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Where to Chill

Ice bars, ice festivals—even ice hotels. There are plenty of “cool” places to “chill” off the slopes in Japan this winter.

After a working up a sweat shredding powder on the mountain, nothing beats kicking back with a cold one. To truly “chill,” head to one of Japan’s ice bars serving up some (very) cold drinks.

Shikaribetsu Lake’s Kotan Ice Bar
This ice bar is naturally kept cool thanks to Hokkaido’s frigid temperatures which can reach -30° C. “Kotan” is Ainu for “village” and refers to the winter igloo village built upon frozen Shikaribetsu Lake, 800 meters above sea level in Hokkaido’s Daisetsuzan National Park.

Enjoy an ice cold drink in your very own ice glass, or warm up with a hot cappuccino. The experience doesn’t end at the bar; the village boasts several great ice experiences including an ice hall, ice movie theater, ice factory (make your own ice glasses), rotenburo (outside hot spring), ice lodge and even an ice chapel.

Location: Shikaribetsu, Hokkaido
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. to 8-10 p.m. (Jan. 20 until the snow melts)
Pricing: ¥500 for your ice glass; ¥500 cocktail, beer, shochu, soft drink
Tel: (0156) 69-8181 (Shikaribetsu Lake Nature Center)
Web: www.nature-center.jp (Japanese only)

Ice Experience Ice Bar

A spectacular display of frozen architecture, Niseko’s Ice Experience Ice Bar is constructed from 300 tons of “snice” (a blend of snow and ice) and 1,000 tons of ice by an international team of professional ice builders and artists.

The drinks are served in glasses made from Kyogoku ice from the famous nearby Kyogoku Spring; one of Japan’s highest-level natural mineral waters.

Location: Niseko, Hokkaido
Hours: 6 p.m.-midnight (Dec. 24 to the end of March)
Pricing: ¥1,000 first drink (¥500 refills)
Tel: (0136) 21-7575
Web: www.iceexperience.com

Tomamu Ice Village

Temperatures dropping to -20° C degrees, combined with eloquent design, contribute to this illuminated paradise found at Tomamu Alpha Resort’s ice village. The village’s ice bar is nothing but ice.

Tables, chairs, counter and walls are all made from frozen water. Before popping into the bar, try your hand at making your own ice glass in the ice studio. For the ultimate experience, check out the resort’s ice hotel.

Location: Shimukappu, Hokkaido
Hours: 5-10 p.m.
Pricing: Drinks from ¥500 (make your own ice glass for ¥500)
Tel: (0167)-58-1111
Web: www.snowtomamu.jp

Absolut Icebar Tokyo

Making a guest appearance on the Amazing Race Asia Season 2, the Absolut Icebar in Tokyo’s Roppongi district is Japan’s only ice bar that does not melt after winter is over. Made out of ice imported from the Torne River in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden, the bar is kept at a chilly -5° C all year round, keeping your glass, the walls, bar, tables and even the artwork frozen solid. Guests are given a cape to keep warm and can stay up to 45 minutes.

Location: Nishi-Azabu, Tokyo
Hours: 6 p.m.-midnight (Sunday-Thursday), 6 p.m.-2:15 a.m. (Friday and Saturday). Open year round.
Price: ¥3,500 includes cape to keep warm; choice of Vodka cocktail or non-alcoholic drink in your personal ice glass.
Tel: (03) 5464-2160
Web: www.icebartokyo.com

The thought of sleeping on a bed of ice in the middle of winter may seem a bit odd but, if you’ve seen images of the amazing ice hotels in Scandinavia, you too will want to slide in for an ice nap.

Lake Kotan Ice Hotel

Lake Kotan’s ice lodge, part of the Shikaribetsu Lake Ice Village, gives you the chance to live like the Eskimos. Four guests can comfortably share one room (the more warm bodies the better) and sleeping bags can be rented to keep you cosy.

Guests can also jump in the village’s rotenburo if they need to heat up. The rooms do not have toilet facilities, so you will want to make sure you don’t drink too much at the ice bar before you sleep.

Hours: 3 p.m.-10 a.m. (Jan. 20 until the snow melts)
Pricing: Four-person shared room from ¥6,500; sleeping bag set ¥2,600 per night.
Check in / Check Out: 3 p.m. / 10 a.m.
Hot Spring: 6:30 a.m.-6 p.m. (mixed bathing); 6-8 p.m. (men only); 8-10 p.m. (women only).
Location: Shikaribetsu, Hokkaido
Tel: Shikaribetsu Lake Nature Center, (0156) 69-8181
Web: www.nature-center.jp (Japanese only)

Tomamu Ice Hotel
Tomamu Alpha Resort’s romantic ice hotel is a must-try experience if you are at the resort in winter. Stunning furniture carved from ice creates a surreal experience for those brave enough to stay overnight

Guests at the hotel must make reservations three days in advance. Although brides may have to re-think their wedding dress, winter sports lovers who are a little daring can exchange vows in the village’s ice chapel.

Location: Shimukappu, Hokkaido
Hours: Reception 5-10 p.m., mid-January to late-February (tentative)
Price: From ¥8,000 per person
Check in / Check Out: 8 p.m. / 7 a.m.
Tel: (0167) 58-1111
Web: www.snowtomamu.jp

Where there is a season in Japan, there are festivals all over the country to compliment, with winter being no exception. In the snow areas, amazing spectacles of snow and ice sculptures lit up by laser beams, colorful lighting displays, candles burning inside snow domes, live entertainment, great food and beer and, of course, fireworks, are all symbols of Japan’s winter festivities.

If you are planning a winter sports getaway this season and want to visit one of the festivals during your stay, be sure to book your accommodation early, as they will be sure to fill up fast.

Dec. 20-Mar. 31
Diamond Dust Festival in Kawayu Onsen

Kawayu Onsen, Hokkaido

This festival features 80,000 light bulbs displayed in the snow to illuminate the town during winter.

Jan. 14-15
Niino Izu Yuki Matsuri

Izu Shrine, Nagano

Snow is offered to the shrine gods and prayers are offered for a good harvest.

Jan. 15
Dosojin Matsuri Fire Festival

Nozawa Onsen, Nagano

A famous fire festival in which a 65-ft. shrine built by 25- and 42-year-old men (considered unlucky ages in Japan) is burned as a purification ritual preparing the people for the coming year.

Jan. 24-Mar. 1
Tokachigawa Swan Festival Sairinka

Tokachigawa Onsen, Hokkaido.

More than 300 images of illuminated swans set the scene for this original sound and light gala. Visitors can enjoy snow rafting and other activities.

Jan. 24-Mar. 29
Sounkyo Ice Waterfall Festival

Sounkyo Onsen, Hokkaido

Another one of Japan’s premier winter events, this festival is set amid the beautiful Daisetsuzan mountains, one of Japan’s premier ice climbing playgrounds.

Jan 31-Mar. 29
Lake Akan Ice Festival

Lake Akan, Akanko Onsen, Hokkaido

As Lake Akan freezes over for the winter, it becomes the center stage for winter celebrations. Every night a small ceremony is held, and on clear nights visitors can enjoy fireworks.

Feb. 3
Lantern Festival

Kasugano, Nara

Dating back 800 years, Nara’s Kasuga Taisha Shrine has been lit up by hundreds of glowing lanterns, creating a magical atmosphere on a winter night.

Feb. 5-11
Sapporo Snow Festival 

Sapporo, Hokkaido

Roughly two million people descend on Sapporo for Japan’s largest winter festival and the spectacular ice sculptures displayed in Odori Park.

Feb. 6-8
Abashiri Okhotsk Drift Ice Festival

Abashiri, Hokkaido

Boasting a brilliant display of ice and snow sculptures and statues and night illumination. Enjoy this cultural winter event right at the northern tip of Japan.

Feb. 7-11
Asahikawa Winter Festival 
Asahikawa-shi, Hokkaido

Experience themes of light, ice and snow expressed in ice sculptures, laser shows, fireworks and a fabulous snow stage with live entertainment at one of Hokkaido’s best festivals.

Feb. 15-16
Kamakura Snow Festival

Yokote, Akita

This 400-year-old festival sees more than 100 kamakura (igloo-like ice houses) and countless miniature kamakura illuminated with candles light up Yokote City in a magical display of snow and light.

Mar. 7-8
Yuzawa Winter Festival

Yuzawa, Niigata

On the first weekend of March each year Yuzawa Kogen Ski Resort is the main venue for the Yuzawa Snow Festival featuring a fantastic fireworks display and other fun events such as snow sculptures and a mikoshi (portable shrine) parade through town.

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