The interannual variation in cold-air outbreak activity over the Japan Sea is investigated using Japan Meteorological Agency buoy 21002 and Quick Scatterometer (QuikSCAT) wind data, Japan Oceanographic Data Center sea surface temperature (SST) data, NCEP–NCAR reanalysis surface wind and sea level pressure (SLP) data, and the winter Arctic Oscillation (AO) index of Thompson and Wallace. Cold-air outbreaks occur during the “winter” November–March period, and wind data for this season for the 19-winter period 1981–2000 were analyzed. Wavelet spectra averaged between 5- and 15-day periods were used to evaluate the intensity of cold-air outbreaks quantitatively. The winter mean wavelet spectra exhibited a clear interannual variation and a significant positive correlation with the AO index, indicating that intensive cold-air outbreaks frequently occur during relatively warm winters caused by a quasi-decadal AO. Based on the SST and SLP data, the low atmospheric surface pressure disturbances tend to develop over the warm East China Sea in warm winters in the positive AO phase. As these low SLP disturbances advance toward the northern Japan islands during the positive AO phase, they intensify more, leading to stronger cold-air outbreaks over the Japan Sea and increased sea surface cooling over the northern Japan Sea.