Osaka and Hiroshima are in most first-time travellers to Japan bucket-list. If you have a bit more time, there are plenty of great sights between the two cities to make your trip to Japan a more special memory.
Here is my selection of 8 great sights to visit on your way down the Seto inland sea coast.
Is famous worldwide for producing deliciously marbled high-grade beef, that melts in your mouth.
One of Japan’s largest port, the views from Meriken Park and Kobe tower are worth a stop. You will also see an open-air memorial area dedicated to the 1995 Kobe earthquake that destroyed a large portion of the city. Kitano district has remained standing, and visitors can see houses erected by foreign merchants, leaving an exotic heritage to Kobe.
Stuck between the water and mountains, hop on one of Mt Rokko gondola to take in sweeping views of the area.
Getting there: 30 min from Osaka city by bullet train.
Himeji is home to one of the largest and best-preserved castles in Japan. Classified as National Treasure and World Heritage Site, it is one of the 12 original castles on Japan. This means it has never been destroyed since its construction was completed in 1609.
Surrounded by the beautiful Kokoen gardens, this is a perfect stop on your way.
Getting there: 45 min from Osaka city by bullet train.
Okayama is the second largest city of the wider Chugoku Region after Hiroshima. Developed as a transportation hub and castle town during the Edo period (1603-1867), Okayama’s Korakuen gardens are ranked in the top 3 Japanese landscape gardens. Korakuen is located 23 min walk from Okayama station, with Okayama castle directly across.
Getting there: 1h25min from Osaka city by bullet train.
From Okayama, you can also access Naoshima and Tejima Art islands, or the picturesque small town of Bitchu-Takahashi. This may require more time to explore, and I recommend to stay overnight in the area.
Know as the Venice of Japan, Kurashiki is a delightfully preserved historical town. A picturesque canal runs through the city centre, where ancient white and black buildings host an array of local bizen pottery shops, cafés and beautiful traditional indigo dye fabrics.
Take a ride on the canal, explore the small streets and visit the many many museums the city has to offer.
Getting there: 1 hr 10 min from Osaka city by bullet train.
Crossing over from Honshu main island to Shikoku, you will find the beautiful seaside city of Takamatsu. This castle town offers many options for sightseeing, as the outstanding Risturin garden, and Yashima flat-top mountain that harbours a number of museums and attractions.
Amongst which, the Noguchi Museum or open-air Shikoku mura, with the stunning backdrop of the Seto inland sea. Don’t forget to take a break to enjoy delicious sanuki udon, the local specialty.
Getting there: 2 hr 15 min from Osaka city by bullet train and local train.
Ferries from Takamatsu allow travel to Naoshima and Teshima art islands as well. For more flexibility, staying overnight is recommended.
Take a trip back in time with the small port town of Tomonoura. Fresh seafood, tiny streets, quaint shops and traditional way of life. Tomonoura is a renowned hot spring town, and its natural surroundings make it a perfect peaceful break between visiting large cities. The Joyato lighthouse overlooking the port, or the astounding Abuto Kannon, a shrine perched atop a rock over the water (about 20 min from the town centre by taxi) make it well worth the visit.
Getting there: 2hrs from Osaka city by bullet train and local bus.
The city is the inspiration for the town in Ponyo on the cliff, the adorable Studio Ghibli movie.
If you are feeling like an active trip, hop on a bike from Onomichi and cross the 60 km long bridge that hops from island to island between the main island of Honshu to Shikoku. Bike rental (electrical bikes are also available) is available in Onomichi, and there are drop-off points along the way, should you be tired and wanting to finish the journey by bus. Stunning views of the Seto Naikai National Park and cute small towns along the way make for lovely stops. The shimanami kaido finishes in Imabari, famous for its high-quality cotton towels, and a plethora of citrus varieties to enjoy all year round.
Getting there: 1hr 40 min from Osaka city by bullet train.
Matsuyama – Dogo Onsen
Matsuyama is located on Shikoku island and is home to one of the most ancient hot spring baths in the country: Dogo onsen. The springs are mentioned in literature for the first time circa 759. The current bath-house was build after the Imperial restoration of Meiji (1868), and many buildings display the European influence of the time. Dogo onsen was also the backdrop of the classic novel Botchan by Natsume Sôseki. Apart from its literary legacy, Matsuyama has an original castle that offers beautiful views from the top of the hill, and the locally freshly caught sea bream is a treat.
Getting there: 4 hrs from Osaka city by bullet train and bus.
Matsuyama has a direct ferry route to Hiroshima.
The land where sky and sea meet
From a short visit to a full-day or overnight stay, the coast of the Seto inland sea has plenty of sights to take you Japan trip a notch further.
It is widely considered amongst the gaming community worldwide that Japan is the mecca of video games. Japan has a long history of being at the forefront of the industry with companies like Nintendo, Sony and Square Enix dominating the competition. Many collectors all over the world travel to Japan now to buy the old school games from their childhoods or to complete their extensive collections. Here is a quick beginner guide to help you get started on your quest to find those retro games!
Akihabara (Super Potato)
Akihabara is Japan’s most famous area for the pop culture and offers a plethora of retro video game stores which makes this a fantastic area to begin your search! The most well-known store in this area is Super Potato and for good reason. Super Potato is a nation-wide chain of game stores in Japan that sell a treasure trove of retro games and merchandise. Do not be fooled by the store’s location in Akihabara. It is in an unassuming location, tucked away from the main street and up an old staircase but this particular store is Super Potato’s flagship store with 4 floors filled with old school Nintendo, Sony and Sega games (among other good finds!). The top floor even has a decent collection of old arcade machines to enjoy after buying up the store!
Nakano Broadway (Mandarake)
Nakano Broadway is a multi-level shopping complex north of Shinjuku and is a relaxing alternative to the eclectic streets of Akihabara. It is also a popular hangout for Tokyo’s otaku community. Here you will find an abundance of not just retro games but also vintage anime, manga, clothes, old toys from the 1960/70s, and all kinds of kitsch weirdness! One store not to miss is Mandarake, where you can find rare collector’s editions in mint condition but be warned, these are not cheap!
Branches Across Tokyo (Book Off/Hard Off)
Book Off is a nation-wide chain of “Off” stores in Japan which sell a huge range of second-hand goods. Keep an eye out for any Book Off or Hard Off stores and you will find an extensive range of retro games and consoles (as well as second-hand electronics, figurines and mangas!) at quite affordable prices. As it is all second hand, each store will have random and various levels of stock but they are all worth checking out as you will surely stumble upon a good find! There are many scattered all throughout Tokyo city.
Special Mention: Taito-Hey Game Station
Don’t have the budget (or space) to buy all the retro games and consoles? Then check out Taito-Hey in Akihabara and relive your childhood! This multi-level arcade is split into two main areas; classic shoot-em-ups and fighting games. But there is space dedicated to other genres such as rhythm games too. One floor even has over 100 arcade machines! And these machines can switch out games so there is a huge catalogue of games to go through. There are many classics to rediscover and niche games that get another chance to shine. This isn’t just a place to play games but also a place to watch the many incredibly skilled players that come to flex and hone their skills.
I also introduce Japan’s Game Centres in another article.
In a nutshell, these are the top 10 tips that you need when travelling to Taiwan. I hope you find them helpful and that you enjoy your stay in Taiwan, be it having delicious street food, shopping or even exploring around different cities. We can help you plan your Taiwan holiday, please contact us for more information.
1. Do not worry about a language barrier
If you are travelling to Taiwan for the first time without knowing how to speak Mandarin, fear not as many of the locals, especially the younger generation speak English. All of the metro stations, buses and trains have English signage so it will be very convenient for you to figure out where you need to go. The locals are incredibly friendly and they are more than happy to help you out if you do get lost. In addition to that, most of the restaurants have an English version of their menu, so feel free to ask for one.
2. Cash is King
Taiwan’s currency is called the New Taiwan Dollar (NTD). The bills come in denominations of 100, 200, 500, 1000 and 2000. The coins come in units of 1, 5, 10 and 50. When visiting Taiwan, do bring a lot of cash with you as the majority of places do not accept credit cards. This is especially true when you are taking the MRT or even when you are at restaurants or night market or even when buying bubble tea. In saying that, feel free to go to the ATM to withdraw some cash as they are available everywhere and they do accept foreign cards. Do remember to save your receipts so that you can exchange unused NT dollars before departing Taiwan.
3. An Easy Card is essential
The Easy Card is the best method to pay for transportation in Taiwan. You can use it on everything, from the bus, subway, train and even for bicycles (YouBike) on the street. This is exceptionally useful on the bus and for bicycles as you need to pay the exact amount if paying by cash. You can also use it to pay for stuff at the convenience stores. The card itself cost NT100 and you can load it up for use and top it up whenever you like.
4. Eat like a local
Taiwan is famous for its street food that is sold at various night markets throughout the country. For some people, when they travel to Asia they may be concerned that street food will make them unwell. However, the street food in Taiwan is all clean and safe, so you don’t have to worry when trying it out. The food is so cheap and you can eat and walk as you explore different stalls and trust me, that can be your meal for the night as you will be very full from tasting the delicious snacks Taiwan has to offer.
5. Drink like a local
As bubble tea has become immensely popular in Western countries, it is a must-try when in Taiwan and you can find this sweet drink everywhere. Tainan City is where bubble tea was first invented, so for the real connoisseur, this is the place to go. The drinks are easy to order as they also have an English menu.
Do keep in mind though, you need to tell them how much ice and sugar you would like in your drink. Ice is known as “bing” in Mandarin, and there are 3 options other than the standard level that you can choose from. “Shao Bing” less ice, “Wei Bing” little ice, “Qu Bing” no ice. The same goes for sugar as well. Sugar is known as “tang” in Mandarin, and it goes from “Shao Tang” less sugar, “Wei Tang” little sugar, “Wu-Tang” no sugar.
For the adults, alcoholic drinks are sold just about everywhere in Taiwan and this includes convenience stores such as 7/11, Family Mart etc. You can choose to drink while walking and no, you won’t get a fine, just as long as you behave appropriately. A lot of locals like to drink while they are at the park with friends or even at basketball courts, the only place where you are not allowed to do so is when you are riding the metro.
6. Take the MRT
The MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) system in Taiwan is considered one of the best in Asia. When entering, you can see how clean and efficient everything is. The signs are in both English and Mandarin and you also don’t have to worry about running for the metro as the next one comes within 10 minutes. Everyone lines up in an orderly manner and will wait for people to get off the metro before boarding. The dark blue chairs inside the metro are only for the elderly, disabled or pregnant women. So, try your best to not sit in one, you’ll be receiving a lot of silent stares otherwise. Try to not talk as well as being silent is considered to be respectful in Taiwanese culture.
7. Ride the Escalators correctly
This is very important when taking the escalators in the MRT stations or shopping malls. Please keep in mind to stand on the right side of the escalators as people use the left side of the escalator to walk up.
8. Take advantage of the WIFI
When it comes to WIFI, Taiwan is among the most WIFI ready places in the world. There are free and paid WIFI hotspots all over every city and most towns, making it convenient for you to surf the net or connect with your loved ones.
9. Pack for the weather
Spring (Early March to Late May):
It is a lovely time to visit Taiwan as the temperature isn’t too hot or too cold. Though if you choose to go hiking up in the north and in the mountains, do wear a jacket as the weather can be pretty chilly there. In contrast, the weather is always hot and sunny down in the south.
Summer (Early June to Mid September):
Summer in Taiwan is humid and typhoons can more frequent. It can be annoying as you will be trapped indoors for a day or two with food supplies and nothing to do. The good thing about the humidity is that you can wear shorts and t-shirts and the malls, movie theatres, as well as the subways, are fully air-conditioned, making it relaxing to stroll around.
Autumn (Mid September to Mid December):
The weather isn’t too chilly but is slightly damp as winter is about to sink in. Do dress in layers and bring rain gear in case of the rain. The Mid Autumn Festival falls during this period and it gets really crowded and festive as people will be eating mooncakes and also playing with paper lanterns.
Winter (Mid December to Early March):
Winter in Taiwan can get really cold, with temperatures as low as 8 degrees. Do layer yourself with a winter coat and scarf as you’ll be freezing otherwise.
10. Bring a Converter
Taiwan uses 110V AC, the sockets are made for standard American In a nutshell, these are the top 10 tips that you need when travelling to Taiwan. I hope you find them helpful and that you enjoy your stay in Taiwan, be it having delicious street food, shopping or even exploring around different cities. We can help you plan your Taiwan holiday, please contact us for more information. two-pin flat plugs. So do remember to bring an adapter so you can charge your electronic devices. Though, you can also buy plug converters or voltage converters in any electronic or hardware store.
In a nutshell, these are the top 10 tips that you need when travelling to Taiwan. I hope you find them helpful and that you enjoy your stay in Taiwan, be it having delicious street food, shopping or even exploring around different cities. We can help you plan your Taiwan holiday, please contact us for more information.
Okinawa is a beloved holiday destination among Japanese people. Okinawa is positioned like Hawaii in Japan because it has a tropical climate, white sandy beaches, coral sea, friendly people and a rich cultural background which has a different origin from traditional Japan. Okinawa is one of the most amazing destinations to visit when you are in Japan.
When you visit Okinawa, surely you will want to enjoy swimming and beaches, but there are also plenty of things to do and see on the main island of Okinawa. This article introduces you to these must-visit spots. The island is vertically long from north to south, so I will run them through by the north, central and south areas.
The northern part of Okinawa’s main island is famous for its rich native nature. If you can imagine typical tropical scenery like a blue sky, lush green rainforest and crystal-clear ocean, that is the northern part! It is recommended to travel by car and to wander around the natural beauty.
1. Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
The aquarium is one of the most popular spots on the Okinawa main island. It is located within the Ocean Expo Park and is the best place to view the sea creatures from around the Okinawa islands. The highlight of Churaumi Aquarium is the Kuroshio Sea Tank where gigantic whale sharks elegantly swim around. Great for everyone!
Adult: 1,880 yen
High School Students: 1,250 yen
Primary and Middle school Students: 620 yen
Or ask us about our “1-Day sightseeing bus tour around Kourijima, Cape Manza & Ryukyumura with 2.5-hour visit to Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium”!
As its name says, Nago Pineapple Park is the enjoyable theme park about pineapples! But it also provides the botanic gardens, the aerial path above the gardens and a dinosaur adventure section. It is worth taking time to look through the souvenir shops with its wide array of specialised pineapple products such as cakes, wine, juice, chocolates and much more!
Adult (above 16 yo): 1000 yen
Child (4-15 yo): 600 yen
Infant (0-3 yo): Free
3. Orion Happy Park (Beer Breweries)
If you are a beer lover, this is the must-visit spot for you. Orion Beer is the iconic beer of Okinawa and Orion Happy Park offers a tour of the beer factory where you can enjoy a beer tasting. The 40 min tour takes you to the beer-producing process from the raw ingredients to the tap beer! At the end of the tour, a couple of fresh beers await you! But make sure not to drive after drinking! It is a heavy penalty for drink driving in Japan.
Free (Of course drinks are not!!)
4. Kouri-Ohashi (Kouri Island)
Kouri Ohashi is the bridge that crosses Yagajii Island to Kouri Island that can be accessed by car. It is a stunning spot to look out at the emerald green ocean, which is some of the clearest waters in Okinawa. Driving above the turquoise water makes your experience unforgettable.
The central area of Okinawa’s main island is the resort area, where you can enjoy plenty of water activities. The cultural aspect of this area is also interesting. The Okinawa local word “Champuru”, meaning “the mixture”, can describe this area as a whole. There are a mixture of traditional Okinawa, American and modern Japanese cultures. It is fun to see what The Central Okinawa offers!
5. Cape Maeda
Cape Maeda is famous for the entrance of the “Blue Cave”, which is said to be the best scuba diving and snorkelling site in Okinawa main island. The inside of Blue Cave is absolutely spectacular and literally it is clear blue water inside. If you are an ocean lover, this is the must-visit spot for you to enjoy the best of Okinawa ocean experience.
However, Diving and snorkelling can be quite dangerous in the cave due to the tidal change, waves and other weather conditions. It is always highly recommended to experience Okinawa’s unforgettable ocean with knowledgeable guides to show you the best part of the Blue Cave.
If you are interested in the amazing experience of Blue Cave in Cape Maeda, please contact us for “our blue cavern introductory diving/snorkelling” tour from Summer Resort, Onna-son”.
Ryukyu Mura is not far from Cape Maeda. They are about 2km away from each other. So, after you enjoy the ocean experience in Cape Maeda, why not explore the cultural experience of Okinawa at Ryukyu Mura?
Ryukyu Mura is a small theme park that takes you back in time to the Ryukyu Kingdom! There are different types of dance and music performances. You can also participate in the popular activity there where you can make “Guardian Lions Dog” with clay that you can take home on the day.
The park welcomes you to enjoy the authentic Okinawa life in the lost kingdom!
Admission Fee: 1,500 yen
7. Sunset Beach
When it comes to the evening, as the name of the place tells you, Sunset Beach in Chatan Cho is considered to be the best spot for the sunset! This westward beach is a “Town-Style Beach” that offers many restaurants and bars, BBQ facilities, shopping areas, the entertainment park called “American Village”, along with great swimming spots.
The scenery of the Sun going down to the other side of the world and a chilled drink in your hand are the best friends to finish your day with!
8. Bios no Oka (Bios on the hill)
The green side of Okinawa is also unmissable. “Bios no Oka” gives you access to the lush green tropical rainforest of Okinawa. You can choose different ways to explore the lush green, such as a Lake cruise tour, Water Buffalo Cart, Farm Train Tour and Kayaking. The highly recommended options are taking a kayak or SUP (stand up paddleboard), as you can take the mangrove cruise adventure on your own. (*Lake cruise tour, Water Buffalo Cart, Farm Train Tour and Kayaking, SUP: additional fee applies)
If you are a family traveller, the park offers an adventure playground and encounter with animals which are popular for kids. These activities are complimentary. So, Bios no Oka is financially family-friendly as well!
The bonus of Okinawa lush green adventure is that no crocodile exists in Okinawa!!
The adventure is out there for everyone!
Adult (13 yo+) : 1000 yen
Child (Under 12 yo): 500 yen
Water Buffalo Cart
Adult (13 yo+) : 900 yen
Child (Under 12 yo): 600 yen
Farm Train Tour
Adult (13 yo+) : 600 yen
Child (Under 12 yo): 400 yen
Adult (13 yo+) : 1500 yen
Child (Under 12 yo): 800 yen
Adult (13 yo+) : 3000 yen
Child (Under 12 yo): Not Available
The southern side of Okinawa is where the capital city “Naha City” is located. From modern shopping areas to ancient ruins, this busy tropical area offers you lots of different fun activities. So many things are close by in this area, so take your time to explore there!
9. Shuri Castle Park
Shuri Castle was the centre of politics and culture of the Ryukyu Kingdom for 450 years. Sadly, the fire in October 2019 burnt and destroyed some parts of the castle. It is under re-construction to demonstrate the heart of Okinawa.
Even though major damage to the castle occurred, Shuri Castle Park remains as one of the must-see spots in Okinawa. There are plenty of things to see such as period architecture along with lush botanical gardens. Surely you will be able to feel the history of old Okinawa there.
Adult: 400 yen
High school student (14-18 yo): 300 yen
Child (6yo – 14 yo): 160 yen
10. Shikinaen Park
In 2000, Shikinaen Park was added to the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Shikinaen Park was built in the late 18th century as the second residence for the kings of Ryukyu.
This garden was built to entertain envoys of the Chinese emperors so that the garden was designed like a Chinese garden. However, Shikinaen Park collaborated the taste of Okinawa with the Chinese style such as the Ryukyu traditional guest house with a red tile roof and use of Ryukyu limestone in lots of parts in the garden.
The garden will welcome you to enjoy peace of mind.
Adult (16 yo+) : 400 yen
Child (6-15 yo) : 200 yen
11. Makishi Public Market
Makishi Public Market has been the heart of Okinawa’s food culture as there is a large variety of tropical fish that are rarely seen on the main island of Japan. Why not buy some of your favourite colourful fish from the market and bring them upstairs to get them cooked on the spot? You can eat as Sashimi or choose the style of cooking you like; such as stir-fry, deep-fry, etc.
Around Makishi Public Market is also a popular shopping arcade. There are plenty of shops and food stalls near Makishi Public Market. If you like to explore the deep local experience, this is the place to go for you!
Admission Fee: Free
12. Kokusai Dori Street
“Kokusai Dori” means “International Street” in Japanese, and it goes for around 1.5km throughout the Naha CBD. You may find it little touristy, but if you are in a rush to find souvenirs, this is definitely the place for you.
There are so many shops, bars, restaurants and even nightclubs along the road. This bustling road offers so much fun to discover.
Admission Fee: Free
13. Naminoue-gu Shrine
Naminoue-gu Shine literally means “Shrine above the waves”. As the name implies, the building of the shrine is located on a cliff above the blue ocean. Although this is the highest class of Shrine worshipped in Okinawa, it is quite tourist-friendly and provides English Instructions from how to purify yourself with water to how to pray.
Unlike other Shrines that you visit in Kyoto or Tokyo, you will feel the beautiful sea breeze and see the great scenery of the blue ocean from the shrine. If you are looking for somewhere peaceful and spiritual, drop into Naminoue-gu Shrine, and purify yourself.
Admission Fee: Free
14. Himeyuri Peace Memorial Park
Okinawa was one of the bloodiest battlefields in the world during World War Two. Thousands and thousands of civilians and soldiers were killed on this beautiful island back then. The hardest battles took in place in the southern part of Okinawa. Himeyuri Peace Memorial Park was established in 1983 to commemorate this frightening battle of Okinawa. Take your time to wander through the park and learn about the history and tragedy of the Okinawan people.
Adult: 310 yen
High School Student: 210 yen
Child (6-15 yo): 110 yen
15. Okinawa World
Okinawa World is an Okinawa cultural theme park. But it is not a normal cultural park like others, the main attraction of Okinawa World is the massive limestone cave called “Gyokusendo”. This cave stretches for 5 km length in total and 850m of this cave is open to the public. Comfortable walking paths are set to entertain everyone. The limestone cave is also beautifully lit up.
In addition, Eisa dance in Okinawa World is also a must-watch. So, take your time to discover the limestone cave and experience the Okinawa culture!
16. The Valley of Gangala
The Valley of Gangala is only 300m away from Okinawa World, so it is a good idea to hop between the two attractions in one day.
The valley used to be a limestone cave until 100,000 years ago, and now it is a tropical rainforest. When you step into the forest, you will feel the ancient atmosphere of the forest.
This site can be only explored with their English-speaking guide. It is really worth a visit if you are a nature lover.
After spending a few days exploring one of the busiest cities in the world, you may feel in need for some more natural landscapes. Thanks to extensive public transportation networks, beautiful hikes are only one ride away from busy Tokyo. These are the 5 that I like most, all done in one day. Pack your hiking shoes and read on!
Mt Mitake is located in the Okutama area, far West end of Tokyo prefecture, so you will not technically be leaving Tokyo for this hike. Like the more famous Mt. Takao that we will be introducing further down, early Spring and Autumn foliage viewing season are best for this 4-hour walk.
※A cable-car is also available for a more leisurely day.
Highlights: Autumn foliage viewings are beautiful in the area. There is also a Japanese Zelkova tree estimated to be 1,200 years old near the shrine at the top of the mountain.
Getting there: JR Chuo line / Ome line to Mitake station, and local bus to the bottom of the cable car (1 hr 40 min from Shinjuku station)
More info>> (Japanese only, step by step photos are very useful to find your way)
Probably the most famous mountain in the Tokyo area, and with three million visitors a year, Mt. Takao is a sought-after Autumn leaves viewing spot. Its cute red cable car has also become a tourist icon. Yakuo-In temple at the summit is believed to have been founded in the 8th century. It will take you 2 hrs to walk up to the top, but I recommend the more challenging Inariyama trail if you feel like more of a sweat.
Difficulty: Easy to medium
Highlights: Take a dip in a hot spring after your hike! Keio Takaosan Onsen Gokurakuyu is located near Takaosan-guchi station.
Getting there: Keio Line to Takaosan-guchi station on an express service (60 min from Keio Shinjuku Station)
Mt.Nabewari is a lesser-known summit of the Mt. Tanzawa area. Located in Kanagawa, it is a beautiful hike with great chances of seeing Mt. Fuji on a clear day. At 1,273m above sea-level, and with a 15km trail, it is a bit more challenging than the other walks suggested in this article. It is my personal favourite, though so please give it a try!
Difficulty: Medium (approx. 7hrs walk)
Highlights: Look at Mt. Fuji on the way, and eat a hot bowl of nabe yaki udon at the summit!
Getting there: Odakyu Odawara Line to Shin Matsuda Station, and a local bus to the start of the trail (2 hrs from Shinjuku Odakyu Train Station)
More info>> (Japanese only, but step by step photos are very useful to find your way)
Located in Ibaraki prefecture, Mt. Tsukuba is a well-know mountain that has been part of the Japanese pictorial and poetical heritage for a long time. This specific course is a circulating route, if, like me, you don’t like going the same way twice. You will be walking 4.5 hrs, and about 7km.
Highlights: The weirdly shaped rocks on the course, and the lookout onto the Kanto plain.
Getting there: Tsukuba Express Line and local bus to Tsukuba-san jinji irigushi (1 hr 40 min from Akihabara station)
Located in Ibaraki prefecture alongside the Pacific Ocean, Hitachi Seaside Park is a beautifully manicured flower park within a stone throw away of Tokyo. Including a forest adventure playground, an amusement park, and BBQ areas, this is a perfect day stroll. Not exactly a hike, rather a pretty day trip.
Highlights: Flower viewing is available throughout the year, with a highlight on hydrangeas in early Summer, and cosmos in Autumn.
Getting there: JR Hitachi and Tokiwa line, and local bus from Katsuta station (1 hr 45 min from Shinagawa station)
All the above courses are loved by locals, and fairly easy to get to, but I would recommend you check all local bus timetables and check your itinerary to avoid any issues. Bring some hiking shoes and appropriate equipment as well. Japan is a volcanic land of younger mountains; this means they tend to be steeper. You will find toilets and vending machines on most trails, but bringing a picnic is recommended!
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
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.
A day trip
Duration from Tokyo
Shinkansen: Tokyo Station to Gala Yuzawa Station
Mid-December to Mid-April
8:00 – 17:00
• Rental Gear
• Hot Spring
• Ski Gear Rental
• Day Care (2 – 6 years old)
• English Ski & Snowboard Lessons
• Snowmobile Sleigh Tour
• Snow Enjoyment Park
• Snow Tubing
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.
At least two days
Duration from Tokyo
Total: 2 ½ hours
Shinkansen: 90 min from Tokyo Station
Express Bus: 60 min
Mid-December to End of April
• English Ski & Snowboard Lessons
• Snowmobile Tour
• Snow Parks
• Snow Tubing
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 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.
A few days stay
Duration from Tokyo
Shinkansen: Tokyo Station to Echigo Yuzawa Station
Shuttle Bus: Echigo Yuzawa Station to Naeba Prince Hotel (Free for hotel guest)
Mid-December to Mid-April
• Rental Gear
• Hot Spring
• Ski Gear Rental
• Fireworks (Only held during peak season)
• English Ski & Snowboard Lessons
• Snow Park
• Snow Tubing
Karuizawa 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.
A day trip
Duration from Tokyo
Shinkansen: Tokyo Station to Karuizawa Station
• Sightseeing Lift for non-skiers
• English Ski & Snowboard Lessons & Guides
• Kid’s Snow Park
• Snow Tubing
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.
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 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)
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
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 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
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
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
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
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!
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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?
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
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
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
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).
If you are a game lover, you may find it interesting to visit retro game shops in Tokyo!
It is worth taking time to see around what they offer.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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
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
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
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
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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!
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
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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 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
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
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 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 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!
A lot of people think that it is easy to find places to buy souvenirs in Tokyo because there are millions of shops there. Fair enough… but it used to be very difficult for me to find the right places to buy souvenirs for my Aussie friends.
Then, one of my friends from Tokyo suggested where to go for great souvenir shopping. Her advice is perfect! So, let me share her knowledge with you about the places that will make your souvenir-finding journey easier.
Tokyu Hands has been getting popular amongst foreign tourists because they sell unique products! There is a great range of products: such as Japanese quality stationery, kitchen goods, and DIY crafting kits.
As I visit the Tokyu Hands Shinjuku store, I spend hours wandering around the different floors. From my personal experience, when I buy DIY crafting kits for my friends, they absolutely love it.
A large range of age groups can enjoy this store, so even if you have to take along the kids, they won’t get too bored. That is a bonus for family travellers!
If you are looking for good quality and different products, this is the place for you. Recommended large stores are as below:
Shinjuku Store: Japan, 〒151-0051 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Sendagaya, 5 Chome−24−2 2～8F Times Square Building
Shibuya Store: 12-18 Udagawacho, Shibuya City, Tokyo
Ikebukuro Store: 1 Chome-28-10 Higashiikebukuro, Toshima City, Tokyo
Village Vanguard originally started its business as a book store but it is far from an ordinary book shop because the theme of their business is to be a “Playful Book Store”.
As the theme suggests, it is so much fun to wander around inside. I have taken my Australian friends who visited me while I was there, their eyes nearly popped out because of the product range!
There are plenty of Anime & Manga character goods, vintage items, and weird & cute treasures just waiting to be discovered! Village Vanguard covers a large part of Tokyo, so if you visit major areas, you will find one. But here is a list of locations that might be close to where you visit in Tokyo:
Shibuya Main Store: Shibuya City, Udagawacho, 23−3
Shinjuku Store: Shinjuku City, Shinjuku, 3 Chome−38−1 Lumine Est Shinjuku 5F
Odaiba Store: 1 Chome-1-10 Aomi, Koto City, Tokyo 135-0064, Japan DiverCity Tokyo Plaza
Loft is a chain store, so you may see many of them across Japan! This store is becoming a popular spot amongst foreign tourists because of their stationery range. It is truly amazing!
There are a large variety of stationery items, but also Japan-themed products too. When I look for souvenirs for my friends, I normally visit Shibuya Loft where you can find stylish Japanese gifts.
The great thing here is that Shibuya Loft knows what tourists need! They don’t offer very typical souvenirs. What you can find there are modern and stylish souvenirs.
A lot of my friends love the ones from Loft Shibuya. If you are around the Shibuya or Shinjuku area, it is worth taking your time to investigate Loft.
Loft Shibuya : 21-1 Udagawacho, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0042, Japan
Japan is pretty famous for its cuisine. Because the food culture has been developed in its own way, kitchen items have been advanced in their way too! Natural Kitchen was one of the most loved shops by my female Aussie friends. This is simply because the shop design and items are so cute!
What caught my friend’s eye there were Japanese plates and bowls. When you travel overseas, you always find it very difficult to pack your suitcase, but Japanese plates are not too big (most of the time), so they are a good size for souvenirs. If you are looking for something for your daily life in your souvenirs, Natural Kitchen is the place for you.
Shinjuku Store: Shinjuku City, Nishishinjuku, 1 Chome−1−3 Tokyo
Shibuya Store: Shibuya City, Dogenzaka, 1 Chome−12−1 Mark City West Mall 2F
I have covered four different stores that I normally go to for souvenir shopping. If you are around Shinjuku and Shibuya areas in Tokyo, it is worth it to take your time to wander around these shops! You will find something that you or your favourite ones love.