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Experience culturally diverse Japan in the heart of winter
Pack some winter gear and head out to explore the far north of Japan - a fascinating and rarely visited part of this diverse country. See the amazing Sapporo Snow Festival and enjoy some of Hokkaido’s energising winter sports. Return south to visit Nikko - a truly beautiful winter wonderland, peppered with ancient temples, gardens and shrines. Bookended by days in Japan's electric capital, this trip mixes the energy and excitement of Tokyo with the serenity of Nikko's temples and the white beauty of Sapporo in winter. The result is an adventure holiday rich in cultural icons, history, tradition and seasonal delights.
What's included in this trip
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Beneath the neon lights and high-tech gadgetry, this busy metropolis still harbours ancient traditions and cultures. Make an early morning visit to the enormous Tsukiji Market to witness the frenzied sale of fish from tiny sardines to 300 kg tuna. Choose to spend time exploring some of the key areas in the heart of the city - perhaps Harajuku to see Tokyo's street-fashion elite or Ginza for some retail therapy.
Nestled in a wide basin beneath snow-capped mountains, the city of Sapporo is the lovely capital of Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island. This is a very special time of year in the city as it hosts its annual Snow Festival - an incredible display of lights, ice sculptures and snow statues. Join in the eating, dancing, drinking and singing festivities and discover unique frosty art.
Further into the northern wilderness from Sapporo is Asahikawa, which hosts a smaller snow and ice festival. Admire ice sculptures while munching on festival food from the local stalls and visit a local brewery to sip on sake. Surrounded by mountains and long famous for winter sports Asahikawa has something for everyone - hit the slopes for some skiing or snowboarding, soak in an onsen, ride a dog sled or check out one of the museums.
Home to apple orchards galore, Hirosaki is a lovely castle town that makes an excellent stop-off point on the way back south. At this time of year the well-preserved garden and park area of the castle looks stunning and there is time to explore the town in the lead-up to its own Snow Lantern Festival. This annual event is a popular fixture on the winter calendar and originated as an opportunity for community interaction and exercise during the long frozen months.
The beautiful Matsushima bay and surrounding region is famous for its many sites and great scenery. Visit Zuigan-ji, one of the loveliest Zen temples in the area, and spend some time enjoying the stunning bay.
Home to Japan's most lavishly decorated shrine, Nikko offers a peek into the secret world of the samurai as well as the history of Buddhism as it entered Japan and melded with the native religion of Shinto. For breathtaking volcanic scenery, glassy lakes and a chance to get up close to Japanese wildlife, head out on a hike in the nearby Nikko National Park.
Travel back to Tokyo where there is time to experience city life, visit some more sites or go shopping for unique Japanese gifts. Gaze at galleries or eye the electronics in this dynamic metropolis before a final night on the town; slurp some noodles, take a nip of sake and maybe even 'go local' and belt out a karaoke classic or two.
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