There are dozens of things to do in Japan in February. It is a cold month, but if you wrap up well, you can enjoy activities and witness celebrations limited to February or the winter months only. There are also two public holidays during the month of February. National Foundation Day is on February 11th and the Emperor's birthday is February 23rd. You will be able to enjoy events to mark both occasions. Here are 10 more ideas for a memorable February visit to Japan.
1. Celebrate Setsubun
This is something that can be done in every city, town and village around Japan. Setsubun is celebrated on February 3rd annually. People celebrate at home but also at shrines and temples that have a 'mamemaki' bean throwing ceremony. Although, some shrines and temples celebrate it on a different date, the vast majority celebrate it on the 3rd. However, apart from beans they also throw such things as amulets, candy and even money. Anybody can participate and generally, these events are free of charge.
2. Pick strawberries
Strawberry picking can start as early as mid December in Japan, but its generally not until mid January that all strawberry picking farms are open. By February, the season is in full swing. Strawberry greenhouses usually have 30 minutes of all-you-can-eat picking. If you want to bring strawberries back to your lodging, you have to pay an additional charge. You can find strawberry picking farms in every prefecture in Japan.
3. Ice skate
Ice skating can be enjoyed in Japan all-year-round in indoor skating rinks. However, during the winter months you will also find several outdoor ice rinks. Many of these are at outdoor summer pools that convert the pools into ice. Others are specifically erected at shopping centers. You can also find a few natural ice rinks in the rural areas of Saitama. If you are on the mainland of Japan in February, you are bound to be within commutable distance of an outdoor seasonal ice-rink.
4. Try some snow sports
There are dozens of prefectures that have snow resorts. Even prefectures where snow doesn't fall often have an indoor ski resort. You don't have to stay overnight as most places offer day skiing. There are even some really convenient ski slopes that are close to either a train station or a highway interchange. You don't have to have any experience and the vast majority have classes for beginners.
5. Take in the illumination
A lot of winter illumination finishes in December. However, the larger night illumination displays generally run until mid-March. Illumination at malls and leisure complexes usually run until Valentine's day. Moreover, there are some places with natural winter scenery such as icicles that are lit up in January and February only.
6. View winter scenery
Only in winter can you see ice walls, icicles, snow statues and other snow or ice created scenery. It is also the only time you can enjoy snow festivals. There is still plenty of snow in February in the regions that enjoy snow fall annually. Furthermore, prefectures that don't have snow offer some innovative ways to enjoy scenery in the winter months. For example, the kotatsu boat rides are typically only available in January and February.
There is a misconception that hanami is only done in March and under Somei Yoshino cherry blossoms. But in fact, hanami can be done anytime of the year under any tree. Hanami literally just means "flower viewing". In Japan, people start to hanami in February under the plum blossoms and early blooming cherry blossoms. Kawazu cherry blossoms (as in featured photo) are a particularly famous early blooming cherry tree. They bloom from mid February to mid March.
8. Admire the Hina Dolls
The Dolls Festival 'Hina Matsuri' is on March 3rd annually. However, the dolls get displayed from February. Some places put up their dolls earlier than others, but by the second half of February, it is easy to find Hina Dolls on display in almost every town and city in Japan. In Saitama Prefecture, just North of Tokyo, you can see Japan's largest pyramid doll display.
9. Indulge in a hot spring
Of course, this can be done all year round, but what better time to take a hot bath than in the cold months of winter! There are hot springs all around Japan. You may even be lucky enough to have one in your hotel or ryokan. If you are in snow country, I highly recommend you brave a 'rotemburo' outdoor bath. There is nothing quite like viewing snow from an outdoor hot steaming bath.
One of the highlights of the seasonal foods available in February is the "dessert buffet". Combining Valentine's day celebrations and the abundance of ripe strawberries, restaurants and hotels around the country put on a dessert buffet in February. You can also pick up seasonal treats for setsubun and the dolls festival at any supermarket.