It’s a question that plagues many an expatriate. Japan’s coastline to landmass, coupled with its mountainous interior, makes for one of the world’s most climatologically diverse countries.

The archipelago stretches from subtropical latitudes into higher latitudes comparable to parts of Alaska or Siberia.

The prime example is Hokkaido, Japan’s “Ice Country,” whose symbol is a happy-looking penguin.

Hokkaido is the snowiest place in Japan and is home to several world-class ski resorts, including Niseko United, Furano, and Rusutsu.

It does not snow much on the main island of Honshu (where Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto are located). It snows only about once or twice a year and there are traffic accidents in most parts of Japan. 

It snows about one to three times in the central and eastern coastal areas such as Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka in western Japan. The record maximum snowfall was 7.1 feet (2.2 meters) in three days on the city of Fujiwara in Japan’s Kansai region.

Where does it snow in Japan?

Where does it snow in Japan?

Japan has some impressive mountains, but it doesn’t get the exact snowfall as other Asia countries. For example, Hokkaido receives quite a lot of power compared to the rest of Honshu, but even then, most locations don’t see more than 2 meters of snowfall during the season.

About 80% of Japan’s land is too warm and low-altitude for significant snowfall (most mountains are under 1,000 meters), and it’s mostly too humid for dry powder. You can find some places that get more or better quality snow than most other areas in Japan, but they’ll be few and far between.


Snow Depths & Types

Snow Depths & Types

Japan doesn’t get much fresh powder (snow that falls during the current season, not including what gets carried over from previous seasons). Most of it is a dry powder, but some rain/wet snow does fall in January.

Japan’s snow depths vary widely by location and season. Hokkaido is the best place for powder, with many areas getting 300 to 600 inches of dry snowfall each season.

For example, Rusutsu sees 500 inches on average, and Niseko receives 550 inches.

Hokkaido also gets the best powder. It’s light and fluffy because it doesn’t rain as much as on the mainland (Mt Rishiri is an exception).

Places like Myoko Kogen, Shiga Kogen, and Nozawa Onsen see up to 550 inches of snowfall, but only about half of that is a dry powder.

Snow safety is a mixed bag. Hokkaido and parts of Miyagi, Iwate, and Niigata Prefecture get a dry powder that’s light and fluffy.

Some places like the Japan Alps, Tohoku Region, Shikoku, and Kyushu see wetter snow with more water content.

Other areas like Hokuriku, Kanto, and Okinawa get mostly wet/heavy snow (rainy weather), while some parts of northern Honshu can get quite dry powder.

It often gets windy during the season in places like Minakami, where you might find light fluff on top of heavy hardpack underneath.


How often does Japan get snow?

How often does Japan get snow?

With some exceptions, Japan gets snow on a more or less predictable schedule:

November: Hokuriku’s Tokamachi and areas around Niigata see the first snowfall.

December: Snow starts falling in Tohoku (north of Tokyo) by the end of the month, but it doesn’t reach Hokkaido until January.

January: Hokkaido starts getting heavy snow in mid-January. The other main island, Honshu, typically sees its first powder around the end of January/beginning of February.

February & March: Snow gradually spreads south. Most areas are covered by late February or early March. By the time Sapporo gets its first snowfall in mid-January, most of the main island is covered.

Snow quality & visibility Hokkaido and other mountainous areas see more snow than any other part of Japan. Still, it’s a generally light and fluffy powder that’s easy to see through. This usually means you can’t make fresh tracks right away when there’s a lot of new snow. This is great for photos, but it makes skiing difficult.

Most of the Japan Alps get light powder on top of hardpack. It’s often windy, so the snow is easily swept away by strong gusts… even when there’s a lot of it!


Does it snow every year?

Does it snow every year?

Most parts of Japan see snowfall about once or twice per year unless there are unusual weather patterns.

Some places like Tohoku can go years with no reliable snowfall, but Hokkaido sees snow about half of the time (December-March), and the Japan Alps see it just as often.

Other High Snowfall Areas You might be wondering why I didn’t cover Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka in the previous section.

The short answer is that those areas don’t see as much snow as you’d think.

In fact, they’re among the most minor snowy parts of Japan!


Does it snow in Tokyo?

Tokyo is warmer than you might think. It’s surrounded by mountains, so it sometimes gets snow… but this typically happens only one or two days each year in December or January! This makes for a tiny window of opportunity, and the snow usually falls in light fluff that doesn’t stick well to the ground.

Osaka and Kyoto get even less snow than Tokyo.

Both of these cities are located near the coast, and they’re surrounded by low mountains, so they don’t usually see much snowfall.

Kansai International Airport is well known for its unreliable snowfalls. It’s almost always only a trace when it actually snows in Osaka or Kyoto.


Does the snow stick to the ground?

Does the snow stick to the ground?

The truth is that Japan has a robust maritime climate, so it doesn’t get freezing in most places. Hokkaido is far enough north to see genuine winter weather, but this isn’t the case for other areas like Tokyo or Kyoto.

Hokkaido’s snow is light and fluffy most of the time. The same is even valid for northernmost Tohoku, which usually gets dehydrated powder at low density.


Rain vs. Snow in Japan

Snow in the big cities might be wet or heavy, while southern Japan can see some dehydrated powder at times!

When it rains in Japan, it’s typically heavy. If you’re used to snowflakes gently floating down from white skies, this might come as a shock! The rain is often mixed with high winds or thunderstorms.

That being said, there are times when northern Hokkaido sees light powder at medium density… and the rest of Japan gets really light powder at low density! This is most common during spring, but it can happen in autumn as well.

I’ve had some incredible powder days that started out as rain or drizzle! All I had to do was find shelter for a few hours until the snow picked up. Keep reading for more about what to do when it rains or snows.


How cold is winter in Japan?

Like I said before, Japan isn’t all that cold overall. Hokkaido can see 25 °F or colder for a week during January and February, but coastal Tohoku stays around 27.5 °F for most of the season.

(See Also: Best Time to Travel to Japan).

Tokyo usually sees highs in the low teens (Celsius) in December-February. The average lows are around freezing or just below, so it can feel quite cold during the night.

Osaka and Kyoto see highs in the single digits (Celsius) and lows of 33 °F to 36 °F for December-February. Like Tokyo, it can feel cold during the night but not as bad as Hokkaido. Rainy weather is more common than snow in these areas.


Why is the snow so good in Japan?

Probably the biggest reason is seasonality. If you want powder, you have to travel to Hokkaido in January-March because that’s when they get the maximum amount of fresh snow every year!

The second reason is reputation. Japanese resorts are known worldwide for being among the best places on Earth to ski and ride the snow.


Is it difficult to travel in the snow?

Japan is an incredibly well-connected country, so you can reach nearly any city with ease if you invest some time and money into the journey. That being said, it’s probably not worth coming here for just one or two days of skiing!

The easiest way to travel in the snow is by rail. Bullet trains are the safest and most comfortable way to travel, but they can be pricey if you buy them outside of advance purchase deals. (like the Japan rail Pass).

Other options include night buses, rental cars, or even taxis if you’re feeling adventurous!

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