February is the last month of winter in Japan, and the traditional lunar calendar actually marks February 3 as the first day of spring, although this isn't reflected in the reality of the weather. Japan is a long and mountainous country with many different sub-climates, so mid-winter temperatures are very varied.
Along with January, February is the coldest month—there's very little difference in average temperatures between the two months. By the end of the month, some southern parts of the country may be starting to feel spring-like, but other areas are still very much in the throes of winter even in late February.
In general, the further south you travel, the warmer the temperatures will be at any time of year, but the major exception to this is that the Sea of Japan coast of Honshu gets very harsh winters with a lot of snow. The mountains through the middle of Honshu shield the east coast from the worst winter weather coming off Siberia and China, but the west coast gets the brunt.
In Hokkaido, the northernmost island, visitors should expect very cold temperatures. The capital, Sapporo, experiences an average February high of 32° F (0° C) and a low of 19° F (-7° C). The larger cities of Honshu and Kyushu are warmer but still wintry, and some snow can be expected in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto in February. These three cities, as well as Fukuoka in Kyushu, experience average February highs of around 50° F (10° C), and lows of 36° F (2° C).
In the islands of Okinawa, south of 'mainland' Japan, winters are mild. The islands are either sub-tropical or tropical. Naha, the capital of Okinawa, experiences February highs of 66° F (19° C), and lows of 57° F (14° C). (Find out more about visiting Okinawa in this guide).
Rainfall is typically low in February, as precipitation falls as snow. Summer is the wet season in Japan.
Crowds and Costs
February, and winter, is low season in Japan, although it's peak ski season in Hokkaido and central Honshu. Skiing is popular with locals, so expect to see a lot of domestic tourists in ski areas.
Sapporo's annual Snow Festival runs for a couple of weeks in early February, sometimes starting in late January. This is a popular time to travel to Sapporo and Hokkaido, so book flights and accommodation as far in advance as possible if you want to attend this very popular event.
Other destinations of interest to travelers—such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Hiroshima—are not so busy with tourists in February, but shouldn't be avoided just because it's winter. These are big cities with a lot of indoor and outdoor events, and there's always something going on, even in mid-winter. The season is no reason to avoid these places.
Although Okinawa experiences much warmer temperatures than much of the rest of Japan in February, this is not a peak time to travel there.
Where to Go
If you enjoy snowy conditions, either for skiing or sightseeing, then Hokkaido and Nagano are great destinations. In Hokkaido you can catch Sapporo's annual Snow Festival, with its fantastic ice sculptures.
The major cities of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto can be quite cold in February, but there are many indoor activities to enjoy there (galleries, museums, temples, theaters, restaurants...) and the winter should be no barrier to visiting.
Kyushu is Japan's third-largest island, south of Honshu. February temperatures here are a bit warmer than further north, and the island is home to fascinating cities (Fukuoka, Nagasaki), hot spring resorts (Beppu, Kurokawa Onsen), and natural attractions (Mt. Aso, Sakurajima), and much more.
What to Do
February isn't a great time for most outdoor activities in Japan because of the cold and snow, but general sightseeing around towns and cities should be comfortable, and there are many indoor activities to enjoy too. As well as exceptional museums and galleries in many cities, the Japanese have got hot spring bathing down to a fine art, and this is a great indoor winter activity. While you can enjoy a soak in an onsen at any time of year, they tend to be more comfortable when the weather is cold outside. As Japan is a very volcanically active country, you can find onsen all over the place, with particular highlights being Kurokawa Onsen, Kusatsu, Hakone,, and Beppu.
Visiting a Japanese ski resort in February can be fun in you really want to do some outdoor activities. You'll mostly be surrounded by locals, as Japan isn't a major international ski destination. The largest concentration of ski resorts is in the Nagano area, on the snowy Sea of Japan coast of Honshu.
If you enjoy snow and cold temperatures, Sapporo's annual Snow Festival is a must-visit. Local and international artists and sculptors create amazing, and ephemeral, works of art out of ice, and other festive activities are also held in the city.
Sapporo Snow Festival. This famous festival featuring incredible ice sculptures is typically held in early February for around two weeks.
Plum-blossom viewing. Japan's cherry blossoms (sakura) may be more famous, but plum blossoms are also welcomed and celebrated later in February as one of the first signs of spring.
Traveling to Japan in February? Check out these great itineraries
Japan's Culinary Heritage - 11 Days. Eat your way through the Land of the Rising Sun on this immersive culinary tour. Get to know Japanese history and culture through its legendary cuisine, and treat your taste buds to everything from home-brewed sake to the freshest sushi, to delectable street food and a fancy gourmet feast.
Magic of Japan: Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima - 12 Days. Discover both the traditional and modern sides of Japan as you visit various shrines and temples, witness technological innovation at an amazing digital art exhibition and crazy (in a very good way) robot show, and get involved in a few hands-on cooking and craft classes.
Japan Golden Route - 10 Days. This 10-day itinerary follows the path of Japan's ancient Tokaido Highway (the Golden Route) from the skyscrapers of ultra-modern Tokyo to the cultural heart of Kyoto. In between the two cities, you'll stop in the beautiful town of Hakone to soak up Mount Fuji views, hot springs, and excellent museums.