10 Things to Do in Tokyo in Winter

heavy fall; winter

Sensoji in Winter // Photo by OiMax

In Japan, winter is rather chilly, but that doesn’t mean that you have to stay inside all day. I’ve compiled a list of 10 things to do in winter in Tokyo. Whether you are looking for an idea for a date in Tokyo or just want to explore, I hope you enjoy!

Top 10 Things to Do in Tokyo in Winter

Blue Ocean Illumination 2

Photo by Cam Switzer

1. See Christmas Lights

Tokyo has some really fantastic free “illuminations” (the Japanese word for Christmas lights). As a country, Japan may not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, but there are plenty of decorations.

Japan Guide has put together a wonderful list of illuminations in Tokyo. Time-Out Tokyo also has their own list of Tokyo illuminations for 2013.

My experience: I often end up in near Yurakucho Station on my commute home. I was pleasantly surprised one evening to see gorgeous lights hanging from the trees near in the Marunouchi area. I took a stroll there on my way home from work today, actually.

2. Go Star-Gazing

Winter is definitely the best time to see the stars. Star-gazing in Tokyo may be difficult with all the bright lights, but it isn’t impossible.

For a look at the sky, check out the NAOJ Mitaka Star Party. The Star Party is held twice a month and is free.

If the weather isn’t cooperating or if you are looking for somewhere a little warmer, you might want to try a planetarium.

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Kusatsu Onsen // Photo by Shunsuke Kobayashi

3. Go to an Onsen

Winter in Tokyo is cold, but hot springs are, well, hot!

You can choose to go to an onsen in Tokyo using this list from Time Out Tokyo.

Alternatively, if you have a day or two off, you can go to an onsen in a nearby prefecture. Gunma Prefecture and Tochigi Prefecture are moderately close to Tokyo and have great views of the mountain and snow from the hot springs.

Here is a list of onsen that are fairly close to Tokyo, but far enough away that you can get away from the bustle of the city:

Manza Onsen Hotel (Gunma)

Kusatsu (Gunma)

Bankyu (Tochigi)

4. Do a Pilgrimage

Many people go on a Seven Lucky Gods Pilgrimage (called Shichifukujin Meguri in Japanese) in January. I went in my own city two times, and let me tell you, it was great. I got my work out, got some good luck, and won some ramen snacks at a lottery drawing at the end of the pilgrimage.

If you’d like to take part in the fun, see the Tokyo Weekender post about the Shichifukujin Meguri.

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Photo by Wiennat Mongkulmann

5. Go Skiing

Like the hot springs, this is something best done outside of Tokyo. I went skiing once in Gunma and then snowboarding another time. I almost died while snowboarding and had to crawl down the hill at some points. You too can have this wonderful experience! I trust that you are more athletic than I am.

Powder Hounds compiled this neat list of skiing areas near Tokyo.

6. Visit an Art Museum

I wouldn’t blame you it you want to get out of the cold. How about getting some culture while warming up indoors?

Japan Guide has a list of art museums in Tokyo that you should see. The Mori Museum in Roppongi is high up in Roppongi Hills Tower, so you can also get a clear view of the city while you’re up there.

7. Celebrate New Year in Tokyo

Japan celebrates New Year in its own way. Most people go visit a temple and pray for good fortune in the New Year.

You can also join in this tradition, with help from this article on Japan Guide.

8. Attend a Winter Festival

Winter in Japan isn’t especially known for its festivals, but there are plenty of them! From Tori no Ichi to the Jingu Gaien Icho Matsuri, you have plenty of traditional Japanese festivals to choose from.

See TimeOut Tokyo for the dates of these winter festivals.

9. Go Shopping

Around the New Year, you can get some great deals. The best deal is probably the “fukubukuro,” which means “lucky bag” in Japanese. A fukubukuro is basically a grab bag filled with products, all selling for the same price. The catch is, you don’t know what is in the bag (No Seven references, please). You can get really lucky and receive something in the bag that would normally cost much more when sold on its own. See Tokyo Fashion’s post on fukubukuro for more information.

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Nabe // Photo by Kikuko Nakayama

10. Eat Nabe

This one is my favorite, which is why I saved it for last.

Nabe is a type of hot pot soup-like dish often served during winter. In Tokyo, a popular nabe restaurant is Nabezo. You can see Nabezo’s English website for more information. If you are feeling like having something home-cooked, see this great nabe recipe on The Kitchn.

 

I hope this list has helped you find some fun things to do in Tokyo in winter!

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10 Things to Do in Tokyo in Spring

5 Ways to Stay Warm in Japan

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