In the northern part of Nagano is a lovely skiing/hot spring paradise called Nozawa Onsen. Local legend says a monk discovered the hot springs in the 8th century, and the town has been famous for them since the Edo period. These include the 13 public baths (sotoyu), which are open to anyone and everyone, free of charge.
The early years of skiing’s introduction to Japan start at Nozawa Onsen. Plus, it was the area used for the biathlon events during Nagano’s 1998 Olympics. While it’s a place that combines the best of winter sports with traditional Japan, don’t be fooled. English menus, maps, etc., make it accessible to foreigners as well.
We also recommend going around January 15, as that is the Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival. It is one of the biggest fire festivals in Japan (if the name didn’t give that away). The event honors a type of deity known as Dōsojin, to celebrate boys born in the past year, to dispel evil spirits, and to pray for happy marriage.
Tokyo to Nozawa Onsen
A convenient option is to take the shuttle bus they offer from Narita or Haneda to Nozawa Onsen. They offer round-trip services, just make sure to book at least one week in advance. This season, the shuttle bus runs from December 21, 2017, until March 11, 2018. Adults are 11,000 yen, and children (4-12 years old) are 10,000.
Hokuriku Shinkansen’s Hakutaka is the only bullet train to get to Iiyama, the closest station to Nozawa Onsen. It’s a little under two hours and around ¥8,500 one-way. From there, you take the Nozawa Onsen Liner Bus for 600 yen. There is also a taxi option available.
Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort: Info and pricing
The only resort in Nozawa Onsen, but without a doubt, it’s an impressive establishment. Even though it was opened 1924 (one of Japan oldest ski resorts), it has modern lifts and gondolas. It has a good balance of terrain for all levels of experience. There is also a chance to see a view of the Northern Japan Alps and the Sea of Japan. The season typically goes from late November to early May.
The 1-day lift pass is 4,800 yen for adults, 2,200 yen for kids, and 3,700 yen for seniors. Half-day passes are 3,700 yen, 1,600 yen, and 3,000 yen, respectively. Night skiing is also available until 8 pm for adults (1,600 yen) and for kids (850 yen).
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