Crisp chilly air, clear blue skies − winter in Tokyo is beautiful. Sure, you’d want to soak in an onsen all the time, but you’d be missing out. Mount Fuji is especially stunning this time of the year, the plum blossoms are in full bloom and the city is bejewelled with millions and millions of tiny lights, so bundle up in your warmest clothes and see Tokyo in all its icy splendour.
Tokyo’s never a dark and desolate place – not even in the depths of winter. In fact, the city transforms into a sparkling winter wonderland as millions of colourful lights are installed to decorate trees, buildings and even landmarks like Tokyo Tower. Here are some of the city’s best illuminations.
Catch Mount Fuji in its full glory
Mount Fuji is indisputably Japan’s national symbol, but it also likes to hide from sight for large chunks of the year – except in winter. The clear skies and the snowcap on the mountain mean that good ol’ Fuji-san is properly visible from various viewpoints in Tokyo and surrounds between November and February.
For the best vistas, get up high. Free options include the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Observatories and the Bunkyo Civic Centre. For that picture-perfect Instagram shot, head towards Lake Kawaguchi for the Chureito Pagoda. Otherwise, enjoy more unusual views from Fuji-Q Highland amusement park at the foot of Mount Fuji, or travel to Inamuragasaki in Kamakura to see Fuji from a beach.
Plum – or ume – flowers may not be as spectacular as the cherry blossoms, which symbolise the arrival of spring in Japan. Nevertheless, these white and pink beauties have been held in high regard for over a millennium, and are renowned for their pleasant fragrance, which fills the Tokyo air from early February to mid-March. Plum trees can be found all over the city, but the parks, shrines and gardens listed here rank among the top ume-viewing spots, many of which have been popular since the Edo era.
Rooted in Japanese tradition, public bathhouses or sento are still very much a part of daily life in Tokyo. Many of them offer hot spring baths or onsen, filled with natural volcanic spring water, known for its healing mineral content. While going for an onsen dip is a wonderfully relaxing experience at any time of the year, it’s in winter that you’ll really learn to appreciate a steamy soak. Several Tokyo sento offer special types of baths said to have even greater warming powers than your average hot spring. These are some of our favourite onsen.
Although summer and autumn are when most of Tokyo’s major festivals take place, there’s still more than enough matsuri action going on between December and March. While Setsubun on February 3 is the most important festival during this time, you’ll find a nice lineup of other, quirkier celebrations both in and around the capital.