Japan’s winter season attracts many travellers in search of white powder snow and exceptional skiing destinations. From winter sports to onsen retreats, the list of things to do in Japan during winter guarantees endless fun. If you are up for a distinctive cold-weather adventure, make sure you include the unique experience of snow sauna in your next Japan holiday!

Sauna Culture in Japan

Saunas in Japan have been around since 1957, but their popularity surged in recent years, notably sparked by Finnish athletes during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Today, there is a booming sauna culture warming up the nation, offering a variety of sauna experiences.

Snow Sauna in Japan

Saunas in Japan are a relatively new obsession, with unique sauna facilities popping up across the country. (Photo from: Photo-AC)

According to Sauna Ikitai, a popular sauna-rating online site, there are over 12,000 facilities offering saunas nationwide. You can find sauna-dedicated day spas, sauna rooms in quaint little ryokans, and even portable sauna tents set up beside picturesque lakes.

Winter, in particular, is especially ideal for enjoying sauna experiences in Japan.

Snow Tent Sauna and Outdoor Snow Dive in Rusutsu Village

Rusutsu Resort

Enjoy a hot sauna and a refreshing snow dive while surrounded by beautiful snowy landscapes at Rusutsu Resort. (Photo from: Rusutsu Resort)

Head over to Rusutsu Resort, Hokkaido’s largest all-season resort, for an unforgettable snow-country winter activity. Located at the base of Mount Yotei, Rusutsu Resort is blessed with fresh powder snow and plenty of sunny days in winter. From skiing to snow rafting and even ice fishing, there are fun winter activities suitable for everyone.

A standout feature is the Snow Tent Sauna and Kamakura outdoor snow dive experience

The winter months see the resort’s grounds covered in a thick blanket of pristine white snow. Stay toasty amidst the winter cold by indulging in the warmth of a three-layer insulated snow tent sauna that can reach temperatures as high as 120°C. Enhance the therapeutic effect by purchasing scented snowballs to melt over the heated sauna stones, adding an aromatic touch to your experience.

Sauna tent

Inside the sauna tent, water is gradually poured over the heated sauna stones to produce steam.
(Photo from: Rusutsu Resort)

With your body comfortably warmed up, it is time to cool off. Take a relaxing air bath in the Kamakura (a specially constructed snow hut), feel the cool air on the chairs outside or dive into the powdery snow! Such hot-and-cold rituals are believed to awaken the senses and invigorate the body. Following the snow play, guests can extend their self-pampering at the nearby Rusutsu onsen.

Complete the winter experience with a Kamakura Igloo BBQ that consists of sumptuous grilled lamb and local vegetables. This Kamakura BBQ lunch is a rare experience that is only available during the winter season and reservations are required.

Availability: 6 January to 29 February 2024, 2:00pm - 4:00pm / 4:30pm - 6:30pm

Finnish Sauna and Frozen Lake Dip in Tokachi

For a touch of authentic Finnish sauna culture in Japan, try the adrenaline-pumping Hokkaido Avanto experience held in the small mountain town of Tokachi.

Finnish Sauna

Gaze out to a spectacular winter snowscape while basking in the warmth of a sauna. (Photo from: Obihiro Tourism and Convention Association)

Avanto, which translates to mean “hole in the ice”,  is the Finnish tradition of cutting a hole in a frozen lake or river, and going for an icy winter dip. The Finns like to engage in ice swimming after a hot sauna session, and this winter pastime seems to have caught on in Japan as well. 

Frozen lake dip

The extreme winter activity of Avanto attracts sauna enthusiasts who are up for a challenge. (Photo from: Obihiro Tourism and Convention Association)

In the Tokachi region, known for being one of the coldest regions in Japan, winter temperatures can drop as low as -20°C. Capitalising on these sub-zero weather conditions, the frozen Lake Kuttari transforms into the setting for the Hokkaido Avanto sauna experience. 

Lake Kuttari, famous as a healing spot, is equipped with different types of authentic Finnish saunas. After getting all hot and sweaty in the sauna tents, it is time to freshen up. Instead of going for a cold bath, sauna enthusiasts eagerly jump into the freezing waters through a hole cut into the frozen lake for a rejuvenating plunge. 

Besides the exhilarating avanto experience, participants can also enjoy an air bath by relaxing on a rotating "ice carousel." Lie down on reclining chairs set atop a gently revolving ice block and soak in the stunning winter scenery of vast white fields.

Surrounded by the tranquillity of a white winter wonderland, this is the ultimate winter experience that allows you to connect with nature.

Availability: Mid-January to Mid-March 2024