Archive for July, 2020

Top 4 Ski Resorts Near Tokyo for Families – Easy to Take Kids Around

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

 

When it comes to choosing where to go skiing, it is not so easy with your family. Especially if you are family travellers with kids, it is difficult to find a family-friendly ski resort that is right for you.
For family skiers with kids, the distance from the airport can be a pain… But, did you know that you won’t need to go too far from Tokyo to find a family-friendly ski resort? You can get to some great ski resorts in about 1-2 hours by the bullet train (Shinkansen).
In this article, let me address the top 4 ski resorts near Tokyo for families!

 

Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort 

Gala_Yuzawa

 

One of the most popular snow resorts near Tokyo is Gala Yuzawa. I find it super family-friendly because of the short distance from Tokyo station.
The bonus of choosing Gala Yuzawa Ski Resort is that the train station is directly connected to the ski slopes.
It is worth visiting Gala Yuzawa Ski resort for a day trip if you have one spare day in/ around the Tokyo area.

Another great reason for family skiers to visit Gala Yuzawa Ski Resort is because of its wide range of facilities and activities.
There is plenty of entertainment that kids can enjoy such as the spot called “Snow Enjoyment Park”.
Also, if you wish to learn skiing with kids, you can. Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort offers Group and Private lessons. If your kids are under 12 years old, you need to participate in a private lesson.


A lot of families take a morning private lesson and then enjoy the rest of the day with better skills.
Yuzawa is not only famous for ski but also Hot Springs. From my personal experience, it is an absolutely amazing feeling to soak your cold body in a hot bath. Very quickly, you will feel the muscles in your whole body starting to relax.

 

Recommended by JTB Great for;
A day trip

Duration from Tokyo
75 mins

Access
Transfer by train  Shinkansen: Tokyo Station to Gala Yuzawa Station


Season

History and Culture Mid-December to Mid-April

Opening hours
8:00 – 17:00

Facilities
• Locker
• Rental Gear
• Hot Spring
• Ski Gear Rental
• Day Care (2 – 6 years old)

 

Experience Activities
• English Ski & Snowboard Lessons
• Snowmobile Sleigh Tour
• Sledding
• Snow Enjoyment Park
• Snow Tubing

 

 

Hakuba Valley 

Hakuba_Valley_Ski_Resorts

 

Hakuba is one of the most well-known ski resorts in Japan among Australian snow lovers.
Hakuba consists of 9 different ski resorts and is considered the largest ski area in Japan.
Hakuba Valley is located at the heart of the Japanese Alps, and the quality of the snow powder is world-class.

 

Each resort offers a range of snowfields that will never let you feel bored.
The scenic 8,000m long slope is absolutely spectacular.
Of course, rental snow gear and English ski & snowboard lessons are available at each resort.

 

It takes 1.5 hours from Tokyo station to Nagano station by Shinkansen, and then an express bus to Hakuba Snow for 1 hour.
So, it is further away than Gala Yuzawa, however, soon after you will find out why the winter Olympics was held there!

 

When you spend a few days in the same spot, kids can get bored. If that happens, why don’t you take our “Snow Monkey Tour”?
It includes a little walking to the spot where you can see the furry little guys close up, and visit a temple dated back to the 15th century.
This is a fantastic one-day tour for both adults and kids.

 

Recommended by JTB  Great for;
At least two days

Duration from Tokyo
Total: 2 ½ hours

Access
Transfer by train Shinkansen: 90 min from Tokyo Station

Bus transfer Express Bus: 60 min

History and Culture  Season

Mid-December to End of April


History and Culture Activities

• English Ski & Snowboard Lessons
• Snowmobile Tour
• Sledding
• Snow Parks
• Snow Tubing

Experience  Things to do in Hakuba when Not Skiing

• Snow Monkey Tour
• Hot Spring
• Matsumoto Castle (80 min by train) See on Google map
• Kimono Culture tour
• Cooking Class

 

Naeba Ski Resort

Naeba_Ski_resorts_Japan

 

Naeba Ski Resort also has massive snowfields with great facilities. Naeba is located in the southern part of Echigo Yuzawa town where Gala Yuzawa is.

The maximum elevation of Mt. Naeba is 1,789m which makes Naeba Ski Resort popular due to the quality of powder snow. The snow quality of Naeba is said to be one of the best of the ski resorts near Tokyo.

Another reason that makes Naeba Ski Resort popular is the “Dragondola”: the longest Gondola (5,481m) in Japan. The Dragondola connects Naeba and Kagura Ski Resorts, so you can enjoy completely different types of courses.
Kids will love to take a ride on the Dragondola and enjoy up-and-down all the way to the other side of the ski resort.

If you are thinking of a snow holiday in Japan for a few days, Naeba Prince Resort will be a great option for your family due to its convenience.
Naeba Prince Resort is situated just right in front of the ski slope, and it offers great ski-in/ski-out facilities. It will definitely make your ski holiday easier with kids.

Recommended by JTB Great for;
A few days stay

Duration from Tokyo
3 hours


Access
Transfer by train Shinkansen: Tokyo Station to Echigo Yuzawa Station
Bus transfer Shuttle Bus: Echigo Yuzawa Station to Naeba Prince Hotel (Free for hotel guest)

History and Culture Season
Mid-December to Mid-April


Facilities
• Locker
• Rental Gear
• Hot Spring
• Ski Gear Rental

History and Culture Activities
• Fireworks (Only held during peak season)
• English Ski & Snowboard Lessons
• Sledding
• Snow Park
• Snow Tubing

 

 

Karuizawa Ski Resort 

Karuizawa_Prince_Ski_resort

 

Karuizawa Ski Resort is very accessible from Tokyo. It is only about an hour by Shinkansen. Generally, Karuizawa is not really known as a ski resort, rather it’s known as an upmarket mountain resort at the foot of Mt. Asama in Nagano Prefecture.


As far as the distance from Tokyo is concerned, the size of Karuizawa Ski Resort is satisfying.
There are a total of 10 courses that are comprised of 5 beginner, 2 intermediate and 3 advanced courses. Because of this family-friendly structure, Karuizawa is also popular for family skiers from Tokyo. As a one-day getaway from Tokyo’s crowds, Karuizawa Ski Resort is perfect.

 

Karuizawa is also a Tokyoite’s favourite because it is home to one of the largest outlet shopping centres in Japan. 240 shops await your visit to Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza.
Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza is located right next to the Karuizawa Station where you get the Shinkansen.
The good news for family skiers here is that they offer a great range of eateries from family-friendly budget restaurants to fine dining.


To be fair, even if you do not go for skiing or snowboarding, Karuizawa is an excellent getaway from Tokyo to experience a different style of the day in nature. As a bonus, you will be able to let your kids play in the snow during the wintertime.

 

Recommended by JTB Great for;
A day trip

Duration from Tokyo
60 mins


Access
Transfer by train Shinkansen: Tokyo Station to Karuizawa Station

History and Culture Season
Best from Mid-December to Mid-April


Facilities
• Rental Gear
• Night Skiing
• Ski Gear Rental


History and Culture Activities
• Sightseeing Lift for non-skiers
• English Ski & Snowboard Lessons & Guides
• Sledding
• Kid’s Snow Park
• Snow Tubing

 

Summary   

These four ski resorts are highly accessible from Tokyo; they will definitely make your journey easier with kids as you will not have to travel so long. In addition, if you are looking to spend a day around Tokyo, Echigo Yuzawa and Karuizawa are only 1 hour away from Tokyo Station. These destinations will offer you different experiences for your Japan trip. Of course, all of these ski resorts are also recommended for those after a longer stay to experience Japan’s powder snow.  

 

Go_To_Japan_Ski

 

8 Things You Must Do In Hokkaido – Fun Winter Activities

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

 

Hokkaido has breathtaking winter landscapes for one to enjoy. It has been famous for their powder snow and thanks to that person from all around the world would flock to Hokkaido just to ski or snowboard. What a lot of people don’t know is that there are actually a lot of outdoor activities that one can participate in, apart from skiing or snowboarding. These include snow festivals, hot springs, ice fishing and many more. 

 

Enjoy snow sculptures at the Snow Festival 

Hokkaido_Enjoy snow sculptures at the Snow Festival

 

Hokkaido showcases beautiful ice and snow sculpture that consists of different sizes in the month of February. Think of the movie “Frozen” and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported into that very movie. You can experience this at the most prestigious snow festival – The Sapporo Snow Festival that is held in Odori Park.

Head there to immerse yourself with giant themed snow sculptures that change annually. The TV tower in the background is the best place to get a panoramic view of Sapporo. There is also a snow sculpture contest is held at the end of the festival.

Another of the famous winter festivals of Hokkaido is The Otaru Snow Light Path Festival. This festival is held in Otaru town in the second week of February annually. Snow sculptures are lit up in the evening and at night, especially around the Otaru Canal alongside with 200 blinking floating orb candles. In addition to that, the city is decorated with night illuminations, so take your time walking around Otaru during the evening as it feels very magical.

 

 

Go for an arctic adventure on an ice-breaking cruise (Ryuhyo) 

Go for an arctic adventure on an ice-breaking cruise

 

If you want an artic adventure, take the train towards Abashiri and Shiretoko Peninsula and hop onboard the Aurora Ice Breaker. The drift ice that you can see here is one of the most spectacular winter phenomena and can only be found at a few places in the world: such as the Arctic Ocean, Antarctic Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk in Hokkaido.

 

It is a beautiful sight as you will be on an ice-breaking cruise, cruising through an abundance of beautiful drift ice across the sea of Okhotsk. You also get to spot seals, Steller’s sea eagles and other marine wildlife in their natural habitat. If you like, you can also rent a dry suit to walk directly on top of the ice. 

 

Try out Ice Fishing Experience in this cold winter 

Hokkaido_Try out Ice Fishing Experience in this cold winter

 

 

Have you ever heard of smelt fishing? It’s basically going into a vinyl tent known as ‘koyatsuri’, that is heated it up so you’re nice and warm before you sit, and drill a hole in the ice where you fish for smelt and then make tempura on the spot with what you catch. Alternatively, you can also fish out in the open on the ice if you prefer the cold. It is a super fun activity not only for family and friends but with your loved ones as well. The popular ice fishing spots are Barato Lake, Lake Akan, Lake Shinotsu, Lake Kanayama and Lake Onuma. 

 

Enjoy rejuvenating yourself at the hot springs

Hokkaido_ Enjoy rejuvenating yourself at the hot springs

 

Hokkaido is home to hundreds of onsen sources. Noboribetsu Onsen, located in Shikotsu Toya National Park, is considered one of the best onsen spots in Japan. Alternatively, on the outskirts of downtown Sapporo lies Jozankei Onsen.

 

I do recommend visiting this area during autumn or winter as the valley is surrounded by a beautiful snowy landscape. Bathing in an onsen is the fastest way and also the most relaxing way to heat your body up and rejuvenate yourself. It is particularly romantic when you’re soaking yourself in an outdoor onsen and snowflakes start to fall slowly around you. 

 

Snow Mobile Adventures through powder snow 

Hokkaido_Snow Mobile Adventures through powder snow

 

In Japan, you do not require a driving license to operate a snowmobile, so why not take this opportunity to take a ride on the snowmobile and enjoy riding with the wind against your face through the untouched, natural surroundings of Hokkaido.

You can choose to do a lap around the track or even head far and high into the mountains of powder with an experienced guide showing you the way.  If that feels a bit too extreme for you, why not try banana boat rides instead. Something less adventurous but still fun regardless. 

 

 

Dog Sledding Adventures

Hokkaido_Dog Sledding Adventures

 

Have you ever wanted to drive your own sled with a team of dogs on a trail stretching out on a snowy white horizon? If you have watched the movie snow dogs, it is similar as you will get to experience the power and stamina of Alaskan Huskies, as you make your way through the trail, surrounded by picturesque snow-capped mountains. It is definitely a memorable experience!

 

 

Snow Shoeing fun times

Hokkaido_Snow Shoeing fun times

 

For those who love hiking and also nature walks, why not strap on some snowshoes and explore remote mountains, lakes, and rivers. Snowshoeing is similar to hiking, where you strap extensions onto your winter hiking boots to help you hike in the snow by distributing your weight over a larger area, so as not to sink.

If you’re nearby to Shiretoko National Park, you can even head towards the famous Furepe Waterfall that’s surrounded by the winter forest. If you are lucky, you will also get to glimpse the deer that inhabit the area or even see traces of other wild animals. It is an adventure that is loved by many as you get to enjoy a full day out in nature. 

 

 

Enjoy a Disney Frozen adventure at Lake Shikaribetsu Kotan

Hokkaido_Enjoy a Disney Frozen adventure at Lake Shikaribetsu Kotan

 

This is a special event that takes place in Shikaoi Town during the coldest time of the year; from late January to early March. During the Lake Shikaribetsu Kotan, a small village is made out of snow on the frozen lake of Lake Shikaribetsu.


You not only get to enter igloos, but there’s also an ice bar for you to order some cocktails, an ice theatre, a chapel to get married at, a foot bath, an onsen experience, a concert hall with live music and night illuminations for one to experience. It feels like a magical dream world is created temporarily and disappears again once the weather becomes warmer. 

 

So head over to Hokkaido during winter!

These are just some of my top picks for what you can do in Hokkaido during winter, aside from skiing and snowboarding; there are many more options!

If you would like to experience the beauty and diversity of Hokkaido, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us or your local Travel Agent and we can help plan the perfect itinerary for you!

 

Go_To_Japan_Ski

Get Your Tohoku Basics Covered – The Deep North of Japan

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

 

Take a dive into the deep north of Tohoku; a region that’s rich in culture, natural beauty, sacred mountains and warm-hearted locals! An authentic and traditional experience awaits in the north, far away from the touristy cities! 

 

Accessing Tohoku 

Tohoku is a region in Japan that includes six prefectures in the north of the mainland Honshu.

It is well connected by rail and air to both mainland Japan and Hokkaido. Another way to get around is by rental car, which is useful for getting to some small towns not easily accessible by train. 


By Plane

 

There are 9 airports in the Tohoku region and many airlines have flights domestically from Haneda Airport, Narita International Airport, New Chitose Airport, Nagoya Airport, Osaka International Airport and Fukuoka Airport.
Tokyo to Sendai (the largest city in Tohoku) is a little over an hour, while Tokyo to Aomori (the northernmost airport) is around 1 hour and 20 mins.

Consider taking a domestic flight rather than going from the airport to Tohoku via the bullet train – the journey is a lot longer and can be more expensive if you don’t have a Japan Rail Pass. If you do have a Japan Rail Pass, it can use up one of your days.

 

By Rail  

The rail system in Tohoku is quite vast and it’s quite easy to get around main cities and smaller towns. Using the bullet trains are the best way to get around quickly, though it can be more expensive, the Japan Rail Passes are a convenient way to offset this cost.   

 

Tohoku by Train – Which Japan Rail Pass should I get? 

Japan Rail Pass

 

Looking to explore the deep north via rail? There are a few options with the Japan Rail Pass for Tohoku, which one you’ll want to choose depends on how long you’ll be staying and travelling. Here are a few recommendations, or if you’d like more information please don’t hesitate to give us a call! 

 

Japan Rail East Tohoku Area Pass – 5-day Flex

This pass covers JR trains and JR buses in Tohoku however it is only a 5-day flex pass. What’s a flex pass? This means that the pass isn’t a consecutive pass, so you can use this pass for 5 days in a 14-day period. This pass is the cheapest option and generally the best value for money if you can condense your travel days to only 5 days.
Best to get this pass: If you’re only going to have 5 days of travel in between destinations in Tohoku. 

 


Japan Rail National Pass – 7/14/21 day pass 

This pass covers JR trains and JR buses across the whole of Japan. The pass comes in 7-day, 14-day, and 21-day passes. This pass is a consecutive pass, however, so keep that in mind when you plan your travel!
Best to get this pass: If you’re going to have more than 5 days of travel or if you’re going to be travelling on from Tohoku!

Japan Rail East-South Hokkaido Pass – 6 days Flex

This pass covers JR trains and JR buses from Tokyo, through Tohoku and to southern Hokkaido ending around New Chitose Airport. This pass is also a flex pass, so it covers 6 days of travel in a 14-day period.
Best to get this pass: If you’re going to be travelling in Tohoku and up to south Hokkaido as well with only 6 travel days.

See JR Pass Page

 

 

By Car  

The rental car is a good way to get around this region, especially if you’re looking to reach a few out of the way places. While the car hire is not necessarily expensive, Japan does have a lot of tolls for freeways so be aware that this will be an additional cost. A way to offset this is by purchasing an expressway pass – for a set price for a certain amount of days (2 days+), this pass gives unlimited access to the toll freeways included with the pass.                 

 

Tohoku facts

Tohoku_Facts

 

Once an area native to the Emishi and Ainu peoples before the Japanese civilization settled in northern Japan, the Tohoku region is steeped in history and culture that has been carefully preserved. Areas like Aizu-Wakamatsu in Fukushima and Kakunodate in Akita are known for their preserved samurai districts that are open to the public.

Tohoku was known as Japan’s granary for a time, accounting for around 20% of Japan’s rice crop, and it is still known for the fabulous products that come from its prefectures – apples from Aomori, cherries and grapes from Yamagata, strawberries from Miyagi and peaches from Fukushima, to name a few!

Looking for more info on places to visit in Tohoku?
Take a look at the JR East Tohoku Pass: The 10 Best Places to Visit in Tohoku blog post

 

Explore Japan By Train

Japan Rail Pass

An Introduction to Japan’s Game Centres!

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

 

Despite the decline of amusement arcades in the Western world, Japan’s Game Centres have increased in popularity from the 1960s to present and have become a part of the culture. Experience it for yourself on your next trip to Japan!  

 

What are Game Centres? 

Ikeburkuro_Game_center_Tokyo

 

A Game Centre, or (amusement) arcade, holds a variety of different game machines and experiences designed to entertain. In large cities game centres span several floors, each floor categorised by game genre. From UFO catchers, fighting games, rhythm games, racing games, simulation games, to purikura (Japanese photo booths), Game Centres have a little something for everyone!

Game Centres are located just about everywhere across Japan, barring some smaller and rural towns. In large cities, entertainment districts will have more variety of game centres, like Akihabara or Shinjuku in Tokyo and Umeda or Namba in Osaka.

 

6 Tips for a terrific trip to a Game Centre! 

Thinking of heading to a Game Centre on your next trip to Japan? Here are some tips to make sure you have an awesome time!

 

1. Don’t worry about bringing change!  

There are change machines scattered throughout the many floors of the Game Centres, which will break down your notes to smaller denominations. Most change machines will give you choices for how much to break it down to – 500JPY or 100JPY coins. The machines can change up to 10000JPY notes, although I wouldn’t advise bringing that much money – unless you’re planning to game the day away!  

 

2. Check out the floor map!

At the front of the store and at the staircases or escalators, there will be a sign that lists the type of game you can find at each level of the store. If you want to play a specific type of game it’s best to check the floor map, as each Game Centres has a different setup. 

 

3. Take the stairs or escalators! 

In most Game Centres, there will be an elevator on offer to get to different floors. My recommendation is to avoid taking the elevator if you’re able to. The elevators are usually small and can take a very long time, especially during peak hours.  

 

4. Keep an eye on how much you’re spending!


When it comes to getting toys from UFO catchers, it’s very easy to get lost in the ‘one more try’ and spend way too much money! Set yourself a limit for how much you’d be willing to spend on the item at a store and don’t push your luck past that.

 

5. Avoid the sensory overload of the Pachinko floor!


Found on the second or basement floor, although not all Game Centres have them, Pachinko is a game played with either small pinballs or medals akin to a slot machine type game. These games are the closest you’ll get to legalised slot machines in Japan and most award tickets to be redeemed for cash off-premises. The machines make a lot of sounds and these floors allow smoking, so it can be sensory overload if you’re not used to it!

 

6. Club Sega? Taito Station? Keep note of which Game Centre you’re in!


Main games from publishers like Capcom, Bandai Namco, Koei-Tecmo and Konami will be available across Game Centres, however, some games can differ so it’s a good idea to keep a note if you’ve found a game you like. For example, Project Diva – a Vocaloid rhythm game – is owned by Sega, so it’s only available at Sega Game Centres.

 

Top 3 Game Centres to try in Tokyo 

There are a lot of different Game Centres to choose from in Tokyo, so here are a recommended few to keep in mind!

1. Club Sega – Ikebukuro 

Sega_Ikebukuro_Tokyo

 

This Club Sega spans 6 floors, plus a basement café and a 7th-floor café which feature collaborations with various anime and video games. It’s located near Ikebukuro Station and not far from the Sunshine City mall, where the Pokémon centre resides.

 

If you get hungry while gaming, why not step outside and have a taiyaki, a Japanese waffle-type cake usually with the shape of a fish, at the Sega Taiyaki stand? The taiyaki at this stand comes in the shape the Sega logo, although for special limited times they also offer taiyaki in the shape of anime characters.

 

2. Taito Station HEY! (Hirose Entertainment Yard) – Akihabara

Taito Station HEY! (Hirose Entertainment Yard) - Akihabara

 

Well known as one of the spots gamers go to show off and swap tips, Taito HEY has a mixture of both new and retro arcade games but the draw of Taito HEY is definitely the retro games. Taito HEY has a great range of classic shooting and fighting arcade games, even some classic Tetris! 

 

3. Joypolis – Odaiba  

Joypolis_Odaiba_Tokyo

 

Part Game Centre, part amusement park, Joypolis is part of the huge entertainment area in Odaiba. Here you’ll find all manner of game machines alongside amusement park attractions like a haunted house, indoor rollercoaster, even VR games! There is an admission fee for entry, or you can purchase the admission pass which gives entry and unlimited rides and games (barring the latest VR attraction, which requires a separate fee). 

 

Summary 

With a variety of different games, Game Centres are a good way to incorporate a touch of Japanese arcade culture into your next trip to Japan. Whether it’s a quick jaunt while waiting for your next train, or a few hours of fun, you’ll be sure to enjoy yourself at one of the many Game Centres throughout Japan!  

 

Footer CTA banner

Things to Do in Tohoku Japan in Winter – Winter Activity Selections

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

 

Tohoku, the region north of Tokyo has many top-class ski resorts and most are easily accessible by train, making it a great area to head to for winter fun. There are also many other winter activities you can experience in the Tohoku region and many of them, I would argue, is way better than skiing or snowboarding.

 

Whether it is relaxing sore muscles in an amazing onsen after skiing, riding a special train, trying other winter sports or visiting a special winter festival, winter is a great time to be heading north in Japan!

 

Getting Outdoors

Snow_shoeing_Japan

 

There are other winter activities on offer in Tohoku that you might like to enjoy after your ski holiday or in-between some winter sightseeing. Snow-shoeing is one such activity that I highly recommend. To be upfront, I am not much of a skier, having spent more time sitting in the snow than standing upright. So before trying snow-shoeing I was a bit concerned that it would not be for me.

I was pleasantly surprised to find it quite easy to do, no more difficult than an easy hike. I joined a snow-shoeing tour from my accommodation, Oirase Keiryu Hotel in Aomori Prefecture. This hotel has a wonderful onsen, many winter activities to try, as well as comfortable Japanese/Western-style accommodation, also don’t get me started on the amazing apple pie at the dinner buffet!

We were taken to a beautiful area near the Oirase Keiryu stream and provided with all the equipment necessary for snow-shoeing. During winter the waterfalls freeze to form amazing ice sculptures and our snow-shoeing adventure took us up close to some of these winter creations. A very enjoyable winter activity!

 

Snow Monsters at Zao Onsen in Yamagata Prefecture

While in many other countries during winter, giant Christmas trees are being illuminated with twinkling lights, in Japan winter illuminations can be towering ice sculptures or a tunnel of lights.

 

There are many places to visit to see some truly spectacular winter illuminations throughout Japan and one of the best in the Tohoku region is the Snow Monsters at Zao Onsen in Yamagata Prefecture. Zao Onsen is a ski area where you can relax in hot springs after a day on the slopes, much needed if you are a poor skier like me.

 

The unique weather conditions in the area cover parts of the trees in a thick layer of snow creating monstrous forms. From late December to the end of February these snow monsters are illuminated at night with a rainbow of colours. Take the gondola up for the full effect. Even if you are not into skiing Zao Onsen is a fun place to visit in the winter months.

 

 

Special Trains

Snow_Train_Japan

 

It is hard to avoid taking a trip on a train when travelling around Japan, nor should you, as they are convenient to get you from A to B. Trains are also great for catching up on sleep between sightseeing, although not if you miss your stop, that is a story for another time.

 

In this post, I want to share two train journeys that you won’t want to sleep through and I highly recommend you go out of your way to travel on. Meet locals and fellow tourists on an intimate train experience travelling up the Tsugaru Peninsula in Aomori Prefecture.

Tsugaru Railway runs seasonal trains with different themes. In winter the train has a daruma stove (coal stove) inside the train carriage to keep it warm. Purchase some locally caught dried squid that the conductor will grill on top of the stove for you or drink sake and swap stories with your fellow passengers while admiring the winter scenery.

 

In neighbouring Iwate Prefecture, the Kotatsu Train runs throughout winter. Kotatsu is low heated tables covered in a doona that many Japanese people have in their houses, they are warm and cozy to curl up under during the freezing winter months.

kotatsu

On this train, you can experience the same warmth under your own kotatsu while looking out at the spectacular winter scenery passing by the train windows. The journey is from Kuji to Miyako along the Iwate coast and takes around 1hr40mins.

Look out for the Namahage (demons) that visit each carriage looking for misbehaving passengers, you definitely won’t be able to sleep through this train journey!

 

Snow Covered Onsen

nzan_Onsen_in_Yamagata_Prefecture

 

If you have read any of my other posts you will know that I am a huge fan of onsen and it is probably what I miss the most when I am not in Japan. Especially when the weather is cold, there is nothing more comforting than soaking in the hot onsen water. It is even better when the onsen is surrounded by snow and the air is crisp.

There are plenty of great places in Japan where you can experience this for yourself and Tohoku is one of the best for this due to the high snowfall and abundance of onsen towns. Here are a few that I recommend.

 

Ginzan Onsen is like something out of a storybook. Located in Yamagata Prefecture, this quaint town has traditional buildings situated either side of a river with bridges crossing at intervals. During the day you can stroll through the town, visiting the small shops and cafes. During winter the place becomes magical with a backdrop of white snow.

 

Particularly at night when all the ryokans turn on their lights walking along the river in the snow is an experience that is not the same anywhere else. I stayed at Takimikan Ryokan, which is situated a short drive from the main town on the hilltop overlooking Ginzan Onsen. Dinner was served in our room and the hot spring had a spectacular view into the valley. At night they have a free shuttle to take you to the main hot spring area so that you can experience the wonderful atmosphere.

 

Summary   

So what do you think? Do any of these activities appeal to you? I certainly hope so. For those who are not into skiing and snowboarding or those who want to add more to their winter ski trip, there are some great things to try in the Tohoku region. Maybe I will meet you in an onsen next time!

 

Go_To_Japan_Ski

 

Four Great Ski Resorts in Tohoku Japan – Introducing Hidden Gems of Ski Resorts

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

 

I sometimes wish it would snow and although I know I can travel to one of the ski resorts in country Victoria, it just doesn’t quite compare to the amazing range of ski fields in Japan. After a day on the slopes, relaxing in a hot spring or drinking hot sake at a bar with friends are some of the wonderful benefits of skiing in Japan.

 

Many people will have heard of some of the resorts in the Nagano region as well as those in Hokkaido. However, in this post, I would like to introduce some of the great skiing and boarding options in Tohoku, the northern region of the main island. Many of the resorts are easy to access by train and offer great skiing as well as having a longer season than some of the other ski areas. 

 

Appi Kogen: Fun and Family

8 best ski resorts in Japan for families: beginner to advanced

 

This resort always sticks in my mind due to the catchy slogan, “Be Happy in Appi”. I think this encapsulates the essence of this resort, being a happy, fun, family-friendly ski area.

Access is straight forward, bullet train to Morioka, local train to Appi-Kogen Station, then a 10minute bus. All the trains are valid on the JR pass. This is a resort-style ski field, with no town attached.

Eating, drinking and playing is all done at your accommodation and there is a great range of restaurants, a ski area for kids and ski and board lessons with English speaking instructors.

 

This is a great area for families but not so much if you are wanting to get out and about on the town at night. The various accommodation options are of a high standard and the Hotel Appi Grand is ski-in and ski-out.

If you are looking for the next place to ski with your family in Japan definitely consider Appi Kogen. 

 

Zao Onsen: Monsters and Hot Springs

Frost_Covered_Trees_of_Zao1

 

This hot spring town is worth visiting at any time of year if you are an onsen aficionado such as me.

In wintertime, many people visit here for the skiing, the onsen and the snow monsters. Sounds scary? Due to the unique weather conditions of Zao Onsen, the heavy snow covers the trees on the slopes creating monstrous forms.

To get to Zao, take the bullet train from Tokyo to Yamagata Station and then it is a 40minute bus to the ski resort. What is great about skiing at Zao is that not only can you get out and enjoy the snow but also in the evenings relax in the hot springs and experience a traditional Japanese meal.

 

Many of the accommodation options have traditional Japanese rooms, but even if you are not so keen to sleep on futons there are some western options as well. Some people just visit Zao Onsen for a few days of winter sightseeing, but there are plenty of slopes including a 10km run that will keep the more avid skiers and boarders busy for a longer stay. 

 

Shizukuishi: Japanese Resort Escape

Shizukuishi_Japan

 

Saying the name of this resort 10 times fast is a challenge, but tongue-twisting name aside, this resort is part of the Prince Hotel Chain and is an excellent base for skiing in Iwate Prefecture.

There is only one hotel, the Shizukuishi Prince Hotel and it is conveniently skiing in and ski-out. A huge feature of this property is the amazing Takakura Onsen, a heritage hot spring with a particularly beautiful outdoor bath.

If you like a variety of ski slopes there are other ski fields not too far away including Amihari Onsen, Iwate Kogen and Tazawako.

 

To get to Shizukuishi is a bullet train ride from Tokyo to either Shizukuishi Station or Morioka Station then a bus from there. However, if you are planning on visiting multiple ski fields, hiring a car from one of these stations will give you more flexibility.

If you are bringing your family please be aware there are no kids group lessons in English, so this area may be more suited to experienced skiers or couples and friend groups.

Not too many foreign visitors head to this resort so if you want to ski with locals this is a great place to be!

 

Hakkoda: For the Powder Lovers

Hakkoda_Ropeway_Hokkaido

 

For those of you who don’t realise yet, I am not the best skier and what attracts me to a ski resort is definitely additional facilities and onsen, lots of onsens. So when I say there is no way I would be visiting Hakkoda, it is not because the ski resort is terrible, in fact, it is a fantastic ski resort, but rather due to my lack of skiing ability I would not be able to cope with the difficulty level of the ski runs.

 

If, unlike me, you are a very good skier or boarder or like getting off-piste, skiing through amazing powder snow and backcountry skiing than you should definitely check out Hakkoda. This is the place for the powder hounds.

 

To get here is not too difficult thanks to the bullet train from Tokyo to Aomori, then you can take a bus for an hour and you are there. There is accommodation at the base, although no nightlife or town atmosphere. If you like to combine your powder skiing with other activities consider staying at a hot spring a bit further away or even in Aomori city. This is the place for experienced skiers and boarders and if you want to avoid crowds come during the week. 

 

Summary 

Many Australians visit the ski fields in Japan, with most heading to popular resorts such as Niseko or Hakuba but there are many other resort options that you might find suit your requirements for an excellent ski holiday. For me, it is definitely the onsen that will help in my choice of resort, but whether you are a family, expert skiers, onsen lovers or after a place to ski with locals, Tohoku has plenty of options for you! 

 

Why I love Japan in Winter – foods and culture to warm you up

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

 

Cherry blossom and Autumn leaves are very sought-after times to plan a trip to Japan, but Winter has a few perks that are worth considering. Here is to why I love Japan during the cold months.

 

Seasonal produce

Winter_Food

 

From left to right: fresh oysters, snow crab, traditional imagawayaki hot cake, fugu sashimi

Japan is the place to explore new foods. On the street, at midnight, anywhere and anytime.
Winter is the time for the likes of snow crab, oysters, fugu, kan buri (winter Amberjack), and all sorts of citruses to come in season.
Japan loves seasonal specials, so all cakes and treats come in their wintery flavours of sweet potato, purple potato, chestnut, pumpkin etc… so you can rediscover your favourite chocolate or cheesecake in new flavours!

 


Drinks and foods to warm you up

 

hot-drink-machine-free-use

 

As you may know, vending machines are a common sight from busy streets to hidden mountain trails. In Winter, some drinks are offered warmly to keep you exploring. You may try hot corn soup, hot honey lemon, hot red bean sweet soup as well as coffee and tea, straight from the machine!

Sake also has a warm option, and you are also able to request your favourite plum wine or other liquors cut with hot water in lieu of soda water. Try something new with Amazake: a thick and sweet alcoholic drink made from fermented rice enjoyed over Winter.

 

Traditional Japanese Winter Dishes

From Sukiyaki (beef in strong sweet soy sauce) to Shabu Shabu (pork), from Motsu Nabe (offal) to Chanko nabe (rich nabe enjoyed by sumo wrestlers), ‘nabe’ (hot pot) is the start of the show. Each region has its own version and there is almost no limit to the ingredients. The soup base can be simple dashi broth, thick miso or soy seasoned soup, or even soy milk. They are all delicious and perfect to warm you up.

Oden is another type of stewed dish, consisting of various ingredients such as boiled eggs, daikon, konjac, processed fishcakes and tofu stewed in a light, soy-flavoured dashi broth. This is my favourite midnight snack, and it is available from most convenience stores. You can also find specialised restaurants, for a more refined option.

 

Winter Wonderland

 

 kotatsu

 

After a day of sightseeing or skiing, there is nothing better than to laze out in a hot spring in the middle of Winter. After your well-deserved soak, drawl under a kotatsu – a Japanese low table covered in a blanket, with a heater concealed underneath, and enjoy your evening!

 

Illuminations

Tokyo_Midtown)_Christmas_Illumination

 

Inspired by Christmas lights traditions of the West, Japan has taken Winter illuminations to a whole new level, and many events are held to showcase breathtaking wonderland displays.

 

Spend New Year’s Differently

 

Hatsumode_Japan

 

Japanese New Year takes place on the same day as the Western calendar. Families gather for this occasion, and often shops or businesses are closed through the first week of January. On the evening of December 31st, traditional dishes are prepared in tiered lacquer boxes. This is called Osechi ryôri.

 

All ingredients and dishes have a meaning and are meant to bring luck, health and prosperity to the family in the new year. At midnight or on the first day of the year, crowds gather at their local shrine or temple for the first visit of the year: Hatsumode. The new year is a quieter family time, but more international areas of the main cities will also host parties, so you can pick your vibe.

 

Winter Activities

Going to a Sumo match!

Tokyo Sumo tournament takes place in January every year, so this is a perfect occasion to experience a match first hand!

See Mount Fuji with clear skies

Mt Fuji is a bit of a diva, but the very dry climate of Japan during Winter makes it a perfect time to catch a clear view of the majestic volcano.

 

Fewer crowds, more fun!

Japan offers a lot to do and see during the cold months, on top of having some of the best powder snow. If you still want to enjoy some flowers, early Cherry blossom in Okinawa start as early as January, and plum blossoms peak in February!

 

Go_To_Japan_Ski

 

Top 5 Under the Radar Japan Ski Resorts

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

 

If you’re a keen skier or snowboarder, chances are you’ve either been to Japan to check out the amazing deep powder, or it’s on your bucket list. Now, Japan certainly is not short of ski resorts, there are over 500 of them throughout the country, and you’re probably well aware of the popular International ski resorts Niseko and Hakuba. While Niseko and Hakuba are amazing areas to ski, we’d like to introduce you to some of the lesser-known ski areas in Japan that are also worth your consideration!

 

Shiga Kogen

Shiga_Kogen_Prince_Hotels

 

Located in the highlands of Nagano Prefecture, Shiga Kogen is by far the largest ski area in Japan. Comprised of 21 interlinked ski resorts all covered by one ski pass, there is something for everyone with terrain suitable for all skiing abilities. Shiga Kogen is well known for being the closest ski resort to the snow monkey park – only around 30mins by bus, offering another attraction aside from hitting the slopes! 



Season: Mid December – Early May                                                                               
A number of Courses/Runs: 139 
Closest Airports: Haneda & Narita                                                                       
Access; 
1. Shuttles run from Haneda & Narita Airport and take approximately 4-5 hours.
2. Purchase the JR East Nagano/Niigata flex pass, and take a bullet train from Tokyo to Nagano Station in approximately 2 hours. From here there are frequent buses that will take you to the resort area within an hour.

 

Zao Onsen

Zao_Ski_resort

 

Located North of Tokyo in Tohoku, Yamagata Prefecture, Zao Onsen is best known for its surreal phenomena ‘Snow Monsters’, which are snow-covered fir trees. As the name suggests, Zao is also a beautiful onsen (hot spring) town, and there is nothing better than soaking away in the hot waters of mineral-rich springs after a big day on the slopes! The ski resort has a wide variety of different courses to suit different levels of both skiers and snowboarders. From beginner slopes to intermediate/advanced slopes where you can glide through the ‘Snow Monsters’, Zao Onsen can cater to all! 

 

Season: Early December – Early May                                                                                                                                     
A number of Courses/Runs: 26                                                                                                                                               
Closest Airports: Haneda & Narita (closer are the smaller Yamagata and Sendai airports)                     
Access: Purchase the JR East Tohoku flex pass, and take a bullet train from Tokyo to Yamagata Station in approximately 2.5 hours. From here there are frequent buses that will take you to the resort area within 45 minutes.

 

Furano

Furano_Ski_Resort

 

Located in central Hokkaido, Japan’s north island, Furano is famous for beautiful clear blue skies and some of the deepest powder in Japan! The town of Furano is particularly quaint, allowing you to enjoy authentic Japanese culture and cuisine. Aside from the wide range of different slopes for all levels of ability, you can also enjoy all kinds of snow sports, local arts and crafts, and illuminations throughout winter!

 

Season: Mid December – Early May                                                                                                                                         
A number of Courses/Runs: 23                                                                                                                                                 
Closest Airports: Asahikawa & New Chitose                                                                                                                           
Access: Coach transfer from New Chitose Airport or Sapporo city will take approximately 3 hours. From Asahikawa, it takes only 1 hour.

 

 

Nozawa Onsen

Nozawa_Onsen_Ski_resort

 

Located in the north of Nagano prefecture, Nozawa Onsen has gained more and more international visitors each year in the winter season due to it’s growing popularity as both a great ski destination and authentic Japanese vibe. Nozawa Onsen is the perfect destination to experience a traditional Japanese Inn (Ryokan) stay, as well as hot springs. The village holds the famed Nozawa Fire Festival on the 15th of January each year; one of the most unique and exciting Shinto celebrations in Japan!                                                                                                                                                   

Season: Mid December – Mid April                                                                                                                                           
A number of Courses/Runs: 20                                                                                                                                       
Closest Airports: Haneda and Narita                                                                                                                                       
Access;
1. Shuttles run from Haneda & Narita Airport and take approximately 5 hours.
2. Purchase the JR East Nagano/Niigata flex pass and take a bullet train from Tokyo to Iiyama Station in approximately 2 hours. From here there are frequent buses that will take you to the resort area within 25 minutes.                                                                             

 

Myoko Kogen

Myoko_Ski_Resort

 

Located in Niigata prefecture, just over from Nagano, Myoko Kogen is a classic mountain ski town comprised of 9 main ski resorts. The main ski area is Myoko Akakura where you can access the two resorts Akakura Kanko and Akakura Onsen with ease. The name of the game in Myoko is snow sports! While there’s plenty here for everyone, Myoko has some great options for those after tree skiing, off-piste slopes and backcountry skiing!                                                       

Season: Mid December – Mid April                                                                                                                                           
A number of Courses/Runs: 54                                                                                                                                                 
Closest Airports: Haneda and Narita                                                                                                                                         
Access;
1. Shuttles run from Haneda & Narita Airport and take approximately 5 hours.
2. Purchase the JR East Nagano/Niigata flex pass, and take a bullet train from Tokyo to Nagano Station in approximately 2 hours. From here there you can take a train or bus that will take you to the resort area within 40 minutes.

 

Why not consider one of these lesser-known ski resorts for your next ski trip?

For more information, pricing, and other ski resorts in Japan, check out our Japan ski website or get in touch with us to put together your Japan trip of a lifetime!

Go_To_Japan_Ski

8 best ski resorts in Japan for families: beginner to advanced

Tuesday, July 21st, 2020

 

Japan boasts a great snow reputation, and a trip over the winter (December to March) is a perfect occasion to experience white landscapes and trying out snow sports.
Winter in Japan also offers unique cultural experiences, and is there a better time to soak in hot springs after a big day out?
Skiing, snowboarding, cross-country, snow-shoeing and sledding and amongst the many offerings in most larger resorts.
The resorts we have selected offer family-friendly amenities, presented from beginner to experienced. Here is an overview to help you decide which one is best for your needs!

 

Beginners – Tomamu

 

tomamu_Hokkaido_hoshino_resorts

 

Located in Hokkaido, with a bus shuttle service from Sapporo and New Chitose airport area, Tomamu is easy to access and offers a complete all-inclusive experience. You will need to fly in from Tokyo or take a connecting flight, as Hokkaido is North on the main island of Japan.
Ideal for families, with a day-care facility, sledding area, indoor beach and wave pool, as well as an ice village, this resort offers slopes for all levels.
Many activities and events take place throughout the Winter, like frozen trees viewing, above-the-clouds-terrace and more.

 

Beginners – Bandaisan / Nekoma

Nekoma_Bandaisan_Hoshino-resorts

 

Tohoku is the powder snow paradise! Bandaisan offers access to two large skiing areas: Alts snow park and Nekoma. Located within 3h of Tokyo by bullet train + shuttle bus, Tohoku also allows skiing later in the season than most areas, with slopes still open in April. Perfect to combine with a cherry blossom trip!
This all-inclusive style resort welcomes families with rooms up to 5 guests, which is a rarity in Japan!
Soak in the natural hot springs at the end of your day, and enjoy skiing with a more local crowd.

 

Beginners – Naeba

Naeba is a famous resort in the Japanese Alps / Niigata area. With dedicated children areas, children lifts and separated beginners areas, this is a perfect destination to learn and get confident on your skis. Slopes are also wider than in other resorts, making it easier to navigate.
A snow park offering snow rafting, snow trains and snowmobiles is also available for non-skiers.
Accommodation in Naeba is mostly ski-in / ski-out, and of a higher standard.
Naeba is easily accessible from Tokyo via Echigo Yuzawa station and a shuttle bus.

 

Beginners – Hakuba

Hakuba-Nagano

 

Hakuba is one of the most well-known ski resorts among foreign visitors. It is nonetheless well worth mentioning as it is suitable for beginners and families! Ski schools and daycare offer English-speaking options from 18 months up, and a dedicated beginner’s area will help get you on the way to steeper slopes.
Being located in the Alps region, Hakuba is accessible from Tokyo airports/city and Osaka/Kyoto areas. This is the perfect option if you are also looking at touring around Japan, and exploring the country. A number of day tours also depart from Hakuba, including the famous snow monkey of Yudanaka Monkey park.

 

 

Advanced – Myoko Kogen

Myoko_Kogen_Japan

 

Founded in the 1930s, Myoko offers a more authentic Japanese experience than other highly Westernised resorts. In recent years, Myoko’s growing popularity with international travellers has made it a great destination, where English is available while maintaining its local vibe.
With an extensive range of slopes, and the possibility to go off-piste in some areas, Myoko offers the advanced skiers plenty of powder and fun, while catering to younger ones with child-care offerings.
The traditional history of Myoko also makes it great local food and hot spring spot!

 

 

Advanced – Appi Kogen

Appi_Kogen_Japan

 

Located in Tohoku, and accessible via shinkansen bullet train + bus within 3.5 hours of Tokyo, Appi Kogen is a great family-friendly option for advanced skiers. The area is famous for its heavy snowfalls and offers a great powder experience. In recent years, some off-piste has been open, allowing for more snow fun. The resort is very proud of its long runs and groomed slopes as well, meaning that you will have a variety of gliding on offer. Appi Kogen is a traditional resort and is not attached to any township. The nightlife is limited but the infrastructure and services are of very high quality, with English-speaking staff while there are comparatively less foreign visitors around.

 

Advanced – Kiroro

Kiroro-Ski-resort

 

Kiroro is a medium-sized resort in Hokkaido, offering a very upmarket experience. The lift and hotel infrastructures are top-notch and non-ski activities are plethora if your budget allows. Very family-friendly, Kiroro has a ski school with English available, as well as non-ski activities.
Allowing tree skiing, and having a fantastic amount of snowfall even quite early in the season, Kiroro is your upscale family destination in Hokkaido.

 

Advanced – Niseko

Niseko_Hokkaido_Japan

 

Niseko is probably the most famous resort amongst foreigners looking to enjoy that amazing Japanese snow. With very regular snowfalls, the powder is fresh and renewed throughout the season. Niseko is overall more costly than other Japanese resorts, from accommodation to lift tickets, but the infrastructure largely delivers. For those looking for a Japanese-style ski town, Niseko may not be the best fit. Niseko is very westernised, which comes with lots of English-speaking services, including day-care and babysitting for the youngest. Central Hirafu nightlife is also very lively, with Westerners enjoying after-ski bars and restaurants.
For the most advanced skiers, off-piste and back-country is largely authorised.

 

A plethora of snow adventure awaits!

A large part of the Honshu main island and Hokkaido is home to many ski resorts. When taking up ski for the first time, or travelling with little ones, and choosing the right destination can confusing. Each one has qualities to make your next ski holiday a true highlight, get in touch with us!

 

Go_To_Japan_Ski

Secured By miniOrange