Winter Wonderland - Japan Winter Tours 2017

Hakkoda

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

Otaru Snow Light Path Festival

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

Snow monkeys in Yudanaka ©jigokudani yaen-koen
 
There's more to winter in Japan than just skiing. From winter wonderland landscapes in the Japan Alps to hearty and warming food in an izakaya (Japanese pub) in the backstreets of Tokyo, there's plenty on offer for anyone willing to bundle up and brave the cooler temperatures of Japanese winter-time.
 
IJT’s seasonal itinerary has been designed to show off some of the country's frosty highlights on Japan’s main island of Honshu, all while enjoying a variety of cultural and hands-on experiences and activities. From the Golden Pavilion dusted with snow to the hardy macaques soaking in the hot springs of mountainous Yudanaka, this Self-Guided Itinerary sends you on a journey to experience the charms of some of Japan's most scenic wintery landscapes.
 
In addition to the above highlights, you’ll also enjoy a fun-filled evening in Tokyo’s famous Robot Restaurant, visit the ‘black crow’ castle and try your hand at a soba making workshop in Matsumoto, sample sake breweries and traditional kaiseki course meal in Takayama, and take tea with an apprentice geisha in Kyoto. Find out more at  www.insidejapantours.com

 

Imaginative Traveller: Japan Family Holiday – 11 days from £2,444 ***27 December departure***

Asahikawa Winter Festival 2009 ©Yasufumi Nishi
 
Grab the family and embark on an intriguing and beguiling exploration of Japan. Starting in Tokyo, discover Japan’s mesmerising capital, where dazzling neon lights are only the beginning. Feast on market-fresh sushi for breakfast at Tsukiji Market, try your hand at calligraphy in Asakusa, and cook your own okonomiyaki (hotplate pancake) on a Tokyo Bay boat cruise.


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

Ishigaki Island, Okinawa
 
Looking for something to help you ward off, rather than embrace, that soul-sapping winter chill? Departing and returning to Shanghai (Baoshan), China, this short cruise from Princess Cruises takes in the delights of Nagasaki and Okinawa, two of Japan’s top southern destinations.
 
The cruise also incorporates two days at sea, allowing plenty of time to sit back and put your feet up or explore the activities on offer on your ship, the Quantum of the Seas. Chill in the bar, lounge by the pool or enjoy a relaxing beauty treatment in the spa. If you’re feeling energetic, play a game of table tennis, take in some West End-style entertainment or try adrenaline-charged sports.
 
Wave goodbye to the breathtaking Shanghai skyline as you set sail for Nagasaki. Once ashore, watch colourful koi carp cruising the canals of Shimabara City or try on some ninja or samurai armour for size at Shimabara Castle. In Nagasaki, reflect on world history and peace at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum or take a boat trip to uninhabited Hashima Island, inspiration for the villain’s lair in the Bond movie Skyfall.


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

©jigokudani yaen-koen

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

Tsumago-juku ©Nagano Prefecture
 
Enjoy eight days of guided snowshoeing or winter walking on Japan’s most glorious ancient route, the Nakasendo Trail, experiencing its beauty at a very tranquil and largely tourist-free time. Guided in a small group, with lots of hot-spring baths and delicious hearty dinners to enjoy along the way, the tour also takes in Kyoto and Tokyo.
 
The trip includes five winter walks of between one and three hours along selected segments of the Nakasendo. The walks follow paved paths and rugged forest trails in the Kiso Valley, passing through traditional villages that feel unchanged by time, with narrow streets lined with wooden ryokan (traditional inns). 


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

Kenrokuen Garden ©Ishikawa Prefecture Tourist Association and Kanazawa Convention Bureau
 
Take a whirlwind winter wonderland tour through some of the best snow-covered winter scenery in central Japan. Start your trip in Tokyo, with city tours to Tokyo Tower, Meiji Jingu Shrine, the Imperial Palace and Ginza. Then transfer to Yudanaka in the Japanese Alps, where you’ll have the chance to visit the nearby snow monkey park to see the monkeys warming themselves in the hot onsen bath. In the evening return to your ryokan  (traditional inn) for a beautiful Japanese dinner and relaxing soak in the indoor and outdoor onsen (hot spring) spa facilities overlooking the snow-covered hills.


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

Magical Explorer also offers Japan Snow Monkey and Scenery Tour, a similar 11-day tour that only visits Tokyo, Yudanaka, Matsumoto and Kyoto and costs from £2,065. Find out more at www.magicalexplorer.co.uk 

Unique Japan Tours: Journey to the East Featuring Sapporo Snow Festival - 8 days, from £2,950

Japanese red-crowned crane

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

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