TOP RECOMMENDATIONS Nozawa Onsen
Enjoy a traditional hot spring experience in one of Japan's long-established ski resorts
Nozawa Onsen is a historic hot spring area situated in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture and is one of Japan’s longest-established ski resorts.
The resort sits on the mountainside of Mt Kenashi (1,650m) and offers snow travelers 36 ski slopes and courses including a run 10-kilometers long. With high-quality powder snow covering the resort from the mountaintop to the base of the slopes, Nozawa Onsen is particularly good for long snow runs. The natural hot springs are thought to have been discovered around 1,300 years ago, and the center of the village, nestled at the foot of the mountain, still retains the charm and ambiance of an old-fashioned spa town. If you decide to visit the area, book a stay in a ryokan — a traditional Japanese inn — where you can experience an authentic Japanese getaway with hot springs and local Japanese cuisine. The old spa town center itself also has numerous eateries as well as bars catering to international travelers.
How to get there
At its quickest, the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Iiyama Station takes 1 hour 39 minutes. From Iiyama Station, board the Nozawaonsen Liner bus, arriving in Nozawa Onsen around 25 minutes later. Alternatively, take the Nagaden Bus from Iiyama Station, or the route bus that runs between Nozawa, Iiyama Station and Madarao.
From Tokyo, head for the Toyota Iiyama Interchange via the Kanetsu Expressway and Joshinestu Expressway. The journey takes around 2 hours 30 minutes. From the interchange, take National Road 117 and arrive in Nozawa Onsen in around 25 minutes.
Experience Nozawa Onsen's famous powder snow
The ski slopes of Nozawa Onsen have an altitude differential of as much as 1,085 meters and the quality of its upper level snow is famous among skiers and snowboarders seeking out the best powder — the Yamabiko area is particularly popular because of its exceptional snow quality. You will also find eight official ungroomed runs where you can ride through virgin powder following a fresh snowfall. The Nozawa Onsen Ski School organizes backcountry ski tours, and beacons, shovels and avalanche probes can all be borrowed free of charge.
Connect with nature through snow activities
Thrillseekers will want to try out Zip-Skyride, the 652-meter zipline. Riders drop 122 meters in a single swoop while suspended on a wire cable high above the Hikage slope, reaching top speeds of 70 kilometers an hour. Alternatively, you can explore the snowfields and forests in a 16-seater snowcat on the Snowfield Sightseeing Tour. Get out into Nozawa Onsen's pristine nature and appreciate the area’s beautiful scenery. If you prefer to stroll through nature on foot, try out snowshoeing. There are four separate trails within the ski resort area, with organized snowshoe tours also available.
Take a relaxing outdoor hot spring tour in Nozawa Onsen
There are more than 30 hot spring sources within the Nozawa Village area, and there are 13 open-air public baths where bathers can take a dip free of charge. These baths are owned by the whole village and are run by a system of maintenance and management that has been in place since ancient times. One of the particular pleasures of Nozawa Onsen is taking a tour of the different hot springs. Because their sources are separate, each hot spring has its own properties and health benefits. Entrance to the baths is free, but bathers are encouraged to contribute to the upkeep of the baths by making a donation — you will find tip boxes at each onsen for this purpose. It goes without saying that etiquette and good manners are key for everyone’s enjoyment and comfort.
Those in the know order Shijukara’s Nozawa greens tantanmen noodles
For an authentic Japanese après-ski experience, head to the izakaya Shijukara and order the Nozawa greens tantanmen noodles. These Sichuan-style ramen noodles come in a thick soup of minced meat and Nozawa greens — a turnip-like vegetable that is a specialty to the area — and the dish is the perfect choice if you like your noodles with a spicy kick. The same establishment also specializes in dishes containing grasshoppers, chrysalises and frogs — foods that in the past were a precious source of protein for many in the Japanese countryside. Order some on the side to make your trip to Nozawa Onsen that little bit more memorable.