Brave Winter’s Cold for ZEKKEI’s January Best 5

Brave Winter’s Cold for ZEKKEI’s January Best 5
November arrives in Japan together with the first echoes of winter’s footsteps. Facing the coming season also means facing an increasingly bitter cold, which makes going outdoors a little troublesome. However, there are many beautiful Japanese sights that are enjoyable precisely because it is winter.

Let’s look at ZEKKEI’s Best 5 for January.

Taushubetsu Bridge(Hokkaido)

First is Taushubetsu Bridge in Hokkaido. Originally a railway bridge built to support the opening of the Hokkaido territory, as time passed so did the need for its function. Now that the original railway is gone, all that remains is the bridge.

Lake Nukabira, where the bridge stands now, is a manmade reservoir with water levels that vary dramatically with the seasons and with hydroelectric use. Because of this, the bridge begins to “sink” into the lake from June onwards and disappears completely beneath the waters between August and October. However, as lake levels drop from January, the bridge then reappears into a frozen landscape. Also known as the “phantom bridge,” Taushubetsu Bridge makes for a great trip in January.

*Only vehicles with permission from the forestry department may go to the bridge, so be sure to either enjoy it from the Taushubetsu lookout or take a paid tour.

Jigokudani Monkey Park(Nagano)

Next on our list is the Jigokudani Monkey Park. The winters here are fierce, and snow covers the ground four months of every year. Add in the steep cliffs that surround it with the hot spring steam roiling everywhere, and you can understand why this area came to be called the “Valley of Hell” (jigoku-dani). However, troops of Japanese monkeys came to make this “monkey paradise” their home long ago.
These monkeys bathe in the hot springs of the valley to ward off cold, a sight that can only be seen in winter. It would be great if you could make it here this winter, but we should note that getting to the park involves a half-hour hike along a snowy mountain path. Be sure to dress for the cold before you go.

Ryoanji Temple(Kyoto)

Our third spot is Ryoanji in Kyoto Prefecture. Depicting the flow of water with stones, the Japanese rock garden at this temple has a superb grace, and many tourists visit it every year to take in the view. During her 1975 visit to Japan, Queen Elizabeth II of England spoke very highly of Ryoanji’s garden, thus making the rock gardens of Japan known globally. (Ryoanji Temple is pictured in the autumn.)
Yet, in winter the atmosphere is more profound still. You’ll completely forget the passage of time as you look on, the winter sky vividly clear overheard. If you want to savor the rare and exquisite view of Ryoanji in the winter, we recommend a visit between late January and February, when snow is most likely to fall.


Fourth entry on our list is Shirakawa-go, a World Heritage Site village both famed for its unique “gassho-zukuri” building style and loved for its atmosphere of rural charm.

Located in a region of heavy snowfall that can see nearly two meters of snow on the ground, Shirakawa-go is transformed into a scene from a fairy tale come winter, thick snow covering the world and casting the village in silvery white. Held only in January and February, the village’s winter illumination allows you to enjoy elegant lights in the snow, different from what you’d find in the city.

There will be a total of seven illuminations in 2016, and all are scheduled to be held 17:30 to 19:30.
1st: January 16 (Sat.)
2nd: January 23 (Sat.)
3rd: January 24 (Sun.)
4th: January 30 (Sat.)
5th: January 31 (Sun.)
6th: February 7 (Sun.)
7th: February 14 (Sun.)

Mt. Hakkoda(Aomori)

We’ll end with Aomori Prefecture’s Mount Hakkoda, and the “snow monsters” found upon it. They are a rare phenomenon across the globe, viewable in only a few places in Japan. They are formed by a special kind of frost called “soft rime” that coats a type of fir tree. The best soft rime in Japan is said to be found on Mount Hakkoda, and the best time for it typically starts in January. There are lots of enjoyable activities that will have you forgetting the cold: take a ropeway sky-walk and look down on the snow monsters from above or weave through them on skis or a snowboard.

What did you think of our selection of winter scenery?
For January trips to Japan, we hope you’ll find a good idea or two in this ZEKKEI spot collection!

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