The cold December winter can sometimes bring about a significant drop in mood from the cheerful July summer. For some, the month is packed with gloomy days and constant wishes for warmer weather. You might think it’s a bit ridiculous to travel to another country in December that’s just as icy and dry.
You won’t believe what’s in store for you in Japan during the month of December — Japanese winter is nothing short of magical. You’ll feel like you’ve stumbled onto a fairytale world with the snow-covered trees and slopes, with illuminations that warm up the streets with their twinkling lights. Rest assured you won’t be under the sheets of your accommodation all trip in Japan. You’ll be out and about, taking in everything Japan has to offer in the joyous month of December.
Japan doesn’t hold back when it comes to celebrating its seasons, and December is just the start of one of the most festive celebrations of the year! Expect everything from snow festivals and special winter events to awesome sights and experiences you can only enjoy in Japan. Here’s your ultimate guide to Japan in the month of December — from the weather and dressing to a substantial list of things to do to keep you entertained!
What Can You Do In Japan In December?
You won’t ever run out of things to do in Japan during the month of December. The Japanese love their festivities, and even though December marks the early winter, the people still celebrate the positive sides of the coming cold season.
The month of December is the perfect time to visit special places in Japan that’s even more highlighted during the winter season. Because it’s still early winter in December, there won’t be a huge crowd of foreigners snagging a spot. Japan has amazing areas that are exceptionally beautiful when the colder weather arrives, and some are even exclusive to winter.
Just like the exclusive sites, there are also special events taking place from early December onwards that won’t be around any other time of the year. Seasonal treats and products are presented and on sale, complete with festive flavors to boost your spirits.
1. Relax in an onsen
Enjoy December in Japan by relaxing in an onsen. This Japanese hot spring is definitely one activity that you should never miss out on during your visit to Japan — especially in December when it will be cold outside. Even though this activity is in demand all year round with locals and foreigners alike partaking in it, a dip into an onsen during December is like a warm hug — especially if it’s an outdoor onsen. Regardless of whether your onsen is surrounded by snow-covered trees or in a traditional Japanese ryokan, the experience is exceptional either way.
One of the most picturesque onsens in all of Japan is the Ginzan Onsen, a popular spot especially during winter. Located in Obanazawa in the Yamagata Prefecture, this historically-rich mountain town surrounded by peaceful nature is the perfect escape from the busy city. Relax in a toasty, peaceful outdoor hot spring and take in the air full of culture. While you’re at it, take a stroll around the city — you might even stumble across the historical silver mine built over five centuries ago!
Kowakien Yunessun is the perfect onsen spot if you’re interested in a unique onsen experience, unlike the rest. While it has traditional onsen of the highest class for your pleasure, that’s not even close to the highlight of this place. Sign up for a once-in-a-lifetime experience of dipping your toes and soaking in a heated pool of red wine — if not, pick from choices of coffee, green tea, and Japanese sake! Don’t miss out on their outdoor areas either, complete with waterslides and waterfalls, as well as an outdoor onsen with a magnificent view of Hakone.
2. Bask in winter illuminations
No one can beat Japan when it comes to winter illuminations — it’s without a doubt the winner. Thousands and millions of tiny bulbs of light decorate everything in the area, from trees and bushes to buildings and lamp posts. You might even be lucky and stumble across ones that put on a choreographed light show! A single city can house multiple light illuminations of various themes and people near as well as far come all the way from their home to witness such beauties.
While Tokyo has quite a substantial number of winter illuminations, go out of the main city to Nagasaki, the home city of a Dutch theme park called Huis Ten Bosch. This theme park is extremely gigantic — over 13 million light bulbs are needed to take over the park and illuminate every inch of the grounds in winter! You might need to spare a few hours to fully explore the Kingdom of Lights!
Another illumination event in Japan is the Nabana no Sato in Nagoya, one of the largest ones in the whole country. This flower park is already getting enough visitors throughout the year, but when it’s illuminated from December onwards with millions of LED lights decorating the fragrant park, there’s no doubt thousands of more visitors are making their way here. Here’s a tip: go up onto the observation deck to witness a spectacular panoramic view of the illuminations display!
3. Stay at a ski resort
Nothing can beat the December cold weather than going up to a ski resort for fun and exciting ways to beat the snow! Whether it is skiing or snowboarding, hitting the snowy hills and slopes is undoubtedly the best activity to take part in when the weather gets colder.
While there are tons of ski resorts scattered throughout the country, don’t miss out on Zao Ski Resort where you can kill two birds with one stone to witness in-person the ice-coated trees that are known as “snow monsters”. The ski resort is coated with lush powder slopes, and taking an enjoyable slide down whether on ski or snowboards, zooming past the snow monsters will send a thrilling chill down your spine. Look out the winder in the evening where they will get lit up, giving off a mystical winter vibe.
4. Travel to Japan’s exclusive winter sites
Traveling from a place to the other might sound like a pain, but trust that these exclusive winter sites in Japan are worth every second of the journey. Japan is undoubtedly stunning all year round, but when the weather cools from December onwards, the country reveals new sides to its land.
No one would think to travel miles out of a city center, especially if it’s in another prefecture, to visit a park in December. Don’t be so sure yet, because the Jigokudani Monkey Park is extremely special. The Japanese macaques make a grand appearance when it gets cold. They come from deep inside the Jigokudani mountains to the thermal spa in Yokoyu River, dipping their toes and soaking in the warm water baths. You wouldn’t want to miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime experience of getting up-close and personal with these adorable things!
Another magical sight in Japan during winter is none other than this designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shirakawago Village. Its conservation of the unique architecture of the houses earned them the title, and well-deserving to say the least. The village is beautiful all year round but it transforms into a stunning Japanese winter wonderland from December onwards. These Gashho-zukuri farmhouses are draped in snowfall — you might even be lucky enough to snag some tickets for the exclusive illumination light show events.
An underrated location of a winter spot in Japan is the Icicles of Misotsuchi. This winter phenomenon is not so far from Tokyo — it’s just in Saitama, the prefecture to the east of the main city. These ginormous icicles are created from the water that’s flowing down from the cliffs. Drop by during peak season in December for an exclusive light show where the icicles will be lit up in a blueish hue, giving off a mystical ambiance.
5. Leisurely ice skate around town
Not all cities in Japan will be covered in powdery snow in December, but there’s an easy enough solution to enjoy the cold weather and that is a man-made ice skating rink! While there are tons of indoor all-year-round rinks in major cities of Japan, the special outdoor ones only pop up from December onwards and only for a few months. Take your ice skating shoes for a spin and brush up your skating skills.
Some recommended places are the Tokyo Skytree Town Ice Skating Park, or one outside of Tokyo in Yokohama called the Art Rink in Red Brick Warehouse — the latter is extremely unique and one to definitely check out even if you’re not an ice skater at all.
6. Take a winter train ride
You wouldn’t know about this activity because it’s such an underrated one. Japan is extremely known for its efficient trains, connecting one prefecture to the other. Hop on one and take part in a train sightseeing trip. Some cover breathtakingly beautiful sights and natural scenery of Japan that you wouldn’t have been able to see on your own! The JR Tadami Line goes through the most gorgeous parts of Fukushima and Niigata prefectures, and if you’re lucky in December, the hills and grounds might even be covered in pure white snow!
7. December festivals
What’s the holiday spirit without some festivals, am I right? In Japan, December is one of the months that’s abundant in festivals — from special winter festivals to Christmas markets that pull in people from the outskirts of the city to come down and participate.
Most of these festivals begin at the start of December onwards. Here’s a neat tip: the earlier you drop by these festivals, the better goods you have to select from. You know what they say, the early bird gets the worm!
8. Winter festivals
As soon as December comes around, the Japanese take that as a sign to bring out the winter and snow festivals all around the country. Northern Japan goes all out, more so than the others — you’ll get to see everything from special winter performances to carefully crafted ice sculptures. Sapporo Snow Festival is one to put on your itinerary — despite the freezing cold in December, the locals lift their spirits by organizing this week-long annual festival. The whole city turns into a winter wonderland with ice sculptures and illumination lining the streets. Over two million visitors each year drop by the city just for this occasion!
The Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival is another one that will definitely put you in a better mood during the cold winter. While you might have heard “Kamakura” as the city that houses the huge Buddha statue, it also refers to the traditional Japanese igloo! During the festival, tons of these dome sculptures are lined up with orange, twinkling glows as the sky turns dark. It’s a magical sight that warms your chest in the cold atmosphere.
9. Shop at Christmas markets
Two huge celebrations in Japan are Christmas and New Year. Even though these events take place at the end of the month of December, Christmas markets pop up as early as the start of the month and even earlier! Visit the dozens of Christmas markets scattered around the country — the capital city Tokyo has more than a few that will definitely pique your interest. Roppongi Hills Christmas Market is without a doubt the most popular one of them all, featuring everything from Christmas-related goods to even German delicacies.
What is Japan Like in December?
You won’t believe it until you see it — as soon as the month changes from November to December, the people bring out their festive, twinkling lights and go all out with holiday shopping. Don’t even begin with the pop-up street stalls and festivals that only make their appearance during this month. Japan somehow magically turns into a winter wonderland overnight and every single person in the country goes along with it — who wouldn’t?
Some people might say that autumn in Japan runs to the start of December — while in terms of weather-wise it is true, the decorations and spirits are nowhere near autumn vibes. Even in cities like Tokyo and Osaka who wouldn’t see snow throughout the month, these urban cities reach near and far to get their hands on ways to bring the season alive. Only in these cities will you be able to comprehend that you can celebrate the winter without the falling snow — although the rare and occasional falls of white crystals perk up every city-living person.
If you can’t celebrate the season without the falling whites, the north of Japan gets their snow fix almost every single day! That might sound dreadful to some but trust the Japanese to make good out of a not-so-good situation. Be on the lookout for extreme, dramatic festivals and happenings all throughout the snowed down city to bring the spirits of the locals up — of course, the travelers’ too.
December Weather in Japan
The vibe you get in most of Japan during the month of December is an in-between of autumn and winter. You get the nice, cool autumn breeze at the start of the month while still being able to feel the festive spirits in the air. Can you get a better balance of weather and happenings?
The temperature in Tokyo can be as cool as 14ºC at the start of the month to a whooping 3ºC at the end of it — don’t worry though, that’s as cold as Tokyo gets in the month, the acreage is about 11ºC with more than the occasional sunshine. It’s about the same in major, popular cities like Osaka and Kyoto.
If you’re looking for warmer weather, head down south of Japan to Okinawa, where you’ll be able to bask in the sun in amazing weather of 21ºC! The coldest it ever gets in December in Okinawa is 16ºC, so you can leave those thick jackets back at home!
The coldest region of Japan is up north in Hokkaido — the average temperature is 1ºC even during the daytime with the brightest sunlight you can get. The lowest is -4ºC, though, so for those who come from extremely cold countries, Hokkaido is nothing for you! Even though it’s considerably colder than the rest of the country, northern Japan is where all the best festivities are at — consider dropping by during your December Japan trip!
Is it worth visiting Japan in December?
December might not be the first choice of month for traveling. If you compare it to March for cherry blossoms and July for the summer festivals, December is more like a second to last option — the first being the coldest month of January. But that’s exactly why you should go to Japan in December! You’ll get the best of both worlds — warm enough weather that you wouldn’t want to just curl up in a ball of blankets as well as enjoying the winter festivities that are already up and in preparation for New Year’s and the rest of winter.
That’s not even the best part! Because it’s one of the last choices of the month to travel, the streets of Japan wouldn’t be cramped with travelers and tourists snapping pictures every second. Even though there will be crowds of people out and about, rest assured you’ll be surrounded by the friendly locals busy on their shopping and errand runs.
While not exactly linked to Japan itself, another reason to visit Japan on top of the reasons above is it’s the best month to clear up your work leaves, resulting in a longer holiday and a more enjoyable one. For some companies, that’s when the admin work gets cleared up to prepare for the next year, so once you get all your work stuff done and out of the way, you’ll be able to fully enjoy a well-deserved holiday without having to work at the back of your mind.
Japan Fashion — What To Wear in December?
Unlike some places where December brings out the thickest coats ever invented and snow boots as high as they can get, it’s a whole other story in Japan. Maybe this sight can be spotted in northern Japan like the city Hokkaido, but you won’t usually see such fashion in central Japan and especially not in southern Japan.
In fact, expect a whole range of looks in Tokyo, one of the biggest fashion cities in the world and the most highly regarded one in Asia! The colder weather releases the wild and experimenting sides of the locals, with layers on top of layers and the neon colors of patterns printed on jackets. You’ll see everything from goth to lolita, normcore to avant-garde — every fashion term and subculture you’ve never heard about before are now part of your vocabulary.
Apart from that, the Japanese have a coherent style. It’s the best combination of appropriateness while still staying on top of trends. One thing you’ll notice is the modesty factor that’s especially enhanced in December, presented through the form of layerings of every piece of clothing you can think of — don’t be surprised that socks are also layered!
The basic December weather-appropriate fashion involves an inner of sorts — it can be a long-sleeved shirt or thermal wear — along with a sweater and a down coat. Accessories can include beanies, scarves, warm socks, and gloves, ideally with heat packs in your bag for extra warmth on-the-go.
Women’s December Fashion in Japan
You’ll see the basic December fashion in all sorts of ways expressed by the Japanese women. The Japanese dress up according to season and weather, so if it gets colder and closer to winter, the colors of clothing get more neutral and monochrome. Sometimes a pop of color appears — like a bright hat or pastel scarf, or even some cute socks peeking out of their boots.
Even though trends keep on changing, the women’s December fashion in Japan consists of the standard oversized sweaters or trousers, paired with a fashionable coat. Accessories are key — the staples like sweaters and coats stay as they play around with hats, scarves, and even earrings. A few fancy gloves and footwear are a good starting point to dressing for the December weather in Japan.
Men’s December Fashion in Japan
Unlike the women, the men’s December fashion in Japan is much, much simpler. Strip back a few — scratch that, all of them — trendy pointers and you’ll basically have the men’s fashion. Everything about men’s fashion in December is classic. You’ll get the down jacket or coat that the guys are seen wearing throughout the whole month, the occasional changes of sweaters, and switch between two or three beanies and scarves.
One similar fashion pointer is that some men do keep to the baggy style which reflects the modesty culture of the Japanese. This oversized style can be seen in sweaters and trousers, either separately or worn together.
Book Your Trip Now!
Are you convinced that December in Japan is not all that bad yet? In fact, it’s a magical time to be in the Land of the Rising Sun — and yes, the sun still rises and can be seen in the country, so don’t worry about gloomy skies and rainy weather. From exciting Japanese winter fashion to Japan-exclusive activities like relaxing in an onsen or attending winter festivals, you’re definitely going to have your December Japan itinerary full of fun things to do!