Nagano Snowscapes – Spring Skiing/Snowboarding, Onsens, Snow Monkeys & Nagano City (Nagano Prefecture)
Tour Code: OK0305
Tour Fee: 29500 Discount Price: 24500
Date: Friday/Sunday, March 5th-March 7th 2016 (2 night/3 day stay)
This is a trip designed for everyone. If you want to ski/snowboard for 2 full days, you can. If you want to go sightseeing for 2 full days, you can! And if you want to go sightseeing for 1 day, and enjoy fantastic skiing/snowboarding conditions on the other, you can do that too!! And you don’t even need to decide your Saturday or Sunday schedule until after your breakfast each day. How is that for flexibility?
Leaving in the evening around 7pm (slightly later departure can be arranged, as can pickup enroute), we head through Nagano prefecture to Nagano City, where we will stay 2 nights.
Option 1 – Skiing & Snowboarding at Shiga Kogen, Japan’s largest snowfield resort.
Option 2 – The snow monkeys of Jigokudani. Hokusaikan, Masuichi-Ichimura sake brewery and Obuse village. Possible visit to Nojiriko if time, road conditions and weather permit.
Option 1 – Skiing & Snowboarding at Nozawa Onsen. (most beautiful ski resort in Japan, and awesome onsens)
Option 2 – Zenkouji, Tunnels of World War 2 Imperial Headquarters and Matsushiro. Possible visit to Kaizu Castle ruins if time permits.
Quick note, spring snow can (depending on the conditions, your experience & your physical fitness) be a bit hard on the body, especially knees. However as above, you don’t need to decide your preferred option until the morning of each day.
Shiga Kogen – A winter sports mecca. The largest ski and snowboard resort area in Japan, and one of the world’s largest, with 21 different resorts all interlinked with one combined lift ticket. You can ski or snowboard all day hardly hitting the same runs twice. To ski all of the runs would require a few days. There is fantastic variety in terms of terrain, modern facilities and fast lifts. Shiga Kogen has 4 gondolas, 14 quad lifts, 7 triples, 35 doubles and 6 single lifts. During the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, Shiga Kogen hosted the women’s downhill, the super Giant slalom, slalom, and all snowboarding events. The snow quality and conditions are usually excellent reflecting higher altitude than many Japanese resorts.
The key to Shiga Kogen is altitude. The various resorts are all at different heights. For example Sun Valley Maruike is at 1400 meters (4600 feet), Kuma-no-Yu at about 1700 meters (5575 feet), and each of Higashi Tateyama, Terakoya, and the excellent Yakibitaiyama are all at about 2000 meters (6550 feet). The highest of the resorts is Yokoteyama at 2300 meters (7550 feet). More than 30% of the runs at Shiga Kogen are black runs (advanced), and another 40% are intermediate, which means that unlike most ski areas in Japan, there is plenty of terrain for advanced skiers and snowboarders to explore.
Snowboarders can use all of the gelande on offer, but the Kanbayashi area may be the most interesting for those seeking half pipe and other facilities for freestyle. This is the area where the Olympic events were held. The base of the Kanbayashi area is also only a 10 minute or so walk from the Jigokudani monkeys, so if you get tired or need a break there is more to do than chill out in the cafeteria etc.
Jigokudani – A short distance from Shiga Kogen, Jigokudani is located in Yudanaka, a small valley noted for excellent onsens. About a mile into the national park from the onsen village, the is a small onsen bath that was created by a local onsen owner specifically for monkeys (Japanese macaque) after he noticed the monkeys warming themselves using the natural hot springs in the area. It has become something of a tourist trap, but a very enjoyable one. There are some rules – ask Declan.
Obuse – One of the very few remaining villages in Japan that have resisted mergers with larger neighboring towns and cities, Obuse has managed to maintain independence while also developing a thriving tourism base to complement the traditional farming and forestry industries. The townscape has and is being carefully refurbished and restored, the 3 museums (we will visit the Hokusaikan) are wonderful, and the village is noted for it’s fine sake and great dining based on excellent local produce. The famous ukiyoe artist Hokusai Katsushika retired here, drawing inspiration from the surrounding mountains in his final works.
Nojiriko – An alpine lake, this is a popular summer resort for well-to-do Tokyo expats. In the winter though it is beautiful, the red torii of the shrine contrasting with the snow and ice, and peaceful (in winter there aren’t any/many no noisy/pesky expats around!) A lesser known fact is that this lake was the first in Japan (1934) to be used as a pumped storage reservoir for hydro-electric power. As a relatively small lake, the water level can drop quite quickly when it is in use.
Nozawa Onsen – A hot spring and ski resort village near Nagano famous for the abundance of hot springs that were discovered in the 8th century. Steam rises up everywhere amongst the bustling narrow cobblestone streets and the traditional ryokan inns and shops. It is believed that Nozawa is the birthplace of Japan’s skiing industry. Nozawa hosted the Biathlon during the Nagano Olympics. A large resort with a vertical drop exceeding 1000 meters, it is great for beginners and advanced skiers/boarders (not quite so good for intermediate visitors).
The ski-field receives more than 10 meters of snowfall each season, giving great depth, and the altitude of the village is around 1650 meters, so snow conditions are still quite good in early March. There are more than a dozen public onsen baths (sotoya) in the village that anyone can enjoy (free of charge), and “onsen-hopping” is a popular past time.
Zenkou-ji – One of the last genuine pilgrimage sites in Japan, this 1400 year old temple is essentially non-denominational (the Tendai and Jodo sects manage it), and it is said to house the first image of the Amida Nyorai brought to Japan from China. A hibutsu (hidden/secret Buddha), it is never shown to the public. Wear thick socks when visiting, as the floorboards in the passageway leading to the “Key to Paradise” are cold at this time of year, and as it is completely dark and you have to rely only on your sense of touch, the key takes some time to find. There are interesting sites around the main hall. A memorial (including museum) to Japan’s war dead, a memorial to the spirits of lost/undeliverable postal mail, and near the west gate there is an interesting sake brewery.
World War II Imperial Headquarters & Matsushiro – Dug deep under the mountains of Matsushiro, in great haste and with horrific loss of life, the enormous tunnel complexes were intended to enable the government and armed forces of Imperial Japan to continue the war. Using dynamite, basic tools and a lot of hand labor (including a very significant number of conscripted laborers brought in from Korea), construction continued right up until the surrender in August 1945. No special equipment is needed (hard hats are provided), and cameras are OK. It is a thought provoking place. All of the documentation was destroyed at the end of the war, so even the names of the dead are unknown. There is a small Zen temple (Eimyou-ji) nearby that is always worth a visit. It includes the graves of 4 of the laborers (the only known graves), with their Japanese names, not their Korean names.
Kaizu Castle ruins – The castle was built in 1560 by the legendary military leader Takeda Shingen to act as his base during his battles with Uesugi Kenshin on the flat plains of this part of Nagano. Uesugi was using nearby Zenkou-ji as his base, and had prevented Takeda from taking control of the area during previous clashes at nearby Kawanakajima. Not long after the construction of this castle (which was lightly defended, but via a complicated signals system was well connected with Takeda Shingen’s headquarters in Kofu, some 130 kilometers away), the 4th battle of Kawanakajima took place, including the famous fight between Uesugi (mounted on his horse) and Takeda (surprised in his camp, and armed only with his signaling fan). The castle later became the base of the famous Sanada clan, who ruled the domain until the end of the Edo period.
Fee includes all transport, accommodation, evening and breakfast meals. It does not include lift passes or equipment rental. Lift passes will cost 3500-7800 yen depending on option. Rental will usually cost between 6000-10000 yen depending on what you require.
On Sunday we will leave Nozawa Onsen between 4:30-5:30pm, have dinner in Matsumoto, returning to Aichi about 9.30pm.
Departs: East Exit, JR Okazaki Station, 7:00pm. Returns: 9:30pm (approx)
Mode of transport: Minivan or Microbus
Deadline for Discount Price: 14 days prior
Tour Code: OK0305 (needed for application form below)