Nozawa Onsen - A Winter Wonderland
Nozawa Onsen is a fairly well-known ski and hot spring town in Nagano Prefecture. Legend has it that one day, a hunter was tracking a bear that he had shot through the mountains. When he found the bear, it was sitting in a natural hot spring healing its wounds. This hot spring is now known as "Kumanoteara-yu" and is the oldest onsen in the town. These days it is much loved by Japanese and foreigners alike for its ample powder snow and ski fields mixed with its rustic traditional charm.
Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort was opened in 1924 and welcomes visitors with a large and attractive ski lodge which houses several restaurants. From December to the end of March you will find 297 hectares of excellent quality powder snow covered ski fields. Unlike many other ski resorts, to access this you must take a free travellator from the base of the town to the ski resort. There are courses for all levels of skier, from long and gentle runs to hard-core mogul-filled vertical looking slopes. You can rent equipment at the resort, but it is much cheaper to rent from one of the shops in the village and carry the gear up.
The Zip-Skyride was opened in 2017 and is a 652m zipline which allows you to fly from the top of a ski slope down to the base, soaring above the heads of the skiers. The view was amazing and the zipline highly enjoyable albiet short. It is suitable for those too nervous for a regular zipline as it's not "freefall" - the parachute slows you down slightly the entire way so your stomach doesn't "drop" like it would on a freefall zipline.
At the base of the ski slopes lies the kid's play area. There is a bouncy castle, bouncy slide, small ski hill and sledding slope. There aren't many different kinds of sleds to try like in other resorts, but it's a fairly spacious area with lots of fresh snow at the top edge to play in - we built an igloo!
Dotted throughout the village are 14 free public bathhouses, each with a small onsen inside. Some are more rustic than others, but all hark back to the communal living of the past when villagers would socialise while they bathed. Please bring your own towel as these facilities have no amenities. Some of the baths contain very hot water, so you may wish to also try the paid Furusato-no-yu Onsen for a more tolerable temperature and an outdoor bath. Several of the baths have places where you can cook your own eggs ("onsen tamago") - try Kamitera-yu, Kumanoteara-yu, Matsuba-no-yu or Jyuoudo-no-yu.
Nozawa is not a sleepy town which goes silent by 5pm. In fact it is a bustling ski town with many bars and restaurants, from traditional to modern sleek. You can wander the charming streets and see what catches your eye. If you want a charming and cozy restaurant try 'Nozawa Jiyu Gekijyo', an old strip club turned skewer restaurant. A large table is covered in skewers speared with at least 50 different foods. Guests sit either around the table or around a fireplace in the next room. You choose whichever sticks you like and pay 100 yen per stick. There was a great atmosphere here, although it is not recommended for those worried about covid due to the exposed food. For other dining options, you can click here to check this detailed guide.
If you have always wanted to dine inside an igloo, try "Restaurant Kamakura Village" where you can eat warming noroshi nabe inside their private igloos.
Dosojin Fire Festival
This has been cancelled for 2021 but usually the Dosojin Fire Festival takes place every year on January 15th. Men aged 42 and 25 are said to be "unlucky" and they must fight off the rest of the villagers as they try to set alight a massive tower built by the men. Eventually the villagers overcome the men and the tower succumbs to the flames.
What else is there to do?
If skiing, onsen and dining out aren't enough, you could also take a day trip to see the famous snow monkeys or try a local snow shoe tour. Or simply walk around the village and explore, you might come across their fresh water wells or a picturesque shrine like this one in the picture.