Life in Japan

7 Exciting Things To Do In Japan This Winter

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Winter is an amazing time to immerse yourself in the culture and history of Japan. Whether you’re an expat or just visiting, here are 7 exciting things to do in Japan this winter.

7. Go to New Year’s Sales and Shop for Fukubukuro

 

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Before settling here permanently, I made three consecutive yearly pilgrimages to shop at Shibuya 109 during the New Year’s sale (初売り | hatsu uri) to grab fukubukuro (福袋), “lucky bags” or “happy bags” filled with marked-down clothing. This is the perfect time to shop for souvenirs and to stock up on presents or clothes for the family!

READ: Fukubukuro Lucky Bags in Japan – 10 Tips for Smooth Shopping (Best Living Japan)

I also worked several hatsu uri sales in my time as a charisma sales clerk in Shibuya 109. So I know a thing or two about shopping this time of year!
Nowadays, you no longer need to wait for January 1st for scoring serious deals — you can even buy fukubukuro weeks before and even after the new year has begun.
However, to keep people from purchasing multiple bags only to resell (転売 | tembai) at high markups, popular fukubukuro are distributed via an online lottery system and require a form of ID/special ticket or bar code on the day of purchase.
But, no matter where you go, you’re bound to find lucky bags of makeup, clothing, accessories, electronics, sweets, and more!

READ: TOKYO SOUVENIR/CUTE GIFT IDEAS FOR CHILDREN & “LOVE FROM TOKYO” GIFT SUGGESTIONS (The Tokyo Chapter)

6. Indulge Yourself in Seasonal Delights

 

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Winter foods in Japan are heartwarming comfort foods that taste even better when shared. Try

  • Nabe (鍋): a hot pot of veggies, meats, and/or seafood stewed in a broth
  • Shabu Shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ): thinly sliced meat cooked by dipping into seasoned boiling water then dipped in sauces before eating
  • Sukiyaki (すき焼き): veggies, tofu, and beef stewed in a sweet soy sauce broth and dipped in raw egg before eating (you can definitely skip the raw egg part — I always do!)
  • Oden (おでん): a smorgasbord of fish cakes, skewered meats, veggies, whole boiled eggs simmered in a savory broth. You can get oden at any convenience store.

Don’t forget to by a convenience store for some “only in Japan” limited edition snacks!

5. Visit Towns and Villages Covered in Snow

 

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There’s something about snow-covered towns and landscapes wherever you are, but it just seems more magical when you’re in Japan. You really feel like you’ve slipped away to a time centuries ago.
I missed the first snowfall during our recent Hokkaido trip, but one of my favorite winter memories is of using the Seishun 18 Ticket* (青春18切符 | seishun juuhachi kippu) to journey from Tokyo to Niigata. As the train exited the tunnel at Minakami Station, the scenery was straight up out of Snow Country – pure white snow blanketed the entire town as far as I could see.
Definitely head north this winter if you can squeeze it into your schedule! And don’t forget to visit an onsen (温泉 | Japanese hot spring) while you’re there!
*The seishun 18 kippu is a discount train ticket that allows the user unlimited rides on any local and rapid JR trains during a period of 5 days.

READ: 10 Best Towns to Enjoy the Winter Snow in Japan (Japan Objects)

4. Be Awed By Illuminations Displays

 

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Ever since the very first illumination display went up in Sapporo nearly 40 years ago, Japanese people have enjoyed braving the icy temperatures to see dazzling twinkling lights with friends and loved ones.
You won’t have to go far or face holiday crowds to get your illumination fix. Train stations, shopping malls, and even hotels often put up festive illuminations this time of year.

READ: Ultimate Guide to Winter Illuminations in Japan’s 47 Prefectures 2018-19 (Gaijin Pot)

3. Eat Christmas Cake

 

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Who doesn’t like cake? Christmas cake refers to a sponge cake topped with cream and strawberries that couples and families eat together during the holidays. (It’s also a super-dated and sexist term used to describe unmarried women over 25 years old).
Department stores, pastry shops, supermarkets, and convenience stores all sell an impressive variety of Christmas cakes. More elaborate cakes require reservations (予約 | yoyaku) but simpler ones can be bought even on the days leading up to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as well.

READ: Baby’s First Christmas: Hajimete no Kurisumasu

2. Ring in the New Year with Joya no Kane

 

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While the new year means parties and champagne for some, in Japan, it’s a time of reflection. (New year’s parties and countdowns do exist, though!)
As soon at the clock strikes midnight, the final joya no kane (除夜の鐘) rings out at temples across Japan.
These 108 chimes represent the 108 worldly desires (煩悩 | bunnou) of Buddhism. When the final bell rings, it’s time to wipe the slate clean and enter a new year.
You can attend the ringing of the bells in person or watch the countdown on NHK or listen to it on the radio! Look out for “Yuku Toshi Kuru Toshi” (ゆく年くる年 | A Year Ends, A New Year Comes). It starts 11:45 pm on December 31st.

READ: 10 Ways to Celebrate the New Year in Japan (Best Living Japan)

1. Visit A Shrine or Temple for Good Luck in the New Year

 

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If visiting a temple at midnight isn’t your thing, you can time your visit at hatsumode, or the first shrine or temple visit of the new year.
Sanpaisha (参拝者 | visitors) wish for good health, to pass exams/enter their desired school, success in business endeavors, among others.
Note that you can expect massive crowds January 1-3 at most shrines and temples, especially if you visit popular ones like Naritasan in Narita City, Chiba Prefecture and Sensoji in Asakusa, Tokyo Prefecture.

How do you plan to spend winter in Japan this year?

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