Last winter, we spent seven weeks in Japan, starting the journey in the snowy, upper edge of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. We explored stunning ski areas, stayed in cozy ryokans, and soaked in steamy onsens. From there, we headed to the main island of Honshu, ending our fantastic trip as the earliest signs of spring emerged.

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After landing in Tokyo, we quickly hopped on a plane to Niseko, located on Hokkaido. Niseko is known for its consistent, legendary powder and is a must-visit for every skier or snowboarder who finds themselves in Japan. Here, New Zealand freestyle skier and Olympian Jackson Wells gets some air in the Niseko backcountry.

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The backcountry isn’t the only place score powder on Hokkaido. Niseko United offers epic powder days right in the resort, meaning you can ski snow like this just 10 minutes from your hotel room.

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Sushi isn’t the only food you’ll be trying in Japan. With some of the freshest seafood in the world, restaurants like Tatsumi offer elegantly plated dishes with flavors that will warm you up and delight your taste buds.

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After a few weeks in Niseko, we head to Furano for some powder days at the resort before heading into the world-renowned backcountry to spend time outside of town near Furanodake. We find backcountry lodges, onsens (natural hot springs), and more powder than you could ski in a lifetime.

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If you plan your trip right, you’ll be able to check out the Sapporo Snow Festival in early February. With more than two million visitors per year, this festival comes with delicious street food and more ice and snow sculptures than you could hope for.

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From Hokkaido, we traveled to Iwate, a northern prefecture of Japan’s main Honshu island. While there, we visited multiple onsens, the perfect cure for a body that’s sore from skiing. Here, an onsen owner cools the water for us by shoveling snow into the steaming waters. Most onsens are separated into male and female pools, though some facilities have mixed onsens as well. Note that at most onsens, bathers should rinse beforehand, not wear swimsuits, and keep their hair up and out of the pool. Many onsens also don’t allow visible tattoos.

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No trip to Japan is complete without an epic cat skiing day. Japan Ski Tours offers not only ski guiding, including setting up your lodging and transportation, but cultural experiences as well. They schedule cat skiing days like this one on the Hachimantai CAT, followed by a stay at the incredible backcountry Lodge Clubman, which includes food, an amazing bath, awesome local owners, and the ability to connect with other skiers from around the world.

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Ryokans are traditional inns that offer a unique experience you can only get in Japan. All ryokans are different, but many include breakfast and/or dinner, have traditional tatami-matted rooms, feature onsens, and come with yukatas for you to wear around the ryokan. Dinner was served in our room at the Sukayu Onsen Ryokan, which boasts a 300-year-old onsen.

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Markets around Japan offer local artisans the opportunity to sell and display their goods. This unique market in Iwate allows visitors to see the artists at work and then purchase their goods at the nearby shop.

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From Iwato, we went to Kyoto. There, the Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine has thousands of red gates that cover Mount Inari and is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. The red gates are Torii gates, which are at the entrance of most Shinto shrines, and symbolically mark the passage from the ordinary to the sacred.

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While in Kyoto, we checked out the Kyoto Samurai Experience, which takes place in a 250-year-old samurai residence, where the samurai who served at Nijo Castle used to live. There, you change into what was traditional samurai garb, learn how to handle a traditional Japanese sword, and practice cutting goza, a rolled tatami mat.

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Kinkakuji, or the Golden Pavillion, is a zen temple covered in gold leaf. If you time your visit just right in the evening, the sun catches the gold leaf in a way that the temple shimmers with the last light of day.

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For our last few nights, we decided to stay at Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo. Located in the heart of Tokyo, this hotel overlooks its own garden and the Tokyo city skyline. Not only is it the perfect place to wind down after an adventurous trip to Japan, but it also offers the breakfast of a lifetime while overlooking private gardens and Tokyo.

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As our trip wound down, we were able to experience the beginning of the plum trees blooming - which blossom as early as February and a whole month before Japan’s famous cherry trees. Tokyo’s plum blossoms were the first sign of spring after seven glorious, wintry weeks in Japan.

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