provide a massive area for skiing and snowboarding.
The Higashidateyama Resort in this area hosted the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, the slalom and the giant slalom events. Shiga Kogen does not have a town, and after-ski activities are usually happening at the various hotels in the area.
There are several local attractions nearby such as hot spring resort towns Shibu Onsen, Yudanaka Onsen and the famous Jigokudani Monkey Parkwith wild monkeys enjoying a bath in natural hot springs.
For more information on Shiga Kogen, check their website.
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There are many reasons for visiting Japan. This ancient country has a rich culture and history and spectacular nature. However all passionate skiers want to know before going to Japan is does it snow in Japan.
We have proven that it surely does snow in Japan, that you can find some spectacular ski slopes and luxury ski resorts, but find some time to visit some other parts of Japan that look equally magical covered in snow.