Temperatures drop substantially during the winter in Tokyo. Many of Tokyo's main attractions change focus, but that doesn't make the Japanese capital any less interesting for visitors. On the contrary, touring in snow and ice and making the most of the winter activities on offer can be one of the best experiences of your trip.
From visiting Mount Fuji to seeing the city from the heights of the Radium Tower, from fine dining to celebrations to ward off bad luck, Tokyo has plenty to see and do.
1. Discover the best version of Mount Fuji
Temperatures in Tokyo during the winter can drop substantially, reaching sub-zero temperatures and sporadic but heavy snowfall.
However, in Japan during the winter, as long as it doesn't rain or snow, the skies usually remain clear, which is rare during the other times of the year when clouds tend to dominate the horizon. This is good news for visitors because Mount Fuji remains in full view from the city, revealing its best profile.
If you want to visit, you can book a Mount Fuji tour from Tokyo, which also includes a visit to Lake Ashi, or go on your own, but one way or another it's worth a visit during the winter season.
If you're up for it, there's also the Fujiten Snow resort at the foot of the mountain , with its seven ski slopes of varying difficulty levels where you can enjoy winter sports.
Seeing Mount Fuji crowned by snow and touring it in winter is also an interesting plan if you are visiting Tokyo with children, because Fujiten Snow also has a toboggan run designed especially for the little ones, and special events are held at the resort every night, including fireworks.
2. Soak in the volcanic hot springs
Traditional baths, or onsen in Japanese, are volcanic hot springs that are a cultural experience in Japan.
These baths have healing qualities, but they are also beauty-oriented, as it is customary for them to be arranged with views of natural landmarks such as Mount Fuji or the Five Lakes.
In Tokyo there are many options, some of them themed, such as the Niwa No Yu baths at the Toshimaen amusement park. You can also visit the open-air baths at LaQua, the neighbourhood bath at Daikokuyu or the Myojin No Yu onsen, which is set in the post-war era.
As you will see, there are many different types and styles, and some also include sauna and jacuzzi, but the tributaries of all have a natural origin in volcanic vents, even if they are located on islands or in inhospitable terrain.
Onsen are popular all year round in Japan, but in winter they gain notoriety for the warmth of the water and because the Japanese believe that the impact of the high-temperature hot springs mixed with the frigid winter air helps with blood circulation and bone care.
Note that these traditional baths have some specific rules, such as that men and women are not allowed to share the same pool or ofuro, and that some neighbourhood baths are off-limits to people with tattoos.
3. Visit the medieval village of Shirakawa-go on a tour from Tokyo
The medieval village of Shirakawa-go is famous for its typical houses and its Gassho-zukuri style buildings , a type of architecture that consists of building sloping roofs to prevent snow accumulation, as rainfall is abundant in the mountainous region of Gifu.
Visiting the village during the snowfall is a very interesting experience and the typical Japanese winter photographs you can take here are very beautiful.
A two-day trip from Tokyo will also take you to the Tateyama Kurobe route, which is known for its 20-metre snow walls in winter, on a winding route that leaves only the bulldozer-cleared road in sight.
In addition to Shirakawa-go, this tour takes in Lake Kurobe and the Daikanbo viewpoint.
This tour is available during the winter and allows you a two-day trip to discover one of Japan' s great off-the-beaten-path alpine landscapes, with magical mountain retreats just a few hours from Tokyo.
4. Ward off bad luck by celebrating Setsubun no Hi
If you're visiting Tokyo in February, you can attend the Setsubun no Hi festivals held throughout the country.
This celebration, which celebrates the separation of the seasons, involves bidding farewell to winter and ushering in spring, thus casting out demons and bringing good fortune.
This celebration is little known in Western countries, but in Japan it is a tradition in which roasted soybeans are thrown to chase away demons from the house while saying the phrase "Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi", something like "demon out, fortune in". The practice of throwing soybeans is known as mame-maki.
Setsubun no Hi is celebrated every year on 3 February, marking the last day of winter according to the lunar calendar, and is a great opportunity to take part in a local festival and eat fresh sushi, as it is the typical dish eaten during the festivities.
During the celebration it is very common for guided tours of the city to be oriented around this theme.
5. Enjoy snow-covered Tokyo from the observation deck of Radio Tower
The Radium Tower marks the second highest peak in Tokyo and is the most visited viewpoint in the city.
Inspired by the Eiffel Tower and painted white and international orange to comply with air safety regulations, the 332-metre-high structure has two observation decks and one of the best views of the Japanese capital during the winter, when snow blankets the city's skyscrapers and streets in white.
Since its inauguration, the Radio Tower has been a focal point in Tokyo' s skyline and one of the city's most visited attractions. If you are visiting Tokyo during the winter, I recommend that on a clear day you visit the tower and marvel at the view.
One of the observation decks also has a transparent glass floor that gives you the sensation of floating in mid-air.
To make the most of your visit, you can also see Mount Fuji on the horizon, which is usually hidden behind the clouds, but in winter when the skies are clear, it will be visible with its snow-capped peak.
- Price... Entrance to the Tower's observation decks costs approximately 10 euros.
- Location... 4 Chome-2-8 Shibakoen, Tokyo.
- Opening hours... The tower observation deck is open daily from 9.00 am to 10.00 pm.
- How to get there... By underground on the Oedo Line to Akabanebashi Station, Hibiya Line to Kamiyacho Station, Mita Line to Onarimon Station and Asakusa Line to Daimon Station. By train on the JR Yamanote line to Hamamatsucho station.
6. Lose yourself in the enchanted forest of Ueno Park
Ueno Park is at its best between March and May. If you're visiting Tokyo during the spring you'll see it bursting with colour, and if you visit in August you'll find the cherry blossoms in full bloom.
But in winter the park holds some mysteries often known only to locals, and although its leafy trees are often bare, the snow, cold and leaves carpeting the ground bring the enchanted forest to life.
The enchanted forest is actually a meandering trail of dull-coloured, snow-covered paths. If you dare to brave the cold, you can walk through Ueno and at the weekend, when the flow of visitors slows down, listen to the sounds of nature to escape for a few minutes from the bustling, glittering Tokyo.
Ueno Park is also home to Japan's oldest and largest museum, so it might be a good idea to get tickets to the Tokyo National Museum and make the most of your visit before continuing your tour of the capital.
I also recommend you visit Shinobazu Pond and if you have the chance, wait for the sunset there.
7. Experience Christmas in Tokyo's Christmas Markets
Japan has adopted many of the customs of the West, especially in terms of celebrations, so it's no surprise that Tokyo dresses up for Christmas from November onwards.
One of the places where the Christmas spirit is most alive is at the markets, so make sure you visit one of the many markets in the Japanese capital to enjoy the decorations and music, buy all kinds of gifts and eat some of the delicious local dishes.
The Ebisu Garden Christmas market is one of the most beautiful in the city and, as it is inspired by France, you can find French specialities such as handmade decorations, candles and traditional mulled wine.
If you want something more local, you can visit the Tokyo Skytree flea market, which stands out for its illumination, or the Roppongi flea market.
If you want to experience a traditional Christmas market, I recommend Shiba, because it is inspired by German culture and, in addition to the traditional Christmas products, you can eat German sausages, drink beer and hot chocolate and try the classic glühwein, a mulled wine that is widely consumed in Germany on Christmas Eve.
These markets are the best option if you want to experience Christmas in Tokyo during your stay in the city.
8. Walk through Hanegi Park and see the plum blossoms in bloom
Gardening is one of Japan's favourite pastimes, and for those who enjoy this pastime, parks across the country offer a wide range of attractions.
The Japanese cherry tree, or sakura, is the most famous in Asia, but the plum tree, or ume, is the harbinger of spring and also one of the most beautiful with its striking plastic pink colour.
Hanegi Park, in the Setayaga district, has the largest plantation in Tokyo and becomes an attraction when its groves begin to bloom in mid-February.
Plum trees are considered symbols of life and rebirth in Japan and are therefore revered by locals. If you enjoyed the trails in Ueno Park, the Hanegi ume trees are not to be missed. Just watch out for the branches sticking out of the trees!
9. See Tokyo through its winter illuminations
Christmas in Tokyo begins, unlike in the West, on 1 November each year and extends well beyond 25 December, as many of the street decorations remain up until the end of winter.
The Japanese capital is notable for the illuminations of its buildings and the myriad of bulbs, LED lights, signs and creative designs that recreate a bright and cheerful winter cityscape, magical to discover on every nighttime walk.
The virtual map of places worth walking through on winter nights to see Tokyo lit up covers every corner of the city.
The area around Shinjuku station becomes a glowing forest of wooden walkways, benches and the Docomo Tower. The Roppongi district is also illuminated with Christmas lights, as is the Radio Tower and the Tokyo Skytree structure.
On Christmas Eve, it is possible to follow an enchanted trail of lights through the Japanese capital.
Parks are also places that usually glow at night in Tokyo and the best to visit during the winter season, besides the ubiquitous Ueno Park, are Yebisu Gardens and Shibuya Gardens.
The best thing about this experience is that you can discover it from anywhere in the city because Tokyo vibrates with its wonderful lights from November until the end of winter.
10. Enjoy Japanese winter gastronomy
The cold weather is a good excuse to enjoy Japanese cuisine during your visit to Tokyo in winter. Hot dishes such as ramen, nabe, soba and sake will be the stars of your tour of one of the world's best cuisines, which is best enjoyed when it's below freezing outside.
Winter in Tokyo will also give you the chance to try oden, a delicious stew cooked in dashi on a base of seaweed broth. During the winter, this dish is available at all the street food stalls and supermarkets, and if you want to complete a totally indigenous experience , you can accompany your meal with a hot sake, the traditional Japanese drink made with rice wine and koji mushroom to ferment and gain alcohol content.
It's also a good time to get fresh sushi, as during Setsubun no Hi it becomes a staple dish and is everywhere.
Whichever option you choose, you'll taste exquisite flavours and learn more about the delicious Japanese food that is usually the star of Tokyo food tours.
Temperatures in Tokyo in winter
During the winter, the temperature in Japan drops significantly and, although snowfall in Tokyo is neither persistent nor a daily occurrence, it can be heavy. The positive thing about the Japanese capital is that rain is rare during the winter period.
In December the temperature stays at a high of 12°C and a low of 5°C at night, but in January the lows drop to 0°C or below.
February tends to start very cold with temperatures below freezing, and then cools down towards the end of the month, returning to December's average temperatures.
When touring Tokyo, I recommend that you always wear warm coats and comfortable shoes, especially as when it snows the city is packed and public transport becomes a hive of activity.
It wouldn't be unusual to have to walk a few extra blocks to the next underground station!
Tokyo's winter tourist crowds
Winter is one of the best times to visit Tokyo. The influx of tourists drops substantially and the already crowded Japanese capital becomes friendlier to walk around.
If you don't mind cold weather, the winter period is a highly recommended option not only because of all the activities the city has to offer but also because it's the cheapest time of the year.
On the other hand, Japan's domestic tourism is also active during winter and many locals leave Tokyo, so that also frees up public transport in the Japanese capital. Just keep in mind that during snowfall, the underground and trains are often jammed, causing delays.
Prices in Tokyo in winter
Tokyo is not a cheap city in general, but prices are cheaper during the winter. Because of the lower demand from tourists, you may be able to find some discounted accommodation and winter excursions also cost less than activities in Tokyo during the summer.
There is an explanation for this: January to March are the coldest months of the year in Tokyo, but also an interesting opportunity to ski in the mountains surrounding the Japanese capital and enjoy other winter activities.
What to pack for a winter visit to Tokyo
Tokyo's winter weather will require you to pack a variety of coats in your suitcase , including comfortable shoes and waterproof jackets to cope with the snowfall.
Here's a list of items to pack if you're planning a trip to Tokyo during the cold season:
- Wool hat
- Wool scarves
- Waterproof and tactile gloves
- Thermal socks
- Thermal fleece
- Fleece trousers
- Fleece jumpers
- Waterproof and comfortable boots
- Winter coats
- Waterproof jacket
Alternative ways to stay warm in Tokyo in winter
If you are travelling to Tokyo during the months of December and March you should be aware that cold and snowy weather will be common but the city has a wide variety of activities to offer.
However, if you do get a heavy snowfall during your trip or want to beat the cold, you can opt to spend the day in the restaurants of Roppongi or in the closed markets or enjoy some of the Kabuki-za plays.
Tokyo has many museums to explore with a wide variety of themes. In Akihabara you can spend the afternoon in a maid café or in a bar in Kabukicho. And you can also try a local secret, which is the kairo, a thermal hot pack that you can put on your back or inside your shoes and it will keep you warm.
Kairo can be bought in supermarkets or konbini shops and come in different types and sizes.