Skiing Weekend in Nozawa Onsen (野沢温泉) near Nagano

I left work at a reasonable time one recent Friday night and caught the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagano followed by a local train and a taxi to the final destination of Nozawa Onsen. It’s been a while since I’ve been away for the whole weekend and I felt quite excited.

My thoughts have turned a bit in recent days to my return to the UK in April and as part of that I’m seeing Japan in fresh eyes. On Friday night I realised that I will really miss the efficiency of Japanese trains. The Shinkansens are very comfortable, with lots of space and it’s nice to have time to study and read while travelling fast through the country! I enjoyed a packed tea – a kind of bento box.

I met a running friend in Nagano and we got the local train together to the nearest station to Nozawa Onsen. From there we share a short taxi ride to the hotel with 2 other people in the queue.

Arriving at the hotel I was sharing a room with 3 other women from the running club. This is quite common in Japan, we had futon on tatami mats with a shared toilet and small table to socialise around. I enjoyed some tea and snacks before we headed out to one of the 14 free public baths in the town (onsen). There is an abundance of natural hot water due to the volcanic geology in the area.

The town was lovely, there was deep snow but the roads were clear as people pumped the natural hot water over their drives and the road melting the snow. There was a slight smell of sulphur in the air from the volcanic activity but a real treat to have a hot bath in the snow!

I got up early the next morning for a short run before another quick Onsen and then a good Japanese breakfast, pescatarian version for me, which included fruit, salad, rice, green tea and fish.

Next was skiing. The resort was great and the snow very good. Like Hokkaido at Christmas there was a lot of fresh powder snow. Not quite to the level of Hokkaido but enough to make the skiing very friendly and pleasant. I spent the day with 2 Japanese women that I was sharing my room with. They were better on the slopes than me but we had a great day out stopping for lunch at a restaurant near the top of the mountain and meeting most of the others. In the day we managed to cover most of the resort hardly touching the green routes – an achievement for me!

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We got the last chair back to the village and after another Onsen had a great Japanese dinner in the hotel with the whole group. It was a kind of banquet with sashimi, rice, hot pot, pickles including traditional Nozawa Onsen pickle that was delicious! A kind of patchoi mildly pickled. They had it with every meal and was for sale in all of the ski resort lunch spots.

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After dinner we visited a real ale bar with a bit of a British twist

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Chiba San got out the Namban Banner and we took a ‘holiday’ picture!

The next day I enjoyed a Sunday morning without a run (the only one in my marathon training – 11 weeks so far) and after another good breakfast hit the slopes again. We started with the small chair lift to the ski station – you get an idea of the amount of snow from this!

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Skiing in Niseko, Hokkaido with Mark, Christmas 2014

Skiing and Powder Snow

Mark arrived in Tokyo and after a weekend together we headed north by flight from Tokyo to Sapporo in Hokkaido.  Our plan was 4 days skiing in the resort of Niseko south west of Sapporo.

Whenever I mentioned our trip to any friends or colleagues they mentioned 3 things:

1. the amazing powder snow

2. it’s cold!

3. it’s full of Australians.

All turned out to be true.  For me I felt a little like I’d left Japan and entered the international world of skiing.  Niseko did provide some great Japanese food but the main language was generally English and there were lots of Australians, north Americans and Europeans skiing.  Also, some of the things I’d come to love about Japan were missing.  An example is tipping, in Japan you do not tip, people give the exact amount for meals in exact change if possible.  In Niseko there were some jars labelled with ‘tips’ in some of the restaurants and pubs – I stuck to the traditionally Japanese approach.

The week that we were there Niseko got 167cm of snow!  That’s what makes it some of the best powder snow in the World!  Not being a world class skier I wondered what world class powder would mean.  It was great, very forgiving, no sliding sideways down icy slopes and quite a lot of fun on fresh snow feeling like you were the first there (and often were).

It did also mean that a lot of the time it was snowing so not great for photographs but wonderful for skiing!

It was very cold too.  I was used to it being quite cold from Tokyo but Hokkaido was very much colder.  I skied in many layers including several layers of down and we had to stop on a few occasions just to arm up and defrost nub fingers and toes.

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You can see in some of the picture above how deep the snow was.  On occasion we were skiing up to our knees.  It is a bit of a different style of skiing but a lot of fun especially when you are one of the first people done the slope.

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I loved the trees in Niseko.  Due to the almost constant snow they were had all of their branches covered, really beautiful!

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Travel in Japan (at least from a Japanese perspective) is all about food.  Whenever you visit somewhere people ask what you ate or whether you ate the food that the region you visited is famous for?

So therefore included in this post are many descriptions of the fantastic food that we ate while in Niseko.  Hokkaido is famous for lots of foods, dairy and crabs particularly and seafood generally.

I’m missing any photos of the good Italian meal that we had which included lovely cheese, mozzarella and feta – I’ve not found much great cheese in Japan – it is available but takes a bit of searching out and as there is so much alternative good food I’ve not put the effort in.  I’ve also missed any pictures of the excellent sushi that we had on our last lunch before flying back to Tokyo.  It was delicious and if we didn’t have a flight to catch I’m not sure I could have got Mark out of there for several hours!

Izakaya

Izakaya is traditional Japanese pub style food – lots of small dishes to share cooked in front of us.

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Teppanyaki

The teppan is a hot plate where food is cooked.  In this restaurant we had our own and had to cook our own food.  here are some pictures of Mark cooking okomoniyaki (Japanese pancakes) on our teppan.

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Yakatori

This was our Christmas dinner, after a good day of skiing.  Yakatori is food on small skewers here we enjoyed many good things including peppers, mushrooms, chicken (for Mark) and also scallops and crab (not traditionally yakatori but very much from Hokkaido!).

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