5 Adventure-Packed Winter Day Trips from Tokyo

With the Fall season reaching its end, Winter is coming to Japan. And should my father and I ever get pass through the repetitious visa application process again, we will be heading to Kawagoe to spend Christmas with my sister and her family this year.

Kawagoe is just 30-minutes away from Central Tokyo and, just like in Tokyo, snowfall is never a yearly assurance. How often do people from the tropics ever experience Winter, and to have it without snow is just unimaginable. So I'll have to make sure that my father will be able to experience snow in all it's glistening white glory even if Jack Frost will not pay Tokyo a visit this year.

Here are five adventure-packed itineraries for a Winter Day Trip from Tokyo. I have also noted the fastest train routes from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo using HyperDia. Visit the website to find you exact routes if you're coming from a different location.

1. Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano Prefecture

Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano Prefecture

Photo credit: Pixabay / @andrew_t8

Jigokudani is famous for having a large population of wild Japanese macaques or snow monkeys. During winter, the mountains get covered in thick snow which causes the monkeys to go down and take baths in the steaming hot water that springs out of crevices on the frozen ground.

These snow monkeys are relatively safe and quite accustomed to people gathering around but one must not let your things out in the open as these monkeys are known for snatching away things from the unsuspecting tourists.

Nagano prefecture is easily accessible from Tokyo by train. From Nagano Station, take the Nagano Dentetsu train line to Yudanaka Station. From there, take a bus that heads for either the Kanbayashi Onsen bus stop (via Kanbayashi line) or the Snow Monkey Park bus stop (via Shiga Kogen line). The Monkey Park will take a 30-minute hike from both bus stops.

Best train route: 99 minutes, ¥4,000

  • JR Shinjuku Station (Tokyo) to Omiya Station (Saitama) via JR Saikyo Line Rapid for Kawagoe
  • Omiya Station (Saitama) to Nagano Station (Nagano) via Shinkansen Kagayaki

There are two popular Ski Resorts both two hours by car from the Jigokudani Monkey Park. The Fujimi Panorama Resort is best known for the heart-shaped slope which is popular among couples. Tales have it that a happy marriage awaits couples who would ski down the heart slope. Meanwhile, the Karuizawa Prince Hotel Ski Area offers scenic snow parks and great ski trails for beginner and intermediate level skiers.

2. Yuzawa Kogen Snow Resort, Niigata Prefecture

Located 250 miles Northwest from Tokyo, Yuzawa Kogen Snow Resort boasts of having the world's largest ropeway with a capacity of 166 persons. You'll get to marvel at the magnificent snow-covered Tanigawa Mountain Range on-board one of the gondolas traveling up to 6 kilometers long at a peak altitude of 130 meters. For the more adventurous, the pristine white, powdery snow makes for the perfect skiing spot for all levels of difficulty. You can reach Yuzawa Kogen Snow Resort in ten minutes by foot from the west exit of Echigo-Yuzawa Station on the JR Joetsu Shinkansen Line. Several Onsen or Hot Spring resorts operate in front of the Echigo Yuzawa Station to rejuvenate yourselves before or after basking in the ski resort.

Best train route: 104 minutes, ¥3,350

  • JR Shinjuku Station (Tokyo) to Omiya Station (Saitama) via JR Saikyo Line Rapid for Kawagoe
  • Omiya Station (Saitama) to Echigo-Yuzawa Station (Niigata) via Shinkansen Max Toki

If you'll be in the region during the third weekend of February, you may partake in the Tokamachi Snow Festival, Japan's first ever contemporary snow festival with a rich history dating back from the 1950's. The Tokamachi Snow Festival is one of Japan's three great snow festivals along with the Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido and the Minami Uonuma Snow Festival which also takes place in Niigata. The Minami Uonuma Snow Festival is a rare event where you can enjoy local cooking inside old-style snow igloos, called "kamakura."

3. Minakami Mineral Onsen and Ski Resorts, Gunma Prefecture

However, the mountainous landscape of Gunma Prefecture covered in white snow is what truly makes Minakami a ski paradise during Winter.

On the other hand, the minerals gorging out of the ground and along the river make Minakami a popular destination for onsen resorts. Numerous hot spring tours are being offered throughout the region.

Best train route: 99 minutes, ¥4,000

  • JR Shinjuku Station (Tokyo) to Omiya Station (Saitama) via JR Saikyo Line Rapid for Kawagoe
  • Omiya Station (Saitama) to Takasaki Station (Gunma) via Shinkansen Max Tanigawa
  • Takasaki Station to Minakami Station via JR Joetsu Line  for Minakami

4. Snow Town Yeti, Shizuoka Prefecture

Snow Town Yeti can be accessed from 18 different stations. However, if you're coming from Tokyo, the Limited Express Asagiri from Shinjuku to Gotemba Station will take you there in the least amount of time. But you must take the first train leaving Shinjuku at exactly 6:45 AM as this train going to that route only operates thrice per day -- 6:45 AM, 10:50 AM, and 2:50 AM.

Best train route: 97 minutes, ¥1,280

  • JR Shinjuku Station (Tokyo) to Masuda Station (Shimame) via Limited Express Asagiri
  • Masuda Station (Shimame) to Gotemba Station (Shizuoka) via Limited Express Asagiri

Buses going to Snow Town Yeti are available at Gotemba Station for a one-way fare of ¥1,360.

Your other train option from Shinjuku includes Mishima, Susono, Fuji, Yoshiwara Chuo, and Fujinomiya Stations. Buses to the ski resort are available in all those train stations.

Skiing with the stunning views of snow-covered Mt. Fuji is the highlight of tourism for Shizuoka Prefecture but the fun doesn't stop there. Shizuoka Prefecture is one of the largest in Japan in terms of land area and there are many other places and activities to involve yourself in during winter.

5. Shirakawa-go, Gifu Prefecture

The mountain villages of Shirakawa-go and the neighboring Gokayama were both declared UNESCO world heritage sites in 1995. Lining the shores of the Shogawa River Valley, these villages were famous for houses constructed in the architectural style known as Gassho-zukuri which means “constructed like hands in prayer.” The steep roofs were designed to easily shed snow as the region usually receives two meters of snow every winter.

Best train route: 147 minutes, ¥6,480

  • JR Shinjuku Station (Tokyo) to Omiya Station (Saitama) via JR Saikyo Line Rapid for Kawagoe
  • Omiya Station (Saitama) to Toyama Station (Toyama) via Shinkansen Kagayaki

You still need to travel about an hour and a half by bus from Toyama Station to reach the mountain village of Shirakawa-go.

If you could spend a night in Shirakawa-go, you could catch the special illumination events the village organizes on selected Sundays and Monday in January and February from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM.


Noel Cabacungan was born and raised in the Philippines but is currently working in Saudi Arabia. He suspects the universe often conspires to put him in the unfriendliest of places and believes assimilation is the only way to survive. This belief made him capable of seeing the beauty beyond the most dreary locations. His favorite form of entertainment involves observing people do crazy things in the most mundane situations. Read more about his exploits on his blog, Ten Thousand Strangers, or follow his stormtrooper alter-ego on Instagram @troopertravelsph

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