through the Four SeasonsWinterHokkaido / Tohoku
The Northern Delights of Japan
Northern Japan is an enchanting winter wonderland. With winter sports, hot springs and of course local culture and history, there are plenty of awe-inspiring experiences that await you. You can experience the cultures and charm of these wintery destinations. Hit some slopes, warm up with local Japanese sake, try the wide range of ramen on offer and participate in a local winter festival or two.
Start your winter adventure in Fukushima Prefecture's famed Ouchi-juku, a quaint, picturesque post town that dates to the Edo era (1603–1868). Designated as an Important Preservation District for a Group of Traditional Buildings, the town has been restored to look how it did during the Edo era. Every February, Ouchi-juku draws people from all over the country for its annual snow festival. This village of thatched roof houses is a historical, charming, and tranquil way to start your winter excursion of Northern Japan.
by bus from Ouchi-juku to Yunokamionsen Station
by train from Yunokamionsen Station to Aizuwakamatsu Station (Tadami Line)
by train from Aizuwakamatsu Station to Koriyama Station (Ban-Etsusai Line)
by Yamagata Shinkansen from Koriyama Station to Yamagata Station
by bus from Yamagata Station to Zao Onsen Bus Terminal
Hit the slopes and soak your soreness away at Zao Onsen
It's no secret that Japanese powder snow is world class. Combined with the numerous ski resorts and variety of slopes, Japan has garnered attention from winter sports fanatics abroad and is growing in popularity as a winter sports destination.
Zao Onsen Ski Resort in Yamagata Prefecture is one of Japan's most popular spots for winter sports. With several lifts, gondolas and ropeways, the large selection of slopes helps cut down on waiting times for eager travelers. From novice-friendly courses to expert terrains, Zao Onsen Ski Resort offers riders of all skill levels a chance to experience Japanese powder. As the name suggests, there are numerous onsen (hot springs) scattered throughout the resort where you can relax and warm up before or after your run.
by bus from Zao Onsen Bus Terminal to Yamagata Station
by Yamagata Shinkansen from Yamagata Station to Shinjō Station
by train from Shinjō Station to Yokote Station
The Yokote Kamakura Festival, held annually every February 15–16 in Akita Prefecture, is a real winter treat. With its estimated 450-year-history, this festival is famed for its kamakura – or igloo-like snow houses – which are built throughout the town. When night falls, the hundreds of small kamakura that dot the Yokote River are lit up, transforming the town into a sea of snow lanterns. Adults and children alike can enjoy the warm local amazake (a sweet, low alcohol or non-alcoholic drink made from fermented rice) and explore the festival grounds, which extends east of Yokote Station to Yokote Castle. When it snows, the town turns into a dreamlike winter wonderland.
by train from Yokote Station to Omagari Station
by train from Omagari Station to Morioka Station
by train from Morioka Station to Hachinohe Station
by train from Hachinohe Station to Mutsu-Minato Station
Hachinohe Shuzo Brewery
Sake – or nihonshu in Japanese – is a popular drink of choice for locals and tourists alike. You'll find a number of bars and shops dedicated to nihonshu that carry multiple varieties, all brewed with passion throughout Japan.
One of Aomori Prefecture's most loved and respected sake breweries is Hachinohe Shuzo, originally established in 1775. The brick warehouse and wooden main building have been designated as a registered tangible cultural property by the Agency of Cultural Affairs and important landscape architecture by Hachinohe City.
The brewery tours and sake tasting are available at Hachinohe Shuzo and are highly recommended. It's also a great spot for picking up souvenirs for family and friends who enjoy a drink.
by Tohoku-Hokkaido Shinkansen from Hachinohe Station to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station
from Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station to Hakodate Station
Hakodate Morning Market
Start your day before the sun comes up with Hakodate Morning Market. Open from as early as 5 AM (6 AM from January to April) until 2 PM, the Hakodate Morning Market is enjoyable year-round. With approximately 250 stores and a vibrant and bustling atmosphere, this morning market offers a plethora of freshly caught seafood for visitors to enjoy right on the spot. The market invites visitors to try their hand at squid fishing, and once you've caught your squid, a chef will whisk your catch away and prepare a plate of fresh squid sashimi for you.
The highlight of the Hakodate Morning Market is the renowned "seafood rice bowl". This bowl of steaming hot rice topped with a heaping of raw seafood is every foodie's dream come true. Hakodate Morning Market's Donburi Yokocho is a collection of 20 eateries where you could indulge in some unadulterated gluttony. As you enjoy your meal, make sure to observe the surrounding environment and take in the shouts and banter of vendors who bring their enthusiasm and love of the market to work every day.
by train from Hakodate Station to Noboribetsu Station
Noboribetsu (hot springs)
Hot springs are abundant in Japan, and Hokkaido's Noboribetsu hot springs are considered one of the top ten hot springs in the country. This scenic town is blessed with ten varieties of thermal waters and many accommodation facilities also offering hot spring baths. These baths are usually gender separated and come with the amenities necessary to enjoy your bath.
Noboribetsu Onsen is a hot springs resort built around naturally occurring hot springs that formed 10,000 years ago due to large volcanic activity in the area. Each of the 10 different waters have special properties that are said to have multiple health and beauty benefits. Besides traditional clear water hot springs you can find throughout Japan, there are also brown, red and white-water hot springs, each with unique benefits, so be sure to take a dip in one that best soothes your aches! Once you step into the hot waters, feel the warmth envelop you, relax and take in the surrounding scenery.
by train from Noboribetsu Station to Shiraoi Station (Hokuto Line)
Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park
Not too far from Noboribetsu is a museum and park which plays a very significant part in understanding the complex and rich history that comes to define Hokkaido.
The Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park is a national center celebrating the indigenous Ainu culture of Hokkaido. "Upopoy" is an Ainu word meaning "singing together in a large group." Ainu are indigenous people from northern Japan particularly Hokkaido who have a unique language, culture and history. The Upopoy National Ainu Museum aims to promote an understanding and awareness of Ainu history and culture in Japan while preserving and promoting the rich culture.
Besides just enjoying the museum, visitors get a hands-on experience with Ainu culture. Upopoy regularly holds workshops where visitors can try their hand at cooking traditional Ainu food or play their musical instruments. Additionally, guests can learn about and try wood carving and embroidery techniques that have been handed down through generations. There is also a traditional Ainu village located within the park where visitors can explore traditional Ainu living spaces and listen to talks about how they lived.
by limited express train from Shiraoi Station to Sapporo Station (Hokuto Line)
Anyone who visits Hokkaido and Sapporo must try Sapporo ramen – it's non-negotiable. There are four major types of ramen in Japan: shoyu (soy sauce), shio (salt), tonkotsu (pork) and miso. Although Sapporo ramen certainly exists in these varieties too, a representative style popular with travelers is characterized by a miso base and toppings like butter and sweetcorn. Ramen can be found throughout Sapporo, and one of the easiest places to find your next meal of this delicious staple is at Ganso Sapporo Ramen Yokocho, otherwise known as Sapporo Ramen Alley. Once you fill your belly with delicious ramen, wash it down with an ice-cold glass of Sapporo beer to top off the experience.
While many people may associate Japan's main islands with temperate forests and snowcapped mountains, the climate is very different in the deep south of the country. Kyushu is a subtropical paradise with warm seas, verdant gorges and glorious beaches. See another side of Japan in this unique region.