A winter trip in Japan is definitely one of the most amazing experiences you’ll ever get.
But usually, encountering a great deal of snow in Japan means having to go to northern regions of the country like Tohoku.Not everyone can (and want to) spend almost an entire day traveling to these regions.
Kyoto experiences snow during the winter season and since it’s only about five hours away from Japan’s capital, so it will be a much shorter trip if you would like to experience the snow in Japan.
How Many Inches Will it Snow?
Unlike the northern regions in Japan, the snow in Kyoto is quite mild so you can go out and about your trip pretty easily.
Most of the time, the snow doesn’t stick to the ground and when it does, it melts within a few hours.
Snow in Kyoto can accumulate from three inches to seven inches. For comparison, Hokkaido can get around 27.5 inches to 32 inches of snow during winter.
This is why Kyoto is great when you want to experience snow in Japan, but you’re worried about extreme weather canceling your plans. On a usual day, snow will fall but it won’t stick to the ground.
But even if it does, seven inches of snow is bearable and will even make your Kyoto trip even better.
What time of the year does it snow?
In Japan, the winter season starts in late December up until March.
Snowfall in Kyoto is the heaviest during the month of February where it usually snows for around four days.
How cold does it get in Kyoto?
January is the coldest month in Kyoto, but it doesn’t reach minus temperatures.
The lowest average temperature in Kyoto during the winter season is 1°C while the average high is 9°C.
The months of December and February usually have a temperature difference of around 1°C compared to January.
Is it Worth Visiting Kyoto in the Winter?
You might’ve heard that tourists mostly go to Kyoto during fall and spring seasons, but you should definitely not skip a winter visit.
There are a lot of perks when visiting Kyoto during the winter.
The main one is that you get to experience the city without the overcrowding of tourists that you might encounter during the peak seasons of fall and spring.
You don’t have to worry about the crowds and lining up at popular sites. Plus, hotels are usually cheaper, and you’ll get special attention from the local hosts.
But what about the iconic cherry blossoms of Japan, you ask?
Well, if you visit Kyoto during March, it will still be cold since it’s still winter season, but plums and cherries will usually start to blossom mid-month.
Give yourself a head start from the influx of tourists for the cherry blossoms by visiting Kyoto in the winter.
It’s a different experience from your usual Hanami (flower viewing) but definitely not something that you shouldn’t miss.
If you’re not yet convinced that it’s worth visiting Kyoto during the winter season, then check out some of the amazing things that you can only do right when it’s snowing in Kyoto.
What to do when it’s Snowing in Kyoto?
Japan transforms into a different place during the winter season and of course, Kyoto is no exception to that.
There are things that you can only do when it’s snowing that would make your trip to Kyoto worthwhile.
So here are five different things that you can do when it’s snowing in Kyoto:
1. Head to the Local Zen Temple
The Japanese always visit a temple or shrine during January, especially in New Year. They do this in order to get rid of the bad energy left by the previous year and to have a good year ahead.
Zen temples in Kyoto are absolutely magical during winter. The way the snow falls on karesansui niwa or the raked gravel of Zen gardens is worth your visit.
The Tofuku-ji Temple is one of the most well-groomed temples in Kyoto and it is usually packed with tourists especially during the fall foliage season.
But since you’re going to be in Kyoto for the winter season, the temple is not going to be crowded except for the locals who go there to observe Hatsumode.
Expect everyone to be festive and grateful for a fresh start. Enjoy the free refreshments and food given by the vendors and don’t forget to pull an omikuji fortune to see what the year has in store for you.
2. Try the Japanese Onsen
There’s nothing like taking a hot bath in a Japanese onsen to offset the coldness of winter in Kyoto. Your winter Kyoto trip will not be complete without visiting an open-air onsen.
Nothing will top the feeling of having cool snow fall down your shoulders while you’re relaxing in a hot bath surrounded by amazing natural landscapes and snow-covered trees.
A hot spring bath during fall or spring doesn’t really sound a good idea for tourists because of the temperature but for winter, it’s a perfect relaxation scenario.
There is a lot of onsen in Kyoto but because there’s little geothermal activity under the city, there are only a few true onsens.
Most of them pump water from underground or heat spring water but where the water comes from won’t matter to you once you’re already soaking in the tub.
But if you want a natural hot spring in Kyoto, visit Tenzan-no-yu Onsen for their rotemburo (outdoor baths) or if you want to have a little bit of privacy, there are indoor bathing options too.
3. Attend Kyoto’s Winter Festivals
Aside from the Hatsumode in temples, there are several winter festivals in Kyoto that are scheduled all throughout the winter season.
For the month of January, when you finish your first shrine visit of the New Year, wait for the Archery Contest on January 15 at Sanjusangen-do Temple, the largest wooden building in Japan at 120 meters long.
This 400-year old archery competition attracts a lot of Japanese people across the country.
Around 2000 archers participate in this yearly competition called Ohmato Taikai. All of them are 20 years old. This is considered one of the Coming of Age activities of Japanese culture.
In the first week of February, don’t skip the Setsubun Matsuri at Yoshida-jinja Shrine. Marking the beginning of spring according to the old Lunar calendar of Japan, this amazing fire festival is definitely a must-go.
The fire starts right before nightfall so you’re in for a one treat of a cultural nightlife!
Also, don’t be surprised when you see Japanese people throwing roasted soybeans out of the doors of their houses during this time. They do this so they can get rid of the devils and bring good luck to their homes.
Plum blossom viewing and cherry blossom season begin in March. So in the second week of this month, it’s highly recommended for you to head down at Kyoto Imperial Palace Park for a top spot for plum blossom viewing.
When it comes to cherry blossom, a little bit of advance planning is needed because cherries in different parts of the city will peak at different times.
But usually, they bloom mid-March and peak during the first week of April.
4. Go to the Local Ski Resort
Going to ski resorts is one of the obvious things to do in Kyoto during the winter season. You can never go wrong with a day in the slopes.
Although Kyoto is not known for skiing like other northern prefectures, this city is surrounded by a lot of mountains.
So if you’re done exploring every cultural thing in Kyoto, you can head down to one of the ski resorts in Kyoto.
Hirogawara ski resort is the only skiing place located within the city limits. This place is perfect for those who are new to skiing or those who want to just casually ski.
The majority of the slope of this place is reserved for beginners. You can rent your skiing or snowboarding equipment but sadly, there are no classes offered in this place.
All you need is a bit of courage!
5. Try local food
You can’t leave Kyoto without trying at least half of the local cuisine that they offer. A popular winter dish is called nabe which is a Japanese style hot pot with your choice of meat, cabbage, green onion, mushrooms, bok choy, and tofu.
Do yourself a favor and order some rice after and add it in the broth for delicious rice porridge. Definitely a perfect meal for cold winter weather.
Winter or not, you should already know that Japan, particularly Kyoto has a lot to offer. All of these only prove that there is no such thing as a “bad” season for those who have been wanting to go here.
So getting a winter trip in Japan will definitely not let you down!