Winter wonderland Japan! Who would have guessed that besides temples and sushi, this country also boasts an active winter scene with mountains of snow? The Northern regions of Japan -- especially for visitors from Australia and Southeast Asia -- are now a popular destination for winter sports. Hokkaido and Nagano, former sites of the Winter Olympics in 1972 and 1998, respectively, rank top for skiing and snowboarding. They offer countless ski resorts and many include hot springs for that relaxing, warm bath after exerting yourself on the slopes all day.
Enjoy winter, but strapping your feet onto slippery boards and throwing yourself down a mountain isn’t your idea of a good time?
Winter snow scene in Japan photo by Nathan Hosken
Not to worry: Odigo has you covered! Japan offers many terrific winter activities that have nothing at all to do with traveling downhill at high speeds. Read on to discover wonderful, winter adventures off the beaten path!
Have Dinner in a Snow Hut
Eating dinner with friends in a snow hut from Flickr cc by Chris Lewis
Did you know that Japan has its own version of the igloo? These snow houses are called kamakura (not to be mistaken with the city close to Tokyo), and they start springing up in different locations around Northern Japan around mid-January. In Iiyama, Nagano, you can even learn how to build your own. Illuminated with candles at night, kamakura make for a romantic sight. What’s more, you can also reserve a kamakura for an evening and have dinner inside with your friends and a local expert! Taste regional specialties, like nabe hot pot -- packed with seasonal vegetables and meat -- or grilled mochirice cakes. Warm yourself with some hot sake (rice wine) and experience a memorable meal. For details and reservations, contact the Shinshu-Iiyama Tourism Association.
Ice Breaker Boats for Chills and Thrills
Sightseeing ice-breaker, Abashiri Harbour from Flickr cc by David McKelvey
A natural phenomenon not to be missed is the drift ice in the Sea of Okhotsk. Here, icebreaker boats take visitors out into the ocean to witness the surreal sight of frozen slabs of seawater floating on the waves. The sightseeing is exciting, but the large icebreaker boats are sure to impress as well! A fun activity for the whole family, these "Drift Ice Cruises" depart from Abashiri on Hokkaido’s east coast. Check the MS Aurora's website for more information. Adventurers and trekkers will enjoy a chance to feast their eyes on this unusual landscape, walk on the ice and even test the icy cold waters. Tours leave from Utoro on the Shiretoko Peninsula three times a day and take about one hour. For a list of everything you’ll need and a chance to reserve, click here.
Rafting and River Adventures
Beautiful Niseko riverside from Flickr cc by Issey Niwa
Another enchanting boat excursion is winter river rafting in Niseko. Let yourself be carried away by Hokkaido's beautiful winter scenery, floating down the clear waters of the river in a rubber boat. A certified guide will make sure you’re safe at all times, which also makes this activity suitable for boating rookies and small children. If you’re lucky, you’ll see local wildlife like deer and eagles. Listen to the birds, enjoy the slow run of the river, admire the sparkling sun reflected on the water, ice and snow and relax with your whole family. Even dogs are allowed! Warm clothing, gloves, a hat and warm shoes are required. You’ll find details and booking information on this site.
Okinawa Winter Diving
Winter diving in Okinawa from Flickr cc by epicureanism
And if you like the water but aren't a fan of cold weather, why not try some winter diving at the opposite end of Japan, all the way down in Okinawa? The ocean around the islands is warm all year-round, never falling below 21 °C (70 °F). Winter diving offers several perks compared to diving in the summer. The water is a lot clearer due to a lack of plankton which proliferate in warmer seasons. Divers have a much better chance of seeing the vivid colors of the sea creatures who live just off the coast. Diving off-season also means no crowds and a more relaxed underwater experience. (Hotels are cheaper, too!) Divers are kept comfortable with insulated tights, vests, a thick wetsuit, diving boots, a hood, and gloves. A warm drink and hot shower after coming out of the water will keep you happy and healthy. Bluefield is an established dive shop; check their website for more information.