Japan in January can offer a winter wonderland or an escape from the cold, and the following information offers insight into the weather, best places to visit, and the top experiences you can have when traveling during the first month of the year.
Relax in the warm waters of a traditional onsen, ski down slopes that once hosted the Olympic Games, or embrace the fairytale ambiance of a remote village covered in snow. January is the perfect month to enjoy the unique perspective and experiences Japan offers.
We share some of the best places to discover as you find information on the weather in January, dive deeper into the things to do, and celebrate the very best of what the country has to offer at the beginning of the year.
Average Temperatures in Tokyo in January: 45°F High • 39°F Low
The weather in Japan in January is cool but comfortable. Overall, the country has low humidity and sunshine, with intermittent snow or rainfall. The temperature in Japan in January typically reflects the coldest time of year across the country, but the weather is mild, making it a great time to tour Tokyo, visit Kyoto, experience the seasonal festivals, witness the Grand Sumo Tournament, or just enjoy exploring Japan without the crowds.
Okinawa • Best Place for Great Weather
Okinawa in January is ideal for great weather. The island, approximately 400 miles from mainland Japan, experiences off-season in January, meaning the resorts and beaches have fewer crowds, even though the water still averages 72°F. January is also the perfect month for whale watching in Okinawa, as humpbacks migrate in search of warmer water. Okinawa in January also sees the start of its cherry blossom season.
Kyoto • Best Place for Families with Children
Kyoto is a great place to visit with children, no matter the time of year. Kyoto in January is sunny but cold, averaging about 40°F. The typical snowfall in winter enhances the city’s beauty and often blankets the ground around famous shrines.
It’s easy to enjoy outdoor and indoor activities when traveling in Japan with kids in January. From visiting the interactive Samurai and Ninja Museum to participating in a traditional tea ceremony, or exploring the mystical ambiance of the Bamboo Forest, Kyoto is welcoming and immersive for kids of all ages.
Sapporo • Best Place for Seasonal Festivities
Sapporo is on the northern island of Hokkaido, which springs to life in winter underneath blankets of seasonal snow. In January, Sapporo can feel like a paradise for skiing and is known for hosting a number of ski resorts, in addition to having quality annual snowfall.
Traditional thermal springs, known as onsens, cozy seasonal dishes, ice fishing, the annual White Illumination festival, or a scenic view of the city during the cable car ride to Mount Moiwa’s peak capture the ways Sapporo embraces winter’s beauty.
Shirakawa-go • Best Winter Village
Shirakawa-go has become the picture-perfect winter destination in Japan. The small village and UNESCO World Heritage Site resembles the ideal fairytale town, home to thatched-roof farm houses surrounded by thick layers of fresh snowfall.
The ambiance in winter can feel whimsical, accentuated by the lively restaurants and museums. The Light-up Event typically starts in January, when Ogimachi village shines against the night for two hours, with the lights reflecting off the pond and untouched snow.
Tochigi • Best for a Winter Festival
The scenery takes center stage during the Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival. The event revolves around the snow and starts in late January, when hundreds of mini snow huts glow against the night.
Kamakura are built near the riverbed for a magical display of light, often referred to as “stars on the snow”. While the smaller snow huts glow beneath the night sky, their larger counterparts offer delicious barbecue dishes to help warm visitors on the outside and the inside.
Embrace the Winter Activities
Winter activities are popular across Japan and offer thrilling ways to explore contemporary life against the backdrop of historic and natural settings. Skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating are fun ways to pass the time in winter across the country.
Tokyo opens ice-skating rinks as a symbol of the winter season, while in Sapporo, you can visit the ski resort used for the 1972 Winter Olympics.
Whether visiting Japan in winter for 10 days or 14 days, you can find plenty of activities to inspire new Japan vacation ideas for your January trip, including visiting the numerous winter festivals that often start in January.
Soak in the Traditional Thermal Waters
A traditional Japanese onsen is a hot spring whose natural minerals are celebrated across Japan for their healing properties.
Enjoying an onsen gives you time to relax in the soothing water, often surrounded by traditional townscapes or offering a unique view of the landscape.
During winter, you can enjoy the unique sensation of the thermal springs heating your body while snowflakes cool your head.
Witness the Sumo Grand Tournament
The Sumo Grand Tournament is the first of Japan’s six annual tournaments and takes place in Tokyo in January. Sumo is one of the most iconic and traditional Japanese sports, making the tournament popular with visitors and locals.
It is a chance to witness Japanese heritage up close within an atmosphere only a live sporting event can provide. Experience the thick tension, the contagious excitement, and the cushion-throwing that ends the day’s events.
From thermal baths surrounded by snow to pristine winter villages, visiting Japan in winter offers immersive surprises that create lasting memories. Travel beyond expectations of the best times to visit to see how Japan is a year-round destination by exploring more of our Japan tours.
As you consider how you want to experience Japan in winter, you can find more information for your trip with helpful advice found in our Japan travel guide.