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Japan - The ultimate winter destination

24th October 2012 Print

With each winter, Japan becomes a little better known for its supreme snow conditions, which can last from November to as late as April across northern Honshu and Hokkaido. Not so well known is the wildlife that revels in the winter wonderland of the Rising Sun. Pretty much unknown outside Japan are the diving delights around the sub-tropical islands in the south, where winter temperatures rarely dip below 20°C. The contrasting climates of Japan can be enjoyed in a new self-guided adventure, the 14-night ‘Snow & Sun’ itinerary, which takes in Tokyo, Kyoto, the slopes of Nagano and the beaches of the Yaeyama Islands, the southernmost inhabited islands of Japan.

For those who prefer to tailor make, consider factoring in the following elements for a winter holiday with real ‘wow’ factor:

Winter sun
Why not combine powder snow with powder sands during a trip to Japan? Consider relaxing in the sun or diving in the warm waters off the Yaeyama Islands, the sub-tropical and southernmost inhabited islands of Japan, situated 250 miles south of the Okinawa mainland. Japanese island culture and traditions here differ from the rest of the country and are most noticeable in the food, music, architecture, language and locals’ attitudes. A friendly and relaxed vibe, year-round sun, soft sandy beaches and crystal clear waters combine to offer the perfect Japanese beach break. Underwater, see pretty blue coral, comparable to that of the Great Barrier Reef, the elegant manta ray, and an ancient ‘lost city’ of platforms, steps and corridors, discovered in the 1980s and thought to be over 10,000 years old. Whether these mysterious monuments are man-made or a geological phenomenon is widely debated.

For powder hounds
Hokkaido - a snow lover’s paradise with premier off-piste powder and a plethora of sprawling resorts. King of the resorts is Niseko, blessed with an average of 20 metres of snowfall per year. For back-country adventure, head for Japan’s largest national park, Daisetsu-san, and ski around Hokkaido’s highest mountain, the 2,290-metre Asahi-dake.

Something for the weekend – skiing and hot spring bathing
Just an hour’s shinkansen train ride from Tokyo will get you to the Japanese Alps, to the slopes of Gala Yuzawa, where the train conveniently pulls in at the bottom of the resort, a minute’s walk from the lifts. Elsewhere in the Alps and approximately 3.5 hours from Tokyo, find the beautiful valley of Hakuba in Nagano, with its 11 resorts, suitable for beginners, intermediate and advanced skiers. Enrich the skiing experience in Japan and stay in a traditional Japanese inn (ryokan), enjoy first-class food and hospitality, and soak in a mineral-rich hot spring bath (onsen) at the end of a day on the slopes.

Wildlife in the winter – cranes, eagles, snow foxes, goat-antelope and snow monkeys
Witness captivating birdlife scenes in Hokkaido, watch the graceful red-crowned Japanese crane perform dances as the orange sun sets over the pure white snowfields of Tsurui, and see huge Stellar Sea Eagles stationed on drifting ice off the remote Shiretoko Peninsula. In the Japanese Alps, spot the snow fox, the Japanese Serow (goat-antelope) and, in the forests of Yudanaka, watch snow monkeys splash about in hot spring water and enjoy snowball fights.

Festival fun – fireworks, ice sculptures, bonfires and sake
Winter brings some of the biggest and most visually spectacular festivals of the year. The Chichibu Yomatsuri (December 2-3) is one of Japan’s ‘Big Three’ festivals and takes place during the night in Saitama, about 90 minutes from Tokyo, at the foot of the mountains. A 2.5 hour firework display provides an impressive backdrop for the processions of portable shrines and stands selling street food accompanied by sweet rice wine. Hokkaido’s Sapporo Snow Festival (5-11 February 2013) is famous for its spectacular snow and ice sculptures, bright lights, traditional and pop music. And one of the craziest festivals of the year is the Nozawa Fire Festival on 15 January. Taking place in Japan’s oldest ski resort, fireworks and bonfires light up the village of Nozawa – Japan’s oldest ski resort, located under two hours from Tokyo - and the skies above, whilst large amounts of sake are consumed by the locals and visitors alike.

A different view
See the sparkling white landscapes of Hokkaido whizz by from a husky-drawn sled; weave in and out of snow-laden ancient forests and glide through deep powder. Or, take a hot air balloon ride over the Daisetsu-san national park for a magnificent bird’s eye and panoramic view of the majestic mountains.

Recommended tours
The 14-night ‘Snow and Sun’ package costs from £2,448 pp (two sharing) and includes three nights in Tokyo, two nights in Kyoto, five days on the slopes of Hakuba, four nights on the sub-tropical island of Ishigaki, all domestic transfers, some meals and lift passes.

The 8-night ‘Niseko Winter Sports’ package costs from £1,100 pp (two sharing) and includes two nights in Tokyo, six nights in Niseko, all domestic transfers, some meals and an all-mountain lift pass.

The 13-night ‘Winter Sports and Culture’ package costs from £2,500 pp (two sharing) and includes three nights in Tokyo, five nights in Niseko, three nights in Kyoto and one night in Yudanaka (with the snow monkeys!), with all domestic transfers, some meals and an all-mountain lift pass.

For further information, visit