With borders re-opened in late 2022, Japan is sure to welcome an influx of tourism in the year ahead. Whilst springtime is the obvious choice for a trip to the country, with the promise of the iconic cherry blossoms that draw in visitors far and wide, the winter is just as exciting.
From hot springs in the snow to some of the best skiing locations in the world, the country offers a unique experience during the winter season. We asked our founder and director Mats Klingberg to give us his guide to visiting Japan in the winter and the lowdown on his recent visit to Tokyo.
I have been going to Japan for over twenty years and have experienced the country many times during different seasons. When most people think of visiting they think of going in the spring to experience the cherry blossom season, but winter is also a great time to go and I would highly recommend it. With big blue skies during the colder months, there is a light that I’ve only experienced in Japan during winter.
Tokyo is huge and has a lot of different areas, each with its own unique character. Like any big city, it is easy to assume that it’s super crowded, conjuring images of Shibuya Crossing and people being squeezed into subway cars during rush hour. However, this view is far from the reality of the city, as soon as you turn a corner and enter the side streets or explore different areas you will experience an entirely different sense of calm and community.
Where To Stay
Being a man of traditions I still love staying at Park Hyatt in Shinjuku, which is where I stayed on my first visit. The views simply take my breath away and on a clear day, you can also see Mount Fuji. At night you can see hundreds, if not thousands, of red lights twinkling on the top of buildings across the city. A drink at the New York Grill is a must and the food is also excellent.
The Peninsula is another great hotel that I’ve stayed at many times. Very close to great shopping in Ginza and Marunouchi and I can also highly recommend joining all the local runners for a run around the Palace in the morning, however, you may find it hard to compete with their unbelievably stylish running gear.
While we share the same name there’s no connection between Trunk London and Zurich and the Trunk Hotel in Tokyo. You will find it in Shibuya with lots of great shops and restaurants close by, it is also a great place to stay.
The view from the Park Hyatt, Shinjuku
Where To Shop
Isetan Men’s (Shinjuku) – A department store with an entire building devoted to men’s collections. Also, their food hall (in the main building) is a must-visit.
Beams Japan (Shinjuku) – Beams’ iconic flagship store.
Monocle Shop (Shibuya) – Trunk’s sister company’s Tokyo store.
Tembea (Harajuku) – Canvas tote bags, each designed with a specific purpose.
Ayame (Harajuku) – Japanese-made eyewear, a Trunk favourite.
Loopwheeler (Harajuku) – Cotton sweatshirts are all handmade with a loop wheel technique.
Think of Things (Harajuku) – Unique stationery.
Yoshida Porter (Aoyama) – Another Trunk favourite, Porter bags and luggage are famed for their functionality and quality construction.
Prada (Aoyama) – Whether you will be shopping or not, Prada's Tokyo flagship store was designed by the architectural firm Herzog de Meuron and is well worth the visit.
Lisn (Aoyama) – An incense store with a beautiful interior.
Super A Market (Aoyama) – Interesting retail space with a mixture of clothing and homewares.
United Arrows (Aoyama) – One of United Arrows' funkier locations.
Hakusan (Aoyama) – Beautiful ceramics.
Comoli (Aoyama) – Hidden gem, with a great menswear offering.
Arts & Science (Aoyama) – A curated offering of everyday luxuries.
Auralee (Aoyama) – Clothing store offering timeless wardrobe staples with refined silhouettes.
Tabio in Omotesando Hills (Aoyama) – High-quality Japanese-made socks, another Trunk favourite.
Tsutaya (Daikanyama) – Great bookshop.
Okura (Daikanyama) – Multibrand menswear store with a great offering.
Ginza Six (Ginza) – A luxury shopping centre with a rooftop garden.
Wild Life Tailor (Marunouchi) – must-see menswear store.
Tas Yard, Harajuku
Where To Eat
Oreryu Shio-ramen Shibuya (Shibuya) – Great ramen.
Tas Yard (Harajuku) – Cute little restaurant with a great Japanese curry.
Kitsuné Café (Aoyama) – Coffee time!
Golden Brown in Omotesando Hill (Aoyama) – A brief departure from Japanese cuisine but a must-try for the best burgers.
Sushi Zanmai (Ginza) – Great sushi.
Prada, Aoyama © Johannes Marburg
No visit to Japan is complete without heading out to the countryside or visiting other parts of the country that are easy to access via plane or the Shinkansen bullet train. I’ve been to Hokkaido in the far north, Okinawa in the south and several places in between.
In the winter it’s simply magical to visit Hokkaido (although I am sure it's lovely in the summer too). Lying in a hot spring bath with the snow falling down had long been a dream of mine, which came true a couple of years ago at a ryokan just outside Niseko called Zaborin.
Niseko is also a great place for skiing, so a great alternative to skiing in Europe or the US. Please bear in mind that ryokans are more suitable for one or two-night stays, so if you’re going skiing for a couple of days you’re probably better off starting or ending with a place like Zaborin.
The hot spring bath at Zaborin.
If you’re a more adventurous type and want to go off the beaten track then I can highly recommend checking out the services of Max McKee and his team at Kammui. Not just for skiing in Hokkaido, but for all sorts of experiences in nature across all of Japan. Check out their site for more details and get ready for some truly special moments with the best guides and instructors.
A bit closer to Tokyo, about two hours on the Shinkansen on the Izu Peninsula, is a lovely ryokan called Asaba that I’ve been to several times and also visited in December. A lovely experience where the only thing you need to decide is if you want your dinner at 7pm or 7.30pm, the perfect one-night escape from all the action in Tokyo.
Once you’ve had a good soak in the onsen you put on the yukata that has been laid out for you and then you enjoy a lovely kaiseki meal before tucking into your fluffy futon bed that has been made up on the floor as you were having dinner.
Consider these tips as an appetizer only. Tokyo and the rest of Japan have so much to offer and there are always new things happening, so once you've had your first taste I'm sure you'll start thinking about your next trip and what else there is to explore.
Explore our selection of Japanese brands here.