In England, we get roughly 20 pathetic days of snow a year. That doesn’t mean it settled and doesn’t mean it was heavy! So it got me thinking, ‘Does it snow in Japan?’.
As it turns out, the answer was a lot more than I thought.
It snows more in Japan than in any other country. In fact, Japan has consistently claimed the title of being the snowiest place in the world. So let’s have a look at what it takes to be crowned king of the snow.
The History of Snow in Japan
The huge average snowfall that Japan experiences is a yearly occurrence, and it’s been going on for a while.
Back in 1981, Ōshirakawa Station in Niigata recorded 1546cm of snow just in the month of January, with a total season depth of 3317cm. That’s totally ridiculous!
If we go even further back to 1927 we find an earth-shattering record of 230cm/90 inches that fell in a single 24-hour period. That’s the most snow that’s ever fallen in a single 24-hour period, ever.
Fun Fact: Japan has a word for any place where it snows a lot or very heavily. 雪国 Yukiguni means an area of heavy snow and is often used when referencing the side closest to the Sea of Japan.
Does it snow in Tokyo?
For what’s dubbed the snowiest country in the world, the snow scene in Tokyo isn’t much to shout about. Even during the snowiest two months of the year, January and February, places like Tokyo and Osaka only get a few inches. Relatively similar to what I’m used to (if it’s a good year), but that’s far from the whole story in other parts of the country
How often does it snow in Japan?
Japan gets most of its snow in January and February.
However, the earliest snowfall ever recorded in the country was August 17th in 2018 but normally the first snow comes around November.
Some years snow can fall as late as May, but I wouldn’t expect it to be too spectacular.
Having said that, in 2020 Fujiwara saw a record-breaking 176cm in 48 hours so who am I to think differently?
Where’s the snowiest place in Japan?
That’s an award that can only go to one place, Aomori City.
Situated in Northern Honshu, this coastal town receives an average of 312 inches of snow from November to April each year.
Bear in mind we’re talking about the most consistent and highest average snowfall every year.
If you’re looking for a Japanese record snowfall, I’ve found this one that’ll blow your mind.
Back in 2015, Hakuba saw 600″ of snow swamped the town over 10 weeks. That’s 50 feet.
Nope, not a typo…
Literally 600 inches of snow! We’re lucky if we get 2 or 3 in the UK.
There’s a reason the Japanese roofs are designed in the way they are. Japan’s weather has a big part to play in that.
Why does Japan get so much snow?
Japan seems as though it’s set in the perfect geographic location to receive as much snow as the world can throw at it.
The wind blows across the entire length of Asia before hitting the Sea of Japan. It picks up Huge amounts of water from the sea and dumps it at the next available opportunity. And where is that opportunity? The mountainous regions of Japan.
With there being between 16,667 and 18,032 mountains in Japan, that’s no small area.
What can you do in Japan when it snows?
Update: I’ve written an entire post about skiing in Japan, check it out!
With over 500 places to shred some J-Pow on those skis you’ve just brought from one of Japan’s best ski brands, the country has no shortage of skiing hotspots.
We might not be talking about the vast interlinked slopes of the three valleys, or the fierce icey slopes of Chamonix, but it can certainly cater for any skier.
Not to mention, the main reason you’re skiing in Japan should be because you want to experience the incredible feeling of skiing in several feet of powder!
Most of Japans ski resorts are situated on the northern edge of the country (the side closest to China) and as we’ve just learnt, they aren’t there by chance.
This perfect placement is the reason why Japan ski resorts are some of the most snow assured places on the planet.
Visit one of the many snow festivals
Held over 7 days in February, Sapporo snow festival (which we visited!) is the most popular and well known festival in the country.
The festival is a celebration of local cuisine, culture, winter sports, and the relationship of Sapporo with other cities around the world.
But luckily for all you snow addicts (myself included) Japan is full of snow festivals each year up and down the entire country.
Here are just a few of them:
- Winter Solstice Festival – Anahachimangu Shrine, Shinjuku.
- Inukko Festival – Yuzawa, Akita.
- Shimokitazawa Tengu – Tokyo.
- Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival – Yokote Akita.
- Otaru Light Snow Path – Otaru, Hokkaido.
- Tadami Snow Festival – Tadami, Fukushima.
- Odaiba Rainbow Winter Fireworks – Minato City, Tokyo.
- Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival – Shinjuku City, Tokyo.
- Winter Wonder Festival – Chiba Japan
- The 47 Ronin Winter Festival – Minato City, Tokyo
Dates for these festivals vary each year, but the vast majority of them a repeated annually.
Honestly this is just a handful of the events available each year, just shove ‘Japan Snow Festival’ into google and you’ll likely be greeted by hundreds of possible options!
Seeing animals in the winter months
Japan has an extremely diverse range of animals to see at all times of the year, but in winter you’ll be privy to something else.
Many of the animals in Japan have developed ways to cope with the extreme weather conditions, and you might have heard of some of them.
Jigikudani Snow monkey park is probably the most famous of all with monkeys coming down from the forest to warm up in towns hot springs.
Because the Island of Hokkaido receives the most consistent snowfall out of anywhere in the country, it’s the place where most of the animals have adapted to living.
Therefore, if you’re looking for a wildlife trip to Japan in the winter, Hokkaido is where you should probably start.
Here are some of the animals you can expect to see in a Japanese Winter (If you’re lucky!):
- Japanese Snow Monkeys – The cute Japanese macaques you probably often see bathing in Japanese hot springs.
- Japanese Red-Crowned Crane – Known for it’s Luck, Longevity, and love, the Japanese Red-Crowned Crane is a staple of Japanese tradition and culture.
- Hokkaido Snow Fox – As white as the snow, these arctic foxes are truly something special.
- Tategoto Azarashi – Japanese Harp Seals bob around right at the very top of Hokkaido. Rare and cute.
- Shima-Enaga – Translated as the ‘Long-Tailed Tit’, it’s a supposed to be a bird but absolutely looks like a ball of fluff.
Visit the snow monsters in Zao
Zao onsen is the largest ski resort in the whole of Tohoku.
These snow monsters, or Juhyo in Japanese, are formed by a large amount of snow and high winds experienced in the resort around the end of January. What’s even better is they’re lit up in the evening and can be enjoyed from miles away in a warm bar!
There you have it, Japan is undeniably the snowiest place on earth and it knows what to do with it all!
If you’re considering visiting Japan in the winter, you must make sure to grab a pair of powder skis and shred some J-Pow. That’s definitely number one on the bucket-list for me at least!
So, does it snow in Japan?
Yes!! And a damn lot!!!