Coming from a family of avid skiers and snowboarders, I’m constantly on the look-out for top snow spots to visit for a vacay.
And my family hit up the incredible Nozawa Onsen, in the Nagano prefecture of Japan for a ski holiday which everyone needs to check out – even if you don’t ski or snowboard.
The destination surprised us, offering so much more than just skiing and snowboarding. It’s a gorgeous town with so much to see and do, and should be at the top of your winter destination list for plenty of reasons.
1. Japan has the powdery-est snow in the world
The snow quality in Japan is heralded as some of the best for those looking to hit the slopes. Thanks to the cold air blown in from Russia and China, combined with the moisture thanks to the Sea of Japan not freezing, the winds hitting Japan’s mountains creates some of the best, and biggest snow fall in the world.
Making for some very happy snowboarders and skiiers.
2. And in Nozawa it snows all season long
Parts of Japan are known to get snowfall of up to 600 inches in a season, and Nozawa is no exception. The season continues right up until the end of April, thanks to the never-ending dumps of snow.
It’s quite the spectacle seeing the roads cleared, the locals shovelling snow off their roofs and the incredible amounts of snow that fall.
So much is it the case, that the roads are heated to help melt the snow and keep it under control.
3. The little village is steeped in culture
Nozawa Onsen is built on a grouping of hot natural springs.
Onsen literally means hot spring, and the village has plenty of them, as well as traditions that go along with the onsens.
Visiting Nozawa will give you insight into smaller community living, while still enjoying plenty of Japanese heritage and customs.
There are plenty of locals who don’t speak a word of English, but have a huge grin and friendly demeanours, making it feel all the more authentic and welcoming.
4. Including free public onsens – hot springs you can enjoy with the locals
A must-do when you visit Nozawa is try out one of the famed onsens.
There are plenty of them dotted around the village, and they’re natural hot springs that can get up to scalding temperatures. There’s not much that’s better than dipping into an onsen after a hard day on the slopes.
There are plenty of customs and specific onsen etiquette though so make sure you read up before heading in! (One rule is that no swim-suits are allowed at most public onsens, and another that you must rinse off before getting into the water).
5. And a day tour to the snow monkeys is a must-do
These cheeky little monkeys live in the Jikokudani park, and are a must-do while in this region.
The monkeys even have their very own onsen/hot spring to swim in (a learned behaviour from them seeing humans nearby using onsens), and are far more polite than their Balinese or African counterparts.
You’ll get up close and personal to these little creatures and see them in their natural habitat.
6. The food is incredible
As previously mentioned, the food is top-notch.
Notably, the renowned soba noodles originated in the Nagano prefecture, and you can get an authentic taste of them at the hole-in-the-wall Soba Daimon, a family owned soba-noodle restaurant with just four tables and queues out the door (it’s well worth the wait to try though!).
A visit to the trendy snowboarder hangout Neos for a hotpot is a must-do, and while traversing the main strip of Nozawa town, you can munch on Japanese street food from the stalls, including takoyaki (fried octopus balls) or fresh steamed buns stuffed with spicy vegetables.
7. And well, the ski runs are the big seller
The biggest draw card for many is the skiing and boarding of course, and with its sprawling ski runs, beautiful landscapes and fresh powder, it makes for some ideal skiing conditions.
People from all over the world flock to the area to hit the slopes, with beautiful views.
Nozawa Onsen is a two-hour bullet train ride from Tokyo
Fly into Tokyo and enjoy all the capital has to offer, before enjoying the incredible Shinkansen – bullet trains, which get up to speeds of around 300kph.
They’re comfortable, with plenty of space, efficient and timely and while they’re not cheap, they’re all part of the Japan experience.
Book your place via the JR website, and make sure to reserve your seat!
Flights to Tokyo
Emirates flies daily to Haneda Airport in Tokyo, and six-times weekly to Narita Airport in Tokyo.
Book either the Shinkansen ahead of time, or a shuttle bus from the airport direct to Nozawa.