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What to do in Japan in December

What to do in Japan in December besides being very cold? LOL. Let’s talk about the wonders of Japanese winter.

Snow, cold, hot drinks, comfort food and how Christmas and New Year works in Japan. The months of December and January can be very interesting indeed for a trip to the land of the rising sun.

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It is very cold in Japan in December, colder than we are used to here in Brazil. Temperatures can reach 2 degrees in Tokyo for example. There is also snow in many cities across the country, Nagano for example, it can turn completely white towards the end of the month. Cities are prepared for all this cold with heating and closed environments, but be prepared to experience a bit of cold in the streets.

Christmas is celebrated commercially in Japan, the 24th and 25th are not holidays and everyone works normally. Although you see Christmas decorations everywhere. The New Year is a very special date for the Japanese, it is a holiday on the 1st and there are silent celebrations in temples. People stay at home with their families, eat Soba and practice silence. If you walk through the streets in any cities on the first day you will notice that everything is calmer and quieter. As a tourist, be aware of tours and attractions that may be closed on this day.

What to pack in your suitcase:

  • Warm coat, preferably waterproof
  • Heavy gloves, hats and scarf
  • Warm shoes, preferably non-slippery boots and sneakers
  • A small thermos for taking hot tea on outings
  • Umbrellas or raincoat for snowy days
  • lip balm
  • Also bring not-so-heavy clothes for use in heated areas.
  • Kairo – you will find in pharmacies a sticker called Kairo that when stuck on clothes stays warm, it helps a lot to fight the cold.

Things to do in Japan in December:

  • Getting to know Nagano: a city very close to Tokyo, has already hosted the winter olympic games and provides an unforgettable experience. Visit Jigokudani Park where monkeys take thermal baths amidst the completely white landscape of the forest. I wrote an article detailing the city, how to get there, what to see, etc. the link is just below.

Find out why Nagano in Japan is so popular with tourists

On the way to the thermal pools we already met a monkey
  • Skiing and Snowdoarding: it is a month full of snow and consequently of open ski resorts. There are many places where you can enjoy winter sports, Nagano mentioned above is one of them. There is also Dynaland that is close to Nagoya and Gala Yuzawa that you can do day trips from Tokyo. An alternative is to hire a tour with experience in the snow and other activities, see this one that is interesting: Snow Tour with Crab Tasting and Strawberry Picking from Tokyo.
  • Visiting Winter Onsens: another experience to enter the list of memorable items. Knowing a public bathhouse in Japan (Onsen) is already fantastic. Spending a part of the day in an onsen overlooking the snowy mountains is unforgettable. Takaragawa Onsen Ousenkaku is my suggestion, close to Tokyo and with accommodation option.
Photo disclosure
  • German Christmas Markets: all the big cities are filled with Christmas markets. The Germans are the biggest and most complete. In them you can taste typical food from festivals in Japan and also German dishes. To visit Tokyo market, visit the official website for more information.
Photo disclosure
  • Christmas lights and windows: in November the streets and shops begin their Christmas transformation. The details and care with which each place is decorated make the experience of walking around the city center incredible at this time. There are lights, trees, flowers, ribbons, ornaments and many other things. It sounds like a silly event to make a list of things to do in Japan but it’s not! Trust me, you will be surprised. See the Tokyo schedule (Tokyo Winter Illumination) with the best places to enjoy the Christmas lights, some establishments put on musical performances as well.
  • Winter Illumination in Shinjuku – Tokyo. Photo of Mustang 79, provided for publicity
    • Arashiyama Hanatouro Festival in Kyoto: the famous giant bamboo forest, Arashiyama, is especially lit in the first half of December. A visit that was already a must-see in Kyoto city becomes even more important. See more information here.
    • Disney Christmas Party in Tokyo: A must for anyone traveling with children or for Disney Lovers. The two Japanese parks (Disney & Disney Sea) have a special schedule with Christmas events and festivities.
    • Take indoor tours: with the cold it’s worth embarking on experiences and tours that are done indoors. Here are some suggestions:

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