1. Ohkotsk Sea – Hokkaido
Sea of Ohkotsk lies at the north of Hokkaido and during winter, drift (floating) ice is a popular attraction. The currents push the pieces of ice and joins it together to form larger planks of ice. The noise created when the ice shifts and collides is quite eerie. It is only in the winter season that you can see the drift ice. Visit the museums to learn more about the Ohkotsk Sea and drift ice, or to maximize your experience, take the ice breaker cruise or a walk on the drift ice.
Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum http://www.ryuhyokan.com/ (Japanese only)
Okhotsk Tower http://www.mombetsu.net/en/spot/index3.html
Okhotsk Sea Ice Museum http://giza-ryuhyo.com/eng/index.html
Drift ice sightseeing:
Garinko http://www.garinko.com/winter/ (Japanese only)
2. Sapporo Snow Festival – Hokkaido
One of the most popular winter festivals in Japan is the Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido. Every year, the festival is held in early February, attracting about two million visitors from around the world. A large number of snow and ice sculptures are exhibited for seven days. The Odori Park exhibits snow sculptures, the main street in Susukino exhibits ice sculptures, and the grounds at Community Dome Tsudome is a place for winter sport events to entertain visitors with attractions such as ice slide, snow rafting, and bamboo skiing.
66th Sapporo Snow Festival
Dates: February 5 (Thu) – 11 (Wed), 2015
3. Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival – Akita
Kamakura is an igloo-like small snow huts, carved out of snow. With its history of about 400 years, Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival is an event to honor ancient sacred deities. Altars for the deities, along with offerings are carved into the rear wall inside these snow huts. During the festival, local children invite the visitors inside and serve local snacks, amazake (sweet fermented rice wine), and mochi (rice cake) grilled over charcoal brazier, which also provides some warmth inside the snow hut. The invited visitors are to make an offering to the deity in return. Over 100 snow huts can be observed during the event. (Event held every year on February 15 and 16).
Dates: February 14 (Sat) – 16 (Mon), 2015
Dates and functions are subjects to change without notice. Be sure to check the latest information in advance.
City: Yokote City, Akita Prefecture
4. Snow Monsters of Zao – Miyagi and Yamagata
Only during the winter season, snow monsters appear at Mt. Zao. What is snow monster?
They are trees coated with frozen solid snow and ice. The shape of these frozen trees look like monsters and encountering thousands of them is quite an experience. You can ski around these snow monsters or simply walk around, or even take a lift up to the summit to see the evening illumination. Zao is also famous for hot springs so make sure to soak yourself in a hot bath after enjoying the freezing world of snow.
5. Monkeys Bathing in Hot Springs – Nagano
Monkeys soaking in the hot springs during the winter snowy season… Quite an unusual and unforgettable scene that is hard to find elsewhere. In the Jigokudani, or Hell Valley, named for its numerous hot springs that rise up along the steep cliffs, is the Yaen-koen Park (Monkey Park) and home for the wild Japanese macaques (also known as snow monkeys). The place is famous for observing the bathing monkeys. Although they are wild animals, the moneys are used to being photographed, so bring a camera with you.
6. Shirakawa-go – Gifu
Designated as the UNESCO World Heritage site, Shirakawa-go is located at the base of Mt. Hakusan in Gifu prefecture. Traditional thatched roof farmhouses in this small mountain village are covered with heavy snow during the winter, a scene that attracts visitors from around the world. People still reside in this village, creating an inviting atmosphere, and tourists can enjoy the illuminations during designated Saturday and Sunday evening in January and February.
Read more on Shirakawa-go, A World Heritage Site