November 15, 2020

City Guide: 8 Must-Do Things in Tokyo Winter

Tokyo has always been on my bucket list as I’ve always been fascinated by its people, culture, food, and sights. And as I’ve always heard from friends, there’s a ton of things to see and do in Japan’s capital. It’s a dynamic city that brims with endless sights and activities—all revealing the old and new Japanese traditions. However, if you’re looking to experience the natural landscape or rural landscape of Japan, you might need to go elsewhere—specifically outside the city limits. Remember, Tokyo is one of the world’s busiest places so you might see more contemporary structures and lots of people.

Interesting facts about Tokyo you may not know about

Before we go on, let’s first discover some interesting facts about this city.

1. Tokyo’s winter temperatures can drop to as low as 0°C, so make sure to bring your winter jackets to help keep you warm. Gloves and a bonnet can help with the cold too!

2. You can enjoy tax-free shopping in Tokyo! Shop till you drop in Ginza, a renowned shopping district, where you can find international labels, like Cartier and Bulgari. You can also go to Omotesando and Harakuju. Harakuju is famous for its alternative street fashion and serves as the centre for Japan’s most extreme teenage style and culture.

3. The national symbol of Japan is the beautiful Cherry Blossom. When you visit in April, these bloom for two weeks and are truly a remarkable sight.

4. If you’re a restaurant fanatic, Tokyo is the place to visit because it has the most top-rated restaurants in the world, with over 14 3-Michelin-starred restaurants.

5. The Imperial Palace in Tokyo is usually closed to the public; however, it welcomes tourists on the Emperor’s birthday and on New Year’s Day.

Tokyo: the beautiful cherry blossoms in bloom against the blue skies

Now, Tokyo is a great place to visit any time of the year. However, it’s also a favourite destination for many tourists from all over the world in winter. With temperatures averaging 5°C in January, there are many things to do in this chilly city. From shopping streets, traditional gardens, outdoor festivities, night illuminations, and New Year celebrations, there is really something to experience here that suits every taste.

Find out here the activities and sights to see when you visit Tokyo in the winter.

Tokyo in the winter

1. Admire Tokyo’s winter illuminations

a building in Tokyo with illuminations

Let Tokyo’s illuminations warm your heart in the midst of the cold weather. Go around the city and admire the wonderful lights that illuminate every corner and street. See the champagne-coloured bulbs that adorn tree-lined streets and other contemporary designs. Even before December starts, Tokyo is transformed into a winter wonderland, which is a sight to see as you stroll in the streets and enter the fashionable malls.

2. Explore the beautiful Christmas markets

Tokyo: cute snow men cookies

Tokyo may be in Asia, but you will be surprised to find European-inspired Christmas markets in December here. There are several of these markets all over the city, which are visited by the locals, featuring traditional Christmas music, food, workshops, and souvenirs that all give the place a magical atmosphere. Of course, you can’t miss the ornaments, crafts, and mulled wine to complete your German Christmas village ambiance.

3. Indulge in Japanese Christmas food

Tokyo: their delicious nabe with vegetables and tofu

Yep, there is such a thing! With the snowy weather, you can definitely use some heat with a delicious bowl of some piping hot soup. Try their winter specialty called the ‘Nabe’ or ‘Nabemono’, which is their Japanese hot pot. It’s easily available in almost all restaurants and includes a variety of ingredients like vegetables, meat, tofu, and vegetables that are boiled together in a pot. Then, this is dipped in a citrusy sauce—a mix of vinegar and rice wine that’s called a ‘ponzu’.

4. Enjoy a hot bath in a sento

a hot spring looks beautiful

Japan has always loved its communal baths called sento, which was how people washed themselves during the time when they had no bathrooms in their houses. And since the country is located within the ‘Ring of Fire’, it is easy to find a hot spring here called ‘onsen’. So whenever in Tokyo, do make sure to visit one or two ‘onsen’ and ‘sento’ to address the cold. It will also be a nice opportunity to meet locals and talk about their culture from a local’s perspective.

5. Shop! Shop! Shop!

two women shopping

There’s really no perfect time for shopping, but doing it in wintertime in Tokyo takes you to many shopping districts that are lined with shopping streets and stalls. Do it in January because for one, there are fewer people in the city, and two, the entire city is on sale and there are numerous finds everywhere. You won’t just find 10 or 20% discounts on items but even find clothes that you can buy for 1 Yen.

6. Have your first temple visit of the year

entrance arch to a Tokyo temple surrounded by trees

As a bustling city, you might find it unusual to know that New Year celebrations in Tokyo do not include massive street parties. Instead, they have what they call ‘Hatsumode’, or their first visit to the temple. So, why not join the locals as they do this? Remember though to expect long lines of crowds at the entrances of various temples all over Japan, including the biggest one—Meiji Shrine. Also, aside from visiting temples, they also buy a piece of paper called ‘omikuji’. It is believed that their fortune is supposedly written here.

7. Go skiing near Mt. Fuji

Tokyo: a ski resort with snow-capped Mt Fuji in the backgroun

Technically, this is already outside Tokyo, but since it’s accessible from Tokyo, you can take the opportunity to ski here. There are two ski resorts around the base of Mt. Fuji: Snow Town Yeti and Fujiten Snow Resort, which are both open from December to late March. Though the snow is not the same as in other ski destinations in Japan, it’s more than enough to give you the snowy ambiance. Imagine, skiing with Mt. Fuji so close in the background!

8. Feast on authentic and delicious ramen

delicious looking ramen with egg and veggies

Where else can you find the tastiest ramen? Of course, only in Japan where the ramen is authentic. It’s not only delicious, but it’s also the perfect comfort food for the cold weather. In Japan, there are figuratively thousands of ramen houses, including Michelin-starred places, to visit. There is a place called AquaCity Odaiba in the Ramen Food Court where you can taste different types of ramen that are served in different parts of Japan. If you have the time and if you are a die-hard fan of ramen, we recommend visiting Yokohama to see the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum and to taste different ramen soups from all over the country.

You see? Tokyo is a must-see city any time of the year but most especially in the winter. So get ready and have that vacation planned, stat!

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