I know not everyone is into traveling in the winter season. There are some good reasons to avoid traveling in winter. I mean, it does certainly limit you in your ability to do certain things outside and your plans may have to quickly change due to the weather.
But for every person who chases the ocean and beach weather, there is a snow bunny out there pursuing fresh powder and the perpetual quaint white scenery of winter.
I never really was one of those people, but I totally get them. There are a lot of great reasons to travel in winter. Usually, places are far less crowded with tourists and that means lower prices on EVERYTHING. Also, there are certain things that are seasonal in winter that are beautiful and unique.
If you get anything from this post I hope you get that you are able to travel at any time of the year and that winter isn’t your enemy! In this post, I hope to show you the awesome things you can do and experience in Hokuriku, the area of Japan I live in, during the winter months.
Hokuriku has strong and consistent wintry weather from the mid-December until around mid-March. The Hokuriku area’s temperature doesn’t get too cold. It usually hovers around freezing. The temperature is mild but the snowfall is not. There is a pretty constant stream of snow during these months because the Japanese alps stop moisture from the Sea of Japan from moving across to the eastern half of the country.
To live in it isn’t very pleasant. Everyday cloudy, snowy, and cold without central heating or any kind of relief. The season isn’t very long in comparison to most places but in comparison to Texas it seems to last forever.
So, why would anyone possibly want to visit Hokuriku in winter?
I know that sounds like a good question, but actually there are a lot of tourism opportunities in Hokuriku that are only available to you when you travel in winter.
If you are open to the possibilities of winter traveling I think it’s best to embrace the wintriest of places with open arms. Hokuriku certainly has a true winter season. Here are some of the best things to do in the Hokuriku area of Japan during winter.
1. Skiing and Snowboarding
Remember when I said Hokuriku was between the sea and the mountains? Well, winter and mountains equal ample opportunities for snowboarding and skiing.
There are many great ski resorts in Hokuriku some of the best are, Hakuba Goryu Resort, Katsuyama Ski-Jam, and Tateyama Sanroku Resort. They aren’t as famous as the ski-resorts of Nagano or Hokkaido, but they are also cheaper and less crowded.
If you are exploring the Kansai Area (Kyoto and Osaka) the best and closest resort is actually Ski-Jam in Katsuyama City, Fukui. I live only about an hour from Ski-Jam so I find myself there at least 3 or 4 times a year. I can say from personal experience its a great Ski-Resort with a little bit of everything for both skiers and boarders.
The Sea of Japan in winter is extremely cold and produces some of the best seafood in all of Japan during this time of year because the cold temperature makes the meat of the fish and crabs very sweet.
Echizen crab is especially famous and is hand delivered to the royal family in Japan every winter. A large crab costs about $200. You can get a small female crab for much cheaper and it’s just as delicious. The noto peninsula area in Ishikawa is also well-known oysters in winter. Southern Fukui is famous for fugu (raw blowfish!) Toyama is well known for a particular type of salmon and squid. If you like to eat seafood some fo the best seafood in the world can be found in Hokuriku during the cold wintry months.
3. Gardens and Snowy Landscapes
Any place famous in Japan is going to have places of beautiful scenery. Japan is just simply a beautiful country. The landscape is dramatic and mostly unspoiled. The cities are clean and modern looking and naturally all those things lead to beautiful views.
Hokuriku has a few great places for winter nature watching. Firstly, there’s the beautiful World Heritage Site Gokayama. It’s so gorgeous it looks like you stepped into a snow globe. In the winter, they have a winter light up and it is it’s most stunning during this season. It is also decidedly less crowded and more peaceful than the more popular Shirakawa-Go.
Secondly, there is Kenrokuen, which is beautiful in any season. In winter, however, it takes on a “Narnia-like feeling.” It’s my favorite time of year to wander Kenrokuen and I think you can see why from the pictures.
4. Toyama Snow Wall
There is a highway on the way to Tateyama in Toyama famous for its ginormous snow wall. Half of the highway if marked for driving and one lane of the highway is sectioned off for visitors to walk and enjoy the snow. I haven’t made it here yet, but it’s definitely something I want to do before I leave. The sight looks like what the story of Moses and the Israelites flee from Pharaoh would look like if they were fleeing Russia instead of Egypt. Pretty awesome.
I included this on my list at the last minute. Japan isn’t famous for being a surfing destination, but it does get decent waves. One of my good friends here in Japan is a huge surfer and I probably wouldn’t have included this on the list if I wasn’t friends with him. The west coast of Japan, the Sea of Japan side, gets its surf in the winter season. Whereas the east coast, Pacific Ocean side, gets its surf in the summer. The best surfing in Japan is obviously in Kyushu, Shikoku, and Okinawa. However, if you are a surfer and you’re going to be spending some time in Hokuriku in winter think about bringing your board and wetsuit. There are some pretty decent waves to be had.
Winter is the season for soaking in the famous Japanese hot springs. Hokuriku having a bountiful winter therefore has many wonderful Ryokan to enjoy onsen at. I actually live in one such town, Awaraonsen. There is also Kagaonsen in Ishikawa and a number of beautiful oceanside onsen up on the Noto Peninsula. I have been dying to visit Lamp no Yado in Ishikawa since I saw pictures of it from a few friends of mine a couple years ago. It overlooks the sea of Japan and has onsen lit by lanterns in caves. YES. PLEASE.
It should be noted that visiting Japan during winter generally is colder than other countries due to the lack of central heating in most buildings, but that just makes the warmth of the people, onsen, kotatsu, and delicious nabe so much better.
If you are from a warm place and have always shied away of traveling into winter for your vacation, I encourage you to give it a try.
As much as I gripe about the winter months in Japan being the hardest, a part of me has come to really love the winter season. I love snowboarding, the food, and the beauty of the snow.
Just remember to stay on the path when possible. You’ll be glad you did.
For more information on Hokuriku check out my list of the top 10 things to do in the region.