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Japan opens just in time for winter visitors

As a densely mountainous country, Japan boasts numerous peaks ideal for ski and snowboard enthusiasts

Japan has announced a phased opening after 2.5 years of closing for foreign vistors. From October 11, foreign nationals will no longer need to go through a travel agency and a cap on daily arrivals will also be lifted. (The country has allowed visitors since June, but they had to be part of tours.)

As winter approaches, a frigid chill engulfs the whole of Japan, and the surrounding mountains and northern regions are regularly covered by fresh blankets of powder snow.

 

WINTER SPORTS

As a densely mountainous country, Japan boasts numerous peaks ideal for ski and snowboard enthusiasts.

Most Tokyo-based travellers head to nearby Nagano for the great skiing and convenient accessibility. Hakuba is one popular choice among several other resorts in the area.

For the freshest powder and biggest scale, head to the northern island of Hokkaido, which offers plenty of open space and rolling mountain terrain. Niseko and Rusutsu are common destinations for ski tourists and winter travellers.

Travellers in the Kansai region (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Kobe) can take an easy day trip to Biwako Valley in the mountains surrounding Lake Biwa.

 

ICY CELEBRATION

One of Japan’s popular winter events, the Sapporo Snow Festival welcomes upwards of two million people, showcasing hundreds of sculptures made of ice and snow. The festival is held in the first week of February, with the elaborate pieces displayed in Odori Park, Susukino and Tsudome.

High up in Yamagata Prefecture at Zao Onsen, the snow-covered trees transform into fascinating shapes. Covered with layers of snow, the trees begin to assume an almost-human shape, dotting the mountain in a strange and haunting pattern. Known as “snow monsters,” the one-of-a-kind snow-white landscape makes for a spectacular visit.

For something truly fascinating, head to the Naked Man Festival in Okayama Prefecture. Known in Japanese as Hadaka Matsuri, the event consists of thousands of loincloth-clad men competing in ritual games, before rushing off to Saidaiji Kannonin Temple to pray for good fortune.

 

NATURAL HOT SPRINGS

Get out of the biting cold and indulge in a relaxing bath, taking a soak in the mineral-rich waters of Japan’s many natural hot springs. With fresh, pure water bubbling out from the volcanic earth below, many towns and villages have sourced this soothing water for hundreds of years, developing a rich culture around public bathing and relaxation. Take a day or two to escape the city and relax.

Located in a charming, secluded town in the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture, Ginzan Onsen was originally known as a silver mining town, but now features some of the best onsen hot springs in the country. The entire town is limited to pedestrians, and the Taisho-era buildings will make you feel like you’ve travelled back in time.   

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