Ha Lan Vien

Japan isn’t only famous for its pink sakura blossoms in the spring or its red maple trees in the autumn. As the temperatures dip below freezing, snowy February is a unique and lovely time to visit Japan and discover the creative ways local people warm up in the winter.

The Nabana no Sato Festival

Nabana no Sato Light Festival

What better way to “challenge” the cold winter than by visiting a warm and vibrant light festival? The light festival in Nabana no Sato Park in Mie prefecture is an interesting and creative way to warm up during the cold winter. Eight million LED lights are arranged in different shapes and figures to illuminate the 200.000ha-park. Most impressive are a sparkling 120m-long river and a light tunnel with millions of flickering flower-shaped light bulbs. The splendid modern artworks made of lights are set among the radiant beauty of natural flora, filling the land, water, and trees. On wintry Nagashima Island, Japanese artists have created a warm “appetizer” on which to nibble during the long winters in the land of the rising sun.

The Nabana no Sato Festival

Running from October to May, the light festival in Nabana no Sato is one of the longest light festivals in Japan. Other light festivals held during this period include the Hakodate Festival in Hokkaido prefecture, the Caretta Shiodome Festival in the heart of Tokyo, and the Sagamiko Light Festival in Kanagawa prefecture.

The ancient village of Shirakawago

After enjoying your winter appetizer of modern LED light displays, the “main course” takes on a more classic flavor as you rediscover ancient times that fill your senses.

At the foot of Mount Haku in Gifu prefecture, residents of the ancient village of Shirakawago built hundreds of houses with thatched roofs up to half a meter thick to fight off the bitter winter cold. Resembling clasped hands, the pitched-roof houses evoke a sense of calm or an honest prayer for peace. Under two to three meters of snow, the prayers do not go unheard: the houses’ windows glow from the light of inori fireplaces that warm these dwellings. These fireplaces are lit year-round for heating, cooking, and brewing the village’s signature herbal tea.

The snow-covered town of Shirakawago looks like it came out of a fairy tale

With its winding paths, and snow-covered roofs and trees, this village – recognized by UNESCO as one of the world’s cultural heritages – takes on a fairytale-like splendor in the winter. On weekend evenings in February, every house in the village is brightly lit to resemble giant lanterns in the middle of winter.

True to its moniker, the “main course” of Japan’s winter party is incomplete without a meal of Hida beef, a signature dish of Gifu prefecture. Known as the best type of Wagyu beef, Hida beef is grilled over charcoal and is soft and succulent enough to melt in your mouth.

Ginzan’s onsens

After feasting your eyes and filling your belly, as tiredness overtakes you in the sub-zero chills, what better way to complete your winter visit to Japan than a deep soak in an onsen?

Nestled by the Ginza River, the mountain town of Ginza in Yamagata

Ginzan in Yamagata prefecture hosts some of the most famous onsens in Japan, thanks to its picturesque scenery, especially when snow falls on the winding roads. The pedestrian footbridges crossing the Ginzan River and the beautiful and ancient ryokan inns keep visitors coming. At night, the main road is illuminated by hundreds of gas-lit lanterns. Visitors clad in warm and comfortable traditional hanten jackets stroll through this scenic area.

Adventurous visitors can follow a winding trail to discover the town’s mighty waterfall, marvel at a silver mine that has existed for centuries, or explore small caves around the area. In the meantime, those who wish to relax will find public baths where they can bask in the hot steamy water, and feel relieved, happy, and at peace in the middle of the cold winter.