Although not the best time to visit Japan for sunshine, the Winter Wonderland scenery is spectacular, and for any ski aficionados and photographers the snow, Mount Fuji landscape and hot springs in the mainland make January a very tempting option. Likewise if warm weather isn’t your style anyway then the crisp weather in Kyoto and Tokyo make it a great time for some sightseeing with lower crowds and some iconic views.
That Hokkaido is the northern hemisphere's southernmost region to see drifting sea ice, should give you an idea of weather conditions in Japan’s northernmost island through the month of January. It’s the coldest month of the year in Hokkaido, expect cold winds and heavy snowfall (avg temp: -3°C). Conditions for winter sports in January are excellent and, whilst not inhospitable, few travellers venture far beyond the ski slopes of Sapporo and Niseko throughout the month as ski season gets well underway.
It’s not just skiers that are drawn to Hokkaido in winter, photographers and wildlife enthusiasts congregate in Tsurui (eastern Hokkaido) to witness the seemingly choreographed mating rituals of Japan’s red-crested crane population.
Whilst temperatures in Kyoto, Tokyo and across most of Honshu remain low, January is a dry month typified by crisp, sunny and clear days (avg temp: 4 - 5°C) ensuring superb views of Mount Fuji for those that venture to Hakone or rocket past on the mainline stretch between the west and eastern ends of the island. On the northern coast temperatures are far lower, with temperatures in Takayama typically averaging either side of 0°C ensuring excellent conditions for winter sports in the Japanese Alps.
Visitor numbers are generally quite low once the new year holidays have passed, making it a great time to visit the otherwise busy sights of Kyoto. January is also the perfect month to visit the hot-spring bathing snow monkeys of Yudanaka, in the mountains of Nagano.
January is the coldest and darkest month of the year in Shikoku and Kyushu, although Fukuoka is marginally warmer than more northern regions of Japan (avg temp: 4 - 5°C). A smattering of snow is possible on Shikoku’s mountains during the month.
Okinawa and Japan’s southwest islands enjoy some of the country’s mildest temperatures in January with the mercury rising as high as 18°C on a good day. The water is cooler during the winter months and only the hardy will venture into the sea, so you’re likely to have the beach to yourself. Divers can experience slightly warmer waters around Yonaguni, where you’re likely to be joined by schooling hammerhead sharks between January and March, also attracted to the warmer water.
Wander along the ancient trails of Kumano Kodo and its spiritual shrines, enjoying the peaceful, and enchanting surroundings as well as taking in the hospitality of local families along the way.