Winter Wonderland - Japan Winter Tours 2017
See Japan's iconic sights dusted with powder, explore its fabulous winter festivals, and experience memorable encounters with its winter wildlife on these top winter-time tours.
Winter is a beautiful time of year to explore Japan. In the northern and mountainous areas, the streets are blanketed in snow and lit up with lanterns, the festival food stalls are bustling and the food is piping hot - are as the onsen (natural hot springs), if you need a quick dip to warm up!
Japan in winter offers myriad unique opportunities that can only be experienced in this season, from winter festivals celebrating snow and ice, to opportunities for winter wildlife spotting such as whale- and bird-watching, plus the unforgettable ‘hot spring monkeys’ in Yudanaka, Nagano.
Winter also offers the chance to experience major destinations such as Kyoto, Tokyo, Hakone, and the Nakasendo Trail without the crowds, as well as to see another side of many of Japan’s major sightseeing spots blanketed or capped with snow, whether it is Shirakawago’s steep-roofed thatched cottages, Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa, or the iconic Mount Fuji.
Finally, if you hate the winter chill as much as the Japanese onsen monkeys do, then you can also eschew winter altogether and make a beeline for the south of Japan for a mid-winter island getaway in balmy southern Kyushu or sub-tropical Okinawa.
Intrepid Travel: Japan Winter Festivals in Hokkaido - 8 days from £2,295
Be entranced by winter in Japan with this tour to some of the country’s biggest and best winter festivals. Experience several of Japan’s most remarkable winter festivals, as you travel from Sapporo to Otaru, Asahikawa and Sounkyo. Marvel at the huge and elaborate snow and ice sculptures at the sensational Sapporo Snow Festival and watch the soft lantern light cast its magic over festivalgoers as you stroll along the canal at the picturesque Snow Light Path Festival in Otaru.
Explore picturesque winter landscapes, don some snowshoes for a wintery walk, and warm up with well-timed visits to some of the region’s best-known breweries and whiskey distilleries as you enjoy an adventure of natural, cultural and artistic delights that celebrates the splendour of Japan’s far north.
The itinerary is far from a hand-holding, pre-planned trip, so even though the itinerary is quite full, you’ll still have plenty of free time to make the most of your winter escape and discover hidden sides of Japan. Departures on Monday 5th February and Saturday 10th February, 2018. Find out more at www.intrepidtravel.com
Inside Japan Tours - Snow Country - 11 nights, from £3,500
Imaginative Traveller: Japan Family Holiday – 11 days from £2,444 ***27 December departure***
Then hop on a bullet train to Hakone - fast, fun and futuristic, a ride on one is a thrilling and unmissable experience for the whole family. Part of a national park, Hakone is a wonderland of natural beauty and offers a long list of family-friendly holiday activities – hot springs, mountains, bush walks, lakes, breathtaking views of Mt Fuji and interesting museums such as an open-air modern art museum and the Karakuri ‘secret box’ museum.
Visit Hikone Castle on your way to your next stop - Kyoto, arguably the most stunning city in Japan. Spend a generous five days experiencing the subtle and profound charms of the former Imperial capital, seeing some of the finest temples, shrines, palaces and gardens in the country, with a balance of included activities and free time to spend together as a family. Find out more at www.imaginative-traveller.com
Princess Cruises: Nagasaki & Okinawa - 5 nights, from £475
Continue your journey by cruising onward to Okinawa, Japan's Hawaii-esque southern paradise, where you’ll experience Eisa, a traditional music and dance performance in the streets, and visit Shurijo Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which offers fascinating insight into the Ryukyu Kingdom that ruled the islands area from the 15th to 19th centuries. Prices start from £475 based on two sharing an interior room. Departures 6th January and 3rd February, 2018. Find out more at www.royalcaribbean.co.uk
Titan Travel: Japanese Winter Wonderland - 13 days from £4,449
As seasons go, with its world-renowned cherry blossoms, Japan is intrinsically linked to spring. However, travelling just a couple of months earlier reveals many incredible sights that can only be witnessed in winter - chief among them Hokkaido’s magical snow festivals and Nagano’s famous bathing snow monkeys, which are the focus of Titan’s tour.
The tour takes in both the atmospheric Otaru Snow Light Path Festival and the unbelievable Sapporo Snow Festival, whose incredibly detailed snow and ice sculptures reach epic proportions. Another highlight is the opportunity to watch the ‘snow monkeys’ (Japanese macaques) at Yudanaka in Nagano as they bathe in natural hot spring pools to ward off the winter chill, seemingly unfazed by the presence of people.
The tour also includes city tours of Kyoto, including Nijo Castle, Nagano, including Zenkoji Temple, Tokyo and Hakodate as well as visits to see Onuma Quasi National Park, Mt Hakodate’s night view, and Noboribetsu’s Hell Valley in Hokkaido. Combine all this with days in Japan’s modern capital Tokyo, and its old capital of Kyoto - full of beautiful temples, traditional arts and food - and geisha, plus journeys on the bullet train, for an unmissable winter experience. Find out more at www.titantravel.co.uk
Responsible Travel: Nakasendo Trail Winter Tour - 8 days, from £2,080
The final day of the tour includes a half day walking tour around Tokyo, visiting highlights such as the Hama-Rikyu Gardens by Tokyo Bay and also Nihonbashi, or ‘Japan Bridge’, the traditional end point of the Nakasendo Trail and the zero marker for all Japan’s main roads since the Edo Period. Find out more at www.responsibletravel.com
Magical Explorer: Winter Snow Japan - 12 day, from £2,200
Next, delve even deeper into the heart of the Japanese Alps. In Matsumoto, see Matsumoto Castle and stroll through Nawate-dori, the town’s old quarter. Spend a day each exploring Takayama, a tranquil old merchant town often nicknamed 'little Kyoto’, and taking a bus trip to Shirakawago Village, with its uniquely crafted traditional wooden farmhouses. Known as a 'hidden treasure' of Japan, seeing the village in winter is truly breathtaking, particularly after heavy snowfall when white blankets the steep roofs and surrounding mountains.
Scoot along the coast to Kanazawa where you can visit Kenrokuen Garden and Nagamachi samurai district before heading to Nara and Kyoto for full day guided sightseeing walking tours of both former capitals. In Nara, visit Todaiji Temple, with its giant golden Buddha statue, and Nara Deer Park. In Kyoto, visit Kiyomizu Temple and stroll through Gion District, where you may catch a glimpse of a geisha rushing to a dinner appointment. Find out more at www.magicalexplorer.co.uk
Unique Japan Tours: Journey to the East Featuring Sapporo Snow Festival - 8 days, from £2,950
Join this fully escorted winter tour to discover the truly remote, undiscovered parts of Eastern Hokkaid, whose vast national parks and lakes are home to an abundance of wildlife, which you’ll be able to discover and experience for yourself. Enjoy coastal cruises searching for dolphins, whales and sea lions. Visit lakes set in ancient volcano calderas. Feed white-tailed eagles in their natural habitat. These are just some of the encounters you can expect on an incredible journey through Japan’s wild and wintery north.
Plentiful opportunities for nature lovers are built in: bird-watching in Kushiro for red-crowned cranes, an iconic Japanese symbol of good fortune, longevity and loyalty; nature-spotting in Shiretoko National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site home to huge variety of of wildlife, including brown bears, deer, red foxes and eagles; a sightseeing boat cruise along the coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula to see marine wildlife; and Rausu, a small fishing port known worldwide as a birdwatcher’s paradise with its populations of eagles and owls, including Stellar’s Sea Eagle.
Other tour highlights include Sapporo Snow Festival, one of the largest snow festivals in the world where enormous snow and ice sculptures are waiting to wow you with their enormous impact and street festival atmosphere, and desolate Abashiri, famous for its drift ice and prison museum. The next departure is scheduled for 5th-12th February 2018. Find out more at www.uniquejapantours.com