Japan is a great place to visit year-round, as each season and month offers various activities, special events, and weather.
December is the low season, with smaller crowds, winter festivals, and cold temperatures.
My sister, Kat, and her fiance, Vincent, visited Japan in December. Here, I share their firsthand, practical tips on visiting the country during the start of winter. This post covers:
- 💡 Unique things to do in December
- 👍 Pros and cons of visiting then
- 🧣 What to pack in December
- ❄️ Weather conditions
- 🍀 Firsthand tips for visiting Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto in December
Planning a trip? Here’s what to know about Japan.
Disclosure: Lists By Lukiih is readers-supported. If you buy through an affiliate link on this post, I may earn a small commission. Thanks!
December Weather in Japan
Japan has four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Although the exact dates of each season vary by location, December is generally recognized as the month when autumn ends and winter begins.
☁️ Early December Weather Conditions in Japan
You’ll generally experience cooler, but not frigid, weather during the beginning of the month. Of course, the further north you go up in Japan, the colder it gets.
Here are some averages to know for early December:
- 🌡️ The average temperature ranges from 40 °F to 56 °F in the southern regions (e.g., Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto) and 20 °F to 43 °F in the northern areas (e.g., Hokkaido).
- 🌧️ December is Japan’s driest month, with an average of five rainy days out of 31. Rain is more common during the first half of the month, but not by much.
Rainy days are characterized by occasional showers lasting one to three hours. It’s rare to experience long-lasting downpours.
- ☀️ December begins with ten hours of daylight. The typical sunrise is around 6:30 am, and the sunset is around 4:30 pm.
🥶 Late December Weather Conditions in Japan
During the second half of December in Japan, you’ll start experiencing colder and dryer conditions. Here are some averages to know:
- 🌡️ The average temperature ranges from 38 °F to 53 °F on the south side (e.g., Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto) and 17 °F to 30 °F on the north side (e.g., Sapporo).
- 🌧️ Late December will continue to see some rainy days (on average, less than four days), but they should lessen as the month progresses.
- ☀️ Daylight time drops to 9.5 hours by the end of the month. Sunrise is typically around 7 am, and sunset is around 4:30 pm.
🍀 My Sister’s December Experience in Japan
My sister and her fiance visited Japan during the last ten days of December. They stayed on the south side of the island and went to three different areas: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.
During their trip, they primarily experienced cold but sunny days. They wore layers, puffer jackets, and some winter accessories (e.g., scarves, warm hats, gloves).
Of the ten days they were there, they experienced rain once in Kyoto for one to two hours.
This 10-day Japan itinerary combines visiting Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo with two epic adventures.
❄️ Does It Snow in Japan in December?
Whether you’ll get snow in Japan in December varies by region.
Snow is rare on the south side (e.g., Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka). Even if you get a bit of it, it rarely sticks.
In comparison, snow is common on the north side (e.g., Hokkaido). Snowfall can start as early as late October and will stick around until as late as April.
Hokkaido becomes a winter wonderland in November. However, the popular Sapporo Snow Festival occurs in early February every year.
Is December a Good Time to Travel to Japan?
Japan is generally a country that’s great to visit year-round, so it’s hard to say when the best time to visit it is.
That said, December is not the most popular time to visit Japan, and there are advantages and disadvantages to visiting the country during that month.
👍🏻 Upsides of Visiting Japan in December
Visiting Japan in the month of December has a few upsides:
1. Japan lights up in December.
Japan has a tradition of decorating its streets and buildings with lights during the winter months. The major cities are known for their impressive light displays and elaborate winter illuminations.
December is a particularly festive month with Christmas and New Year’s Eve. While Japan celebrates Christmas, it’s seen as a festive and commercial event, not a religious one like in the United States.
2. December is typically less crowded (with an exception).
Tourist attractions that are generally overcrowded and have long lines during peak season are more manageable in December.
The exception is the week of Christmas and New Year’s Eve when domestic travel and tourism pick up. When my sister visited Osaka around this time, popular places like Dotonbori were packed.
Japan’s peak tourist seasons are when the cherry blossoms bloom in late March to early April, and autumn foliage appears from late October to early December.
3. December is a perfect time to enjoy the onsens.
Japan is famous for its onsens (natural hot springs). December’s cold weather makes it an ideal time to take a dip in the onsens.
In contrast, the weather was still hot when I visited in September, so I sometimes felt overly warm in an onsen.
4. December is a great time for winter sports.
Hokkaido in the north is renowned for its ideal conditions for winter sports. December is a fantastic time to visit the region to ski, snowboard, snowshoe, ice skate, and more.
🍀 My Sister’s Positive Experience With Visiting in December
My sister and her fiance enjoyed the festive light decorations while walking around Japan in December. The streets of Harajuku in Tokyo and Dontobori in Osaka were adorned with lights, giving the cities a cheerful atmosphere.
They also experienced fewer crowds the week before Christmas, and the crowd noticeably increased the last week when more locals were traveling and celebrating. Tokyo’s teamLab, which is usually a zoo, was significantly less crowded.
One of the best things about visiting Japan in December is eating warm winter food, including udon, ramen, and Japanese barbeque. They are incredibly delicious in the cold weather.
👎🏻 Downsides of Visiting Japan in December
Visiting Japan in December also has a few downsides:
1. December is not the time for fall foliage or cherry blossoms.
If you are lucky, you might see some orange in early December. But in general, you will miss the cherry blossoms and maybe see some fall foliage.
In December, the surrounding trees will mostly be either green or bare, so it’s not the best time for parks and gardens.
2. The weather is cold.
The weather in December is cold, with nights dipping into the 30s °F. This will make being outside more challenging, especially if you plan to wait in long lines at popular restaurants and attractions.
Hiking Mount Fuji is a bucket list item for some people, but it’s closed during the winter season.
3. Some businesses will be closed around New Year’s Eve.
New Year’s Eve is a culturally significant celebration for Japanese people, so more business and service closures will occur during that timeframe.
🍀 My Sister’s Negative Experience With Visiting in December
My sister’s and her fiance’s biggest disappointment with visiting Japan in December was how bare all the trees and surrounding gardens were. Ueno Park in Tokyo, for example, was underwhelming, without any leaves or cherry blossoms.
Also, they ate at some very popular restaurants that required waits of up to two hours, and the cold made standing outside uncomfortable.
They also noticed that none of the winter shopping sales (e.g., big discounts for cashmere and winter coats) were in effect in December. Most winter sales start in January, so you’ll miss out on those.
5 Great Things To Do in December in Japan
Due to the smaller crowds and light displays, December is a great time to explore major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.
If you’re looking for activities that are more specific to December, here are five unique and great things to do in Japan during that month:
1. Catch the Chichibu Night Festival
🏮 Why: The Chichibu Night Festival is one of Japan’s top three festivals, and it takes place annually in December. This winter festival features intricately decorated floats with lanterns, firework displays, and streets filled with festival food.
📍 Location: Chichibu Night Festival takes place in Chichibu, two-and-a-half hours northwest of Tokyo by train.
🎟️ Admission: Free
🗓️ Timing: Chichibu Night Festival takes place December 2 and 3 annually
2. Enjoy a Dip in an Onsen
♨️ Why: December is an amazing time to enjoy Japan’s numerous hot springs as temperatures drop.
📍 Location: While hot springs can be found virtually anywhere in Japan, the town of Hakone is particularly known for them. Hakone is known for its geothermal activity and stunning natural landscapes.
If you want to be further north, Zao Onsen is another famous hot spring area that gets snow. The nearby Mount Zao is known for an interesting weather phenomenon called snow monsters.
🎟️ Admission: The cost of an onsen is determined by several factors. A budget-friendly public onsen can be as cheap as $2, and a luxury private onsen can go for over $100.
🗓️ Timing: Onsens are available year-round. Japanese people enjoy them at almost any time of the day.
Another great way to warm up during winter is by eating seasonal cuisine like nabe (hot pot). Nabe is a winter dish with seafood, meat, tofu, and vegetables. Japanese convenience stores also start serving hot snacks and beverages.
3. See a Winter Illumination
✨ Why: The Winter season in Japan is known for its impressive display of winter illuminations. Some of the most impressive illuminations are:
- Sagamiko Illumillion, which is one of the largest displays
- Sendai Pageant of Starlight, which showcases hundreds of trees covered in LED lights
- Ashikaga Flower Fantasy, which includes a music-synchronized light show
- Osaka Hikari Renaissance, which lights up several of Osaka’s historic buildings
🎟️ Admission: The illuminations mentioned above range from free admission to $15 USD.
🗓️ Timing: Many illuminations start in October and November and go until the end of the year.
4. Visit Shirakawa-go
⛰️ Why: Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area has a village known for its traditional centuries-old farmhouses that look spectacular during the winter months when it snows. It’s the perfect place to see snowy landscapes near Tokyo.
🎟️ Admission: The village has no admission fee, but you may want to take a guided tour.
🗓️ Timing: The Gifu Prefecture typically starts receiving snow in mid-December. The heavy snowfall begins in January.
5. Do a Winter Sport
⛷️ Why: Japan boasts ideal winter conditions for many winter sports, including skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and ice skating.
December in Japan’s Majors Cities: Tips and Firsthand Experience
If you’re concerned about the December weather in Japan and how the cold may impact your travel plans, below are my sister’s and her fiance’s first-hand experiences of visiting in December 2023.
The weather didn’t drastically change their itinerary, but it did influence it.
🗓️ December in Tokyo
My sister and her fiance were in Tokyo for five days. It was consistently in the 40s °F, which didn’t stop them from enjoying some of the city’s outdoor spaces.
That said, while Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden still had some orange and red coloring, Ueon Park was mostly bare and underwhelming, so December can be a hit or miss for how nice the gardens and parks will be.
As you’ll likely spend most of the time indoors, make sure to plan for hot food and great indoor experiences. They enjoyed:
- Amazing warm food like grilled beef cutlets at Gyukatsu Motomura
- Exploring the beautiful and immersive teamLab Planets, which was not too crowded and had warm water running that warmed up everyone’s feet
- Staying indoors and shopping around Ginza
- Seeing all the festive lights at Omoide Yokocho. This street is also known for bars and izakayas.
Their biggest pro tip is to wear layers in Tokyo in December. Many of the city’s indoor areas, including train stations, malls, shops, and restaurants, blast the heat.
December Events and Activities in Tokyo
Tokyo also hosts some special winter events in December:
- Tokyo Christmas Market is an extravagant market that is only held in December.
- Tokyo Station has a worthwhile light display during this month.
- Oji Fox Parade is a costume-filled parade around Oji Inari Shine that happens at the end of the year.
- The Hagoita Fair is a traditional event happening in Asakusa’s Sensoji Temple.
- Many ice skating rinks also start popping up around Tokyo, with Midtown Ice Rink being one of the most well-known ones.
- Tokyo Disneyland puts up festive decorations and hosts Christmas parades.
🗓️ December in Kyoto
My sister and her fiance were in Kyoto for three days, and the weather was consistent with Tokyo’s (i.e., comfortable winter weather).
Visiting Kyoto in December was great because there were fewer crowds for famous places like the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which they loved.
The most amazing thing about Kyoto in December was the chance to experience an onsen against the cold winter air. They stayed at Ryokan Rangestu, and highly recommend them.
December Events in Kyoto
Kyoto also hosts some exciting events in December:
- Yamashina Gishi Matsuri is a parade featuring traditional clothing and armor. It takes place on December 14th every year.
- Shimai Kōbō is a bustling flea market that attracts both foreign visitors and locals. It’s especially festive and exciting in December.
- Several temples, including Toji Temple and Hogonin Temple, light up in December.
🗓️ December in Osaka
My sister and her fiance were in Osaka for two days. The weather was consistent with Tokyo’s (i.e., mostly in the 40s °F).
They spent most of their time in the famous Dotonbori and the popular Osaka Aquarium. The weather did not impact their plans; they would have gone to both places regardless of whether it was summer or winter.
They also rode the Ebisu Tower Ferris Wheel. That was one of the only activities they were concerned about being outside in the cold, but it turns out that the individual capsules are enclosed.
See other practical things to know about Japan, including how to find authentic food and tipping etiquette.
What to Pack for Japan in December
Remember that you will experience mostly sunny but cold days in December in Japan.
Here are some things to remember to pack for a trip to Japan in December:
- Winter outer layer. Temperatures will be cold, so bring a winter or puff jacket.
It’s important to bring layers when packing for December, as Japanese shops and restaurants tend to turn up the heat indoors when it’s cold outside.
- Winter accessories. It can get windy and cloudy on some days, so if you run cold, it’s a good idea to pack warm hats, scarves, earmuffs, and gloves.
If you plan to visit open observation decks, like Shibuya Sky in Tokyo, know that winds can get strong, so you’ll want to bundle up.
- Comfortable walking shoes. Don’t be afraid to pack hiking shoes if necessary (you’ll see many tourists walking around in them).
Japan Trip Planner
To make your travel planning easier, download the trip planner below and use it as a starting point. The planner has country-specific travel information, an itinerary, a packing list, and a map with key places pinned.
The trip planner is built on Notion, which I use for all my travel planning (I genuinely love this tool). If you don’t have Notion, creating an account is free.
If you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below.
Japan Travel Guides
- 🇯🇵 Planning a Trip to Japan: 11 Practical Things To Know
- ⛩️ 10 Epic Days in Japan: A Unique & Active Itinerary
- 💰 Trip to Japan Cost: 2024 Budget Breakdown
- 🌋 How To Climb Mt. Fuji + My Subashiri Trail Experience
- 🚲 How To Cycle the Shimanami Kaido: Complete Guide
- 🙅🏻♀️ Etiquette in Japan: 13 Things Tourists Should Not Do
- ☀️ Visiting Japan in September: Tips & What To Know
- ❄️ Visiting Japan in December: Tips & What To Know
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