Like sailors setting off into the unknown, the start of a new year invites us to explore uncharted waters and new territories ― setting our gaze on the metaphorical horizon of newly minted hopes and aspirations.
Separate from the astrological calendar, where fresh starts and clean slates coincide with the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, another year in the Gregorian calendar is still a valid reason to set sail for adventures in the winter months. Moreover, this February’s leap year feels like an open invitation to jump forward with an extra day of “oomph!”
Forget the buzz of AI and augmented reality recirculating the news cycle — á la Pluto’s ingress into sci-fi-centric Aquarius on Jan. 21. Instead, let’s turn your travel bucket list into reality using astrology to navigate your upcoming journeys across Japan!
This monthly travel series is sprinkled with astrological insights ― from your sun sign to additional planetary placements ― to personalize travel destinations alongside the zodiac constellations and their ruling planets.
Jigokudani provides a unique chance to observe wild snow monkeys relaxing in hot springs amid the snowy landscape. Photo: GaijinPot Travel
From the bone-numbing cold to merciless layers of deep snow, winter’s white-out conditions would make it obviously abhorrent to Arians. After all, this feisty fire sign is where Mars, its planetary ruler, calls home and the sun ― king of the celestial heaven ― is welcomed as an honored guest.
But Jigokudani Monkey Park in the town of Yamanouchi, Nagano Prefecture is where the rambunctious ram can spot usually rowdy monkeys feeling bliss in the blistering hot springs. While Jigokudani, or “Hell Valley,” is open year-round, the prime season for catching these flushed-faced Japanese macaque monkeys is from December to March.
As heaps of steam waft above rugged snow-trimmed cliffs in the Yokoyu River valley, Arians will brave the harsh elements, clutching their frozen fingers in a white-knuckle grip. Perhaps they should take a cue from the bathing primates: learning to ease the stress of punishing winters via a steamy bath.
2. Taurus (Apr. 21-May 21): Ashikaga Flower Park Winter Illumination
Famous for its spectacular winter illuminations featuring millions of LED lights, Ashikaga Flower Park is transformed into a winter wonderland. Photo: Aflânio Tomikawa/Flickr
In the tropical zodiac, Taurus season is synonymous with the height of spring when flowers hit peak bloom and gardens become lush landscapes of never-ending greenery. Come winter, though, this lavish scenery is replaced with the drab and dreary, as trees stand bare and all of nature feels long gone.
The winter illumination event at Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi Prefecture is the perfect antidote to inject a dose of cheer for Taureans lacking the luminous spring sunlight. Famous for its wisteria trees, the flowering vine that blooms from mid-April to mid-May, Ashikaga Flower Park replaces these barren branches and the entire premises with over 5 million razzle-dazzle LED lights.
Stroll through vibrant gardens bathed in the warm, golden glow of illuminations during the park’s “Flower Fantasy” event held until Feb. 14. With their appetite for art and amour, Venus-ruled Taureans will be wholly satisfied by the romantic visual centerpiece ― including a fairytale castle with a colorful LED fireworks spectacle.
There’s no denying the power of flowers, including LED flower fixtures!
Traditional thatched-roof houses in the UNESCO-listed village of Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture with night illuminations in winter. Photo: Supparuj/iStock
Ever the conversationalist, Gemini’s mercurial wit and chit-chatty charm go hand-in-hand. But the language of hands ― the body part ruled by Gemini ― also plays a pivotal role in how the celestial twins do their talking.
The UNESCO-listed villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama in Gifu Prefecture are also where hands take centerstage with the gassho-zukuri (prayer-hands construction) houses drawing hordes of day trippers each year. These slanted thatched-roof homes are the signature attraction of this sleepy mountain settlement, where travelers eager to escape into their “cottagecore” fantasy ― the Japanese equivalent of inaka kurashi (rural life) ― flock en masse.
However, wintertime offers a stunning change in scenery, with snow transforming the village into a postcard-perfect winter wonderland. This year marks the 38th annual Shirakawa-go Light-Up Event, where illuminated gassho-zukuri houses cast a magical glow over blankets of snow.
Like swift-footed Mercury, this is a limited-time event that requires you to get your hands on a reservation. There are six light-ups spanning January and February, with the remaining three held on Feb. 4, 12 and 18.
4. Cancer (June 23-July 22): Nagasaki Chinatown Lantern Festival
The Nagasaki Lantern Festival kicks off at the Chinese New Year’s Day based on the Lunar calendar, which is from Feb. 10 to Feb. 24. Photo: まちゃー/Pixta
Ruled by the moon, it’s only fitting for Cancerians’ monthly travel pick to be a festivity synced with the Lunar New Year.
Celebrated on the first new moon of the lunar calendar, this year it falls on Feb. 10, ushering in the fierce Chinese zodiac sign of the dragon. Although the celestial crustacean is far from ferocious, except when flaunting its pincers, the Nagasaki Chinatown Lantern Festival in Japan’s oldest Chinatown is where this family-centric sign can marvel at rich cultural identities and long-preserved customs.
Rows of red glowing lanterns ― exceeding 15,000 lights in total ― and towering art objects shaped into auspicious animals set Nagasaki’s Chinatown aglow from Feb. 9 to 25. Minato Park, one of the central venues, is where festival-goers can watch authentic jaodori (dragon dance) accompanied by an ensemble of gongs and drums.
The moon’s reflective nature, notably moonlight as reflected sunlight, links the luminary with past memories and nostalgia. Why not welcome the Lunar New Year on this new moon with a slew of new memories?
5. Leo (July 23-Aug. 22): Kenroku-en Winter Light-Up
Winter at Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa. The garden is listed as one of the “Three Great Gardens of Japan.” Photo: Sean Pavone /iStock
Leos have a longing for superlatives when it comes to attaining “the best” ― be it earning prestigious awards or jet-setting off to coveted destinations. Of course, the sign of the kingly beast is where the sun ― the archetypal solar hero ― reigns supreme.
So, it’s only appropriate to select one of Japan’s top three renowned gardens for the most regal of all the zodiac bunch.
Kenroku-en Garden in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture was formerly closed off to commoners, functioning as an imperial garden adjacent to Kanazawa Castle for the Maeda daimyo (feudal lords). Today, it’s a designated national treasure bathed in golden lights come winter, made even more spectacular at nightfall with glistening snow-covered pine trees.
A hallmark of the prestigiously pruned premises is the triangular-shaped yukitsuri (snow suspension) ropes suspended via a central pole above the trees, sitting almost like a crown. Leonians can observe this seasonal tradition during the Kenrokuen Winter Light-Up from early to mid-February between 5:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Your eyes will undoubtedly sparkle under the twinkling illuminations that capture both Leo’s and the sun’s gilded glory.
6. Virgo (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): Lake Towada Winter Story
Lake Towada in winter. Winter events around Lake Towada feature light displays, fireworks and various winter activities. Photo: Obanon/iStock
Breaking down the symbolism of a zodiac sign is only one part of the puzzle when delineating a birth chart. However, Virgoans, naturally adept at dissecting and discerning, may appreciate this next location where beauty is in the details.
Lake Towada, the 61.1-square-kilometer caldera lake bordering Aomori and Akita prefectures, is a gemlike pool that mirrors the subtle, seasonal changes year-round. Situated in the Tohoku region ― where cold is no stranger ― winter’s arrival replaces spring’s new growth, summer’s verdant vegetation and autumn’s fiery foliage with a skeletal forest standing still under a white sky.
The melancholic weather is perfectly suited for Lake Towada Winter Story, an event encircling the lake with giant snow sculptures, kamakura (igloo) bars and nightly fireworks displays from Feb. 2 to 25*. Now, Virgos may be wondering where their sign symbolism fits into this travel pick.
The venue in the Yasumiya area is where the symbolic Otome no Zo, or the “Maidens by the Lake” statue by poet and pioneering sculptor Kotaro Takamura commemorates the 15th anniversary of Towada-Hachimantai National Park. Although the double virgins seem more of a nod to Gemini ― the other mutable Mercury-ruled sign ― there’s no denying the gracefully perched maidens provide proof of the Virgoan’s presence.
*Lake Towada Winter Story will be closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Otaru in winter. Photo: GaijinPot Travel
Operating under the Venusian principle of partnerships, Libra is the sign where “me” meets “we.” While social bonds can manifest in many ways, the sign of the celestial scales is where intimacy trumps individualism.
Whether you’re planning an outing with friends, family or an intimate partner, the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival will foster feelings of togetherness in this charming port city in Hokkaido. The main venues are along the Otaru Canal, its brick-lined warehouses blanketed with snow resembling frosting on gingerbread houses, and the picturesque 1,600-meter-long promenade on the former site of the Temiya railway line illuminated with snow candles galore.
Frosty winter nights are bound to cause red noses and nipped ears, but Librans can’t factor out how frigid temperatures provide the classic ambiance for romance. Come get a little closer this midwinter with the magical sight of flickering candles, glass fishing floats, and food stalls showcasing a treasure trove of fresh seafood from Feb. 10 to 17.
Lake Shikaribetsu Kotan in Hokkaido. A human-made village crafted entirely of ice will materialize above the frozen shores of its namesake lake from Jan. 27 to March 10. Photo: Daikegoro/Pixta
Scorpios have a reputation for profundity, which is no different from an iceberg’s hidden depths in freezing cold waters. Under traditional rulership of single-minded Mars and modern co-ruler of penetrating Pluto, you would expect no less from this piercingly perceptive sign.
Therefore, any Scorpios looking to get down this dark winter should look no further than the Ice Village at Lake Shikaribetsu Kotan in Hokkaido. A human-made village crafted entirely of ice will materialize above the frozen shores of its namesake lake from Jan. 27 to March 10. Blocks of ice become blank canvases for artistry and architecture, taking shape into a stark white ― almost ghostly in appearance ― kotan (village) in the indigenous language of the Ainu on Japan’s northernmost island.
You’ll spot igloos and ice domes alongside an ice bar, ice lodge and ice chapel where visitors can vow undying love. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Shrouded in winter’s darkness and faced with temperatures dropping to minus 30 degrees Celsius , Scorpios will secretly delight in handling a sculpting pick to carve their own frozen drinkware. Afterward, sneak in some whisky or vodka for a tongue-in-cheek “on the rocks.”
Though the weather outside may be frightful, it’s well worth a visit before these ice structures become too hot to handle ― like the flaming red planet Mars ― and melt back into their watery element.
Celebrate winter with traditional “kamakura” (snow huts) illuminated by candles, creating a serene and picturesque nightime scene in Yokote, Akita Prefecture. Photo: Shutterstock_1099023953
Even in the darkest moments, Sagittarians rarely fail to lose their jovial spirit, given planetary rulership under Jove (Jupiter). The same is true during dark winter months that inspire the centaur to call for a joyous celebration ― be it snow, sleet or freezing rain.
This boundless optimism draws comparison to lighting a candle, an act of hope and faith amidst a sad sack of months devoid of sunlight. Hence, the inviting sight of candlelit kamakura snow domes makes the Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival a spot-on selection for Sagittarius ― the sign of the eternal flame.
Held annually on Feb. 15 and 16, this festival in Yokote City, Akita Prefecture is where glowing orange lights, illuminating the kamakura’s ice-crystal interior, come into the limelight. However, themes of spirituality and devout faith ― core beliefs shared by both Sagittarius, the devoted seeker, and Jupiter ― are not lost as these snow huts also function as snow shrines.
Hollowed snow piles, standing about two meters high, are filled with offerings from amazake (sweet fermented rice beverage) to mochi (glutinous rice) for the water deity enshrined within the altar. Sagittarians will undoubtedly appreciate the abundance of joy brimming at this winter spectacle in the snow-heavy Tohoku region.
The Sapporo Snow Festival hosts impressive snow and ice sculptures across three sites (Odori Park, Susukino and Tsudome), drawing global visitors to admire the winter artistry. This year marks the 74th anniversary of the festival. Photo: GaijinPot Travel
The sensible sea-goat has a knack for getting grounded ― not in the sense of punishment, although “discipline” is well within Saturn’s domain. But what if this down-to-earth sign could schedule downtime to admire gigantic ice and snow sculptures from the ground up?
As a cardinal earth sign, Capricorns readily take on the challenge of moving mountains. However, the Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido’s capital is where mountain moving meets intricate ice-carving and snow-sculpting across three venues: Odori Park, Susukino Site, and Tsudome Site.
Held this year from Feb. 4 to 11, the 74th installment of this annual festival showcases over 200 sculptures spanning various sizes, including historic landmarks from the Sapporo Clock Tower to Helsinki Cathedral alongside anime characters, adorable animals and star athletes like Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani.
Put away your long to-do list, Capricorn, and get packing for the city of Sapporo ― where the solid chill is a warm welcome for festival-goers in frigid February.
11. Aquarius (Jan. 22-Feb. 20): Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival
White Hirosaki Castle and its red wooden bridge in Aomori Prefecture is a fortress with the main tower built atop a hill for better defense and showcasing lantern-lit snow sculptures in the winter, capturing the beauty of northern Japan. Photo: PixHound /iStock
Labels from misanthropy to misunderstood are frequently attached to Aquarians, the detached water bearer commonly mislabeled as a water sign while gripping an overflowing jug.
But the element of air is what provides Aquarius with the right amount of Saturnian restraint to step back and see the bird’s-eye view.
Similarly, such clarity of mind and detached style provided protection for Japanese castles, including the Hirayama-style Hirosaki Castle in Aomori Prefecture. Standing solemnly for over 400 years, this castle constructed on mountainous terrain managed to survive the Sengoku, or Warring States, Period (1454-1573) thanks to its topography. And let’s not forget how the two wavy lines in the Aquarius glyph can resemble jagged peaks along a desolate mountain range.
However, the defenses will come down during the Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival, held from Feb. 9 to Feb. 12. The castle grounds ― complete with terraced walls, fortified moats, and yagura watchtowers to impede invaders ― come alive with colorful paper lanterns featuring artworks found on nebuta (parade floats).
The illuminations also include hundreds of snow lanterns and snow domes sprawling across the spacious grounds, which span over 610,000 square meters. As a humane sign, Aquarians will appreciate the ample space and connectivity of community at a distance.
12. Pisces (Feb. 21-Mar. 19): TeamLab Borderless in Azabudai Hills
TeamLab Borderless opens at Azabudai Hills in Tokyo on Feb. 9, 2024. TeamLab Borderless is a world of artworks without boundaries and a museum without a map. Photo: Keimevo/TeamLab2 Flickr
Traditionally ruled by Jupiter ― whose bounty is as boundless as the sea ― and assigned modern rulership under Neptune ― the sea god who knows no borders ― Pisceans’ monthly travel pick is, without doubt, TeamLab Borderless (TeamLab Borderless in Odaiba was permanently closed on Aug. 31, 2022).
Reopening this year in Azabudai Hills on Feb. 9, this digital art exhibition is a technicolor daydream where the limitations of two-dimensional artworks dissolve into immersive 3D chambers. Operating outside the constraints of a picture frame, this permanent exhibit devotes space and defies perception with a diverse array of multi-sensory works, including three newly unveiled installations.
Inspiring museum-goers to “wander, explore and discover,” Pisces knows best how it feels to occupy a world without boundaries ― be it the blurring of illusion and reality or transcending physical borders, beliefs and backgrounds.
We might be living in a simulation, but TeamLab Borderless is where our dystopian age of misinformation and AI-generated deep fakes takes on a utopian flair, transforming into a technological wonderland.
Jessica Sayuri Boissy is a practicing traditional Western astrologer in Tokyo. She has a Practitioners Level Horary Certificate from The School of Traditional Astrology (STA) and earned her Fundamentals Certificate for natal and predictive techniques at Kepler College.
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