Region - Snow Country
Explore the unique culture of one of the snowiest areas in the world and how the harsh environment has shaped people’s lives
Stay in an atmospheric traditional house in a village and experience authentic rural life in a non-tourist setting
Discover a wonderland of traditions including fermented foods, textiles, handcrafted paper and metalwork
Experience the best of Japanese winter at country winter festivals and snowshoeing across beautiful landscapes
Japan’s ‘Yukiguni’ or ‘Snow Country’, the regions of central and northern Japan facing the Sea of Japan, are among the snowiest areas in the world. Although there is no single definition, the ‘Snow Country’ commonly refers to Niigata Prefecture and adjacent areas in central Honshu, where snow depths in excess of 2–3 metres are common on the lowlands.
The people of the Snow Country have developed a distinct culture to overcome hardships and ingeniously utilise the extreme conditions in their everyday lives. An example is the great regional tradition of fermented foods that has allowed people of the Snow Country to not only survive the long winter, but maintain a healthy diet when fresh vegetables and fruit were scarce. The heavy snowfall also blesses the region with pristine snowmelt during warmer months that nourishes the fertile valleys and bountiful fisheries, and therefore the diverse food traditions of the Snow Country. The abundant water also supports an astounding variety of traditional industries, including its renowned textiles. The hardships brought about by heavy snow have also cultivated a deeply spiritual society. The numerous country temples, and village festivals reflect the Snow Country people’s gratitude and hope for survival in the harsh, yet curiously nurturing environment.
In fact, the Snow Country’s rich culture, including its cuisine, crafts, architecture and festivals, and its distinctive natural and cultural landscapes, all relate in one way or another to the snow that blankets the landscape for nearly half the year. Until recently, the heavy snowfalls made the region inaccessible for a large part of the year, which has also helped to preserve the traditional culture. Perhaps the most astounding aspect of the Snow Country culture is its link to the Jomon culture, Japan’s amazing prehistoric civilisation that flourished for over 14000 years. The numerous Jomon archaeological sites attest that the relationship between humans and the Snow Country’s unique environment has evolved over millennia.
The Snow Country is one of the hidden gems of Japan for ‘off-the-beaten-track’ travel experiences. Apart from a handful of well-known tourist attractions, onsens, ski resorts, and snow festivals, the region remains undiscovered by mainstream international tourism. Large areas remain untainted by mass tourism and age-old traditions continue to be part of everyday life today, such that your travel experiences will be authentic—seeing culture in its original context and the locals in their daily lives. Explore one of the many charming villages dotting the beautiful countryside, where you can unwind in the slower pace of life, get to know the local traditions, and savour the regional cuisine prepared from fresh local produce. Stay in atmospheric traditional houses featuring heavy timber beams that are typical of the Snow Country architecture. Delve into the wonderfully diverse food traditions, including a range of traditional fermented foods such as miso, soy sauce, sake and natto, and learn all their ins and outs from local producers. Visit craft workshops to see artisans at work, whether it be textured traditional paper using fibres from locally grown paper-mulberry bark, beautiful kimono textiles that are woven and dyed using time-honoured techniques, or traditional knives and tools handcrafted by blacksmiths. Winter in the Snow Country brings a travel experience that is in a league of its own—from exhilarating snowshoeing across the starkly beautiful snowscapes to fascinating and heart-warming country winter festivals.