Japan is gorgeous in winter offering a range of wonderful activities from enjoying some of the of the world’s finest ski slopes to participating in age old cultural traditions. Host to two Winter Olympic games, Japan provides skiers the chance to experience some of the world’s best snow. Whether on the slopes of Shiga Kogen or Hakuba in Nagano (which are easily accessible by train from Tokyo), or in the mountains of Niseko on the northernmost island of Hokkaido, Japan is a skier’s paradise.

Holidays and festivals are an integral part of Japanese culture and winter ushers in New Years, one of the most important holidays on the Japanese calendar, along with the Sapporo Snow Festival, a personal favorite of mine. No matter where you are in Japan, New Years is a unique opportunity to witness and partake in a centuries old tradition as well-wishers, many dressed in beautiful kimono, gather at their local temple or shrine to ring out the old year and welcome in the new. Replete with seichi ryori or special seasonal delicacies found only during the holiday, New Years is truly a special and quaint time of year to visit Japan.

From the subdued elegance of the New Year holiday, it is but a month to the extravagant Sapporo Snow Festival to be held from February 6 through February 12, 2012. I have been to the Sapporo Snow Festival several times with my family and we are continually thrilled by seeing the dozens of meticulously carved and larger than life snow and ice sculptures. As one strolls among the gigantic snow sculptures, it is great fun for all ages to sample to the variety of local food and drinks sold by one of the many street vendors.

Winter also brings an opportunity to see nature in a way that can only be found in Japan, the Snow Monkeys. In the mountains of Nagano lies Jigokudani Onsen where a group of macaque monkeys have discovered the pleasure of an onsen or warm outdoor bath. From their mountain perches, the monkeys descend each morning to enjoy a day soaking in a warm wonderful bath. Witnessing this event is both exciting and a photographer’s dream.

Flying off to the Island of Kyushu and experiencing pottery making under the guidance of a master craftsman in the cool crisp mountain air is the ultimate artistic experience. After spending the day creating a piece of work that you will cherish, relax at an exquisite Japanese inn where you will enjoy the finest Japanese hospitality. Some of our favorite inns in Kyushu are to be found in the upscale resort town of Yufuin and in the mountains of Kirishima near Kagoshima.

Let JapanQuest Journeys introduce you to Japan’s winter wonders and experience the very finest that Japan has to offer during this beautiful and exciting time of the year.

By Philip Rosenfeld

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