And I can tell you, even getting down to your skin is not the easiest of manoeuvres when your outfits consist of thermals, a fleece, ski jacket, beanie, neck warmer, inner gloves and mittens.
But get under our skin it did. When I was putting together a proposal for our group Japan itinerary, visiting Nozawa was high on my priority list after our daughter had visited two years before and had started raving even before returning home. The others in our group seemed a bit lukewarm on the idea but by even two days into our stay, the verdict was in – this was the group’s collective favourite spot.
Nozawa offers more of a traditional Japanese village experience than Hakuba. If you’re a young, party group, it’s probably not for you. If you’re travelling as a family or just looking for a quieter option on your ski or snow boarding holiday, then Nozawa should be on your radar.
Traditional does not mean you will have to sacrifice any creature comforts. We stayed in incredible accommodation and ate supremely well.
What traditional means is that you’ll enjoy walking the narrow streets of the village where the local architecture style still remains, where villagers prepare food in the cooking onsen, where wooden Dosojin statues of a man and woman have you curious as to their origin and meaning and where you’ll find 15 free, public onsens to soak off the day spent on the slopes.
Traditional means you’ll find a greater number of Japanese dining options. There are still burgers and pizza on offer in the town but more small, Japanese restaurants offering superior food at very good prices.
And if it’s quality snow (#JAPOW) you’re looking for, you’ll find it. According to our host, ex Swiss-ski champion Gab Sutter, Nozawa receives the second most amount of snow in the world; pipped at the piste (see what I did there?) by somewhere in Alaska.
So maybe it’s the snow, I should have started this post with, specifically walking home in it after a night out with our friends. It was so heavy, we needed umbrellas to shield us. With big, luscious flakes falling down and around us, it couldn’t have felt more removed from a hot, humid Queensland summer. It felt magical and surreal all wrapped up into one.
If Nozawa Onsen is on your must-do list, then my 9 tips for a snow holiday in Nozawa might help with your pre-planning and your fun on the ground and/or slopes. One note to make before I get stuck in – most places only take cash. We tried to pre-pay as much as possible before arriving in Nozawa. There are two ATMs in the town, with a daily withdrawal limit, so plan accordingly.
9 tips for skiing or snowboarding in Nozawa Onsen
How to get there
We flew Singapore Airlines from Brisbane via Singapore into Tokyo, before spending two nights in the capital and eight nights in Hakuba. Through Nozawa Holidays, I was able to book a 27-seater private transfer bus from our accommodation in Hakuba to Nozawa Onsen (the bus even had my name on it … it’s the small things, I tell you). The alternative if travelling as a smaller group between Hakuba and Nozawa would be to book on the Nagano Snow Shuttle.
If coming from Tokyo to Nozawa, you can catch the bullet train (Shinkansen) from Tokyo Station to Iiyama Station. It’s fast, efficient (2.5 hours) and you can book online a reserved seat on your desired train 30 days before travel, picking those tickets up at the airport or in Tokyo. Book HERE. You would then catch the Nozawa Onsen Liner Bus from Iiyama to Nozawa.
If you’re not heading to Tokyo at the start of your trip and just want the ease of going from the airport to the slopes direct, then check out the Nagano Snow Shuttle. It will be a longer journey (about six hours) but it might be less stress if travelling in a large group. We chose this way to return to the airport on our final day. There was free wi-fi on the bus and there were several toilet/snack stops along the way. I’d highly recommend for the convenience.
Where to stay
Very early on in my research into accommodation in Nozawa, I came across Nozawa Holidays (shout out to Kerri who answered my MANY emails over 12 months!). Nozawa Holidays has been welcoming international guests to Nozawa for 25 years. They collectively bring with them a fabulous blend of Australian, European and Japanese know-how and service. My hot tip to you would be to reach out to the team via the website and put in your travel dates, number of people in your group and the type of accommodation you’re looking for, including budget, and let them come back to you with options to suit.
This was how I found Tamanegi House, an eco-designed and built timber chalet that is our hosts’ family home. Gab, his wife Kyoko and daughter Akari live here in it in the summer. In the snow season, it easily accommodates two families, separately within the one chalet. Downstairs, there is a main bedroom, bathroom, living area and kitchen, bathroom, and basement accommodation for three. Upstairs is another two bedrooms, living and kitchen area, bathroom and balcony. The front door and ski locker is communal but there are separate internal entrances to each “apartment”. It’s not large but we found it was a perfect size for our needs. It felt comfortable, warm (but not too warm) and the views out any of the windows to the alps could not have been a better way to start or end the day. Gab and Kyoko also own the Swiss Bakery directly opposite (more below). Above the bakery they also own and run the Akari apartments, which I’d also highly recommend. The ground floor of Akari and Tamanegi were once Sake shops. These properties are about a 10 minute walk from the centre of the village – just far enough to be in a quiet location but not too far that you didn’t hesitate to step out in the snow. We could also walk up 200 metres to a chairlift that connected with the entire Nozawa ski resort.
The other two families in our four-family group found a property a further 10 minutes out from us in the village. They LOVED it. It was large and easily and comfortably accommodated the 11 in both families. They also couldn’t stop raving about how helpful their host, Jack, had been during their stay. More HERE.
Where to hire your ski/snowboard gear
Most of the accommodation places have links to the hire places in Nozawa. With Nozawa Holidays, we pre-booked our gear and walked just a few minutes up the street to be fitted. The team then delivered our gear to our drying room later that day. When our youngest got the all clear to get back on the slopes for the last two days, they helped us quickly to get his gear sorted the evening before.
Where to ski
There are three bases to the ski resort. Our nearest base was Karasawa; and there are gondolas at Nagasaka and Hikage. For someone who’d just found her ski legs after 27 years, the fact that 40% of Nozawa’s ski runs are for beginners was music to my legs. Even better, the green runs were not just situated near the bases. We spent most of our time skiing on the Paradise run up the top of the Hikage gondola. The trails are wide and forgiving, the trees are coated in snow and the views are spectacular. The intermediates in our group did the red runs that go up from the top of the Nagasaka gondola. The runs were long enough that we all had a great time, no matter what our ski/boarding level but short enough that we would find one of our party to hang out with.
We pre-paid for our lift passes through Nozawa Holidays. When on the ground you need to pick up each day’s pass if you are doing non-consecutive days. They are old-school passes that you’ll need an armband to display (for sale on the ground). Cost is about $60 per day for an adult pass.
I had pre-booked a private ski lessons through Nozawa Holidays before our trip as I thought a little one-on-one help to get me moving a little more confidently would be beneficial. It was. The two hours I spent with Kelsey (a Canadian architect who’s having a gap year with her partner from their careers) set me up beautifully for the week ahead. When our youngest was able to get back on the board, we sorted a one-on-one lesson for him too. Shout out to Sylvie for making him feel confident after a shaky start the week before when he was injured.
How to get around
Walking! I loved that we could step out the door and walk to the slopes, to the shops, to the restaurants … all on non-busy streets that were largely ice/snow free due to the onsen water. There is a free shuttle bus that runs in a circuit around the town, connecting various points and ski bases.
Where to eat and drink
Even though Nozawa Onsen is small compared with Hakuba, we only scratched the surface when it came to dining out options. Like in Hakuba, we stocked up at the supermarket and convenience stores with breakfast food and snacks. We also had a breakfast pack in our chalet on our arrival as well as the bakery across the street for top ups. When looking to dine out, the restaurants are small. You may be lucky to get a walk in without a reservation but if you really want to try a particular restaurant, walk through the village about 6pm with the aim of booking for the following night or the night after. Take the streets off the main street and check out any places where you see a red, hanging lantern. You’ll get a vibe for where you’d like to eat.
Akari House Swiss Bakery – this is the real deal and killed me that there were no gluten-free options, except the coffee! Everyone loved the baked goods on offer. From 4pm, the bakery serves up pizza and also sells bottled wine at reasonable prices.
Tonkichi – this was the nearest Japanese restaurant to our accommodation and we loved it so much we went twice. The speciality is Okonimiyaki (Japanese savoury pancakes) but we also ordered all our other favourite Japanese bites to share.
Hamacho Sushi – somehow we arrived at just the right time to get a table at this small restaurant, the only sushi restaurant in the village. I’ll let the photo do the talking but this was seriously some of the best I’ve ever had.
Haus St Anton – Nozawa’s sister village is St Anton in Austria and you definitely feel that connection in this here. You’ll find All Press coffee, home-crafted jams from local produce, mulled wine and Oyaki dumplings, freshly cooked just outside on the main street.
Sakai – we didn’t have a reservation here but lucked it and had one of the best Japanese meals of the trip. It was extremely good value, tasty and served on exquisite Japanese ceramics. Dining at Sakai felt like being invited into the couple’s home.
Kongo Night Market – new to Nozawa, these indoor markets provided a great venue for our last night out all together. Everyone could order their food and drink downstairs and we had plenty of room for 22 upstairs (do pre-book the space though). The tables had barbecues on top for cooking your own meat choices. So delicious. Somehow, the husband thought Sake would be a good idea.
Heaven Karaoke bar – while we didn’t book a booth, the adults did have a fun night here drinking beers and Chilean white wine. I may or may not have sung like I was in a karaoke booth because their playlist was that fun.
Mount Dock Gondala Cafe – based just below the Nagasaka gondola was the meeting point for our lessons and the spot where I found the best coffee in town. Drinking it outside in the snow made it all the better.
Buna – this was our regular lunch time stop on the mountain. It’s about half-way down the Paradise run and we’d been told by many that the hot chocolates there were worth the stop alone. I can vouch for said hot chocolates. Make sure you go the whipped cream. You’ve worked for it, after all! HAH. We also loved the curry, noodle bowls and the don.
What to do when not on the slopes
Walk through the village
We did the first of many village walks on our arrival as we had time to kill before check-in. It’s when we fell in love with the village, its Sunday afternoon quiet and calm. We also had to get the youngest to his physio appointment! On other walks, we found the cooking onsen and plenty of Dosojin statues.
There are plenty of segregated public and private onsens in Nozawa but if you’d like to onsen as a couple or family, pack your swimsuits and head to Sparena where you can onsen outdoors, which was a fantastic experience in itself. One of the outdoor pools is 36.5 degrees; one is 41 degrees. Remember to take off any silver jewellery before you hop in as it will tarnish from the sulphur.
Take a Snow Monkeys tour
Nozawa is nearest to the Snow Monkeys park and this is a tour you must do at least once, especially if you’ve been scarred by the monkeys in Ubud, Bali. These monkeys really don’t give two hoots if you’re there. They scamper past you and just get on with their own thing – whether that’s fighting with a sibling or giving their kid a bath. They were so fascinating to watch and I was blown away we could get so up close to them. Back in the ‘60s, the Snow Monkeys started copying humans and joining them in the onsen each afternoon. Given that the monkeys toilet where and whenever they like, this wasn’t the most hygienic of situations. In 1967, a purpose-built monkey onsen and park was created about 2km into the forest and humans from around the world have been making the trek to check them out ever since.
Nozawa Fire Festival
We missed the annual Fire Festival by three days and watched it via Instagram with regret. If you’re planning a future trip in January, then try and match up the dates to be in the village for January 15. More about the festival HERE.
So, tell me, have you visited Hakuba? What tips can you add to this post?
Why travel insurance is as important as your passport
For me, I don’t book a holiday without first taking out travel insurance. Often the time of booking flights and accommodation can be long before the time of travel and you can never be certain of what might happen between then and showing your passport at customs.
I then want to take off knowing that if someone in my family needs it, I’m backed up with help from my travel insurance company. For my last four international trips – to Europe, Hawaii, Bali and now Japan – I’ve chosen and paid for Allianz travel insurance. I also take out Allianz travel insurance for any domestic travel like a girls’ weekend away or road trips we do.
Obtaining Allianz travel insurance is a simple and easy process. I select and purchase my cover online. I’ve found that the insurance cover is competitive in price for the inclusions I select.
For me, it’s about having peace of mind when we travel. I want to know that if anything goes wrong that my family is backed up through medical help or simply help with extra accommodation or replacement belongings should something be stolen.
When our son was sick six years ago while in New York, we weren’t concerned by the potential expense should we need hospital treatment. And when I book holidays in advance, I do so with the knowledge that if unexpected cancellations occur, I’m covered.^
In short, I don’t leave home – or book a holiday – without it.
Book with Allianz Travel Insurance online HERE. Enter STYLINGYOU to receive up to 10% off Comprehensive Travel Insurance*
*Discount based on standard premium rates and applies to International Comprehensive policies only. Please note some discounts may have already been applied to premiums when a product is purchased through a certain channel (for example, online) (Original Discount). In such a case, the greater of the discount offered under this voucher and the Original Discount will be applied. Discount applies to standard premiums only. No discount will be applied to other premium components such as pre-existing medical condition cover.
Allianz Travel Insurance is issued and managed by AWP Australia Pty Ltd ABN 52 097 227 177 AFS Licence No. 245631, trading as Allianz Global Assistance, on behalf of the insurer Allianz Australia Insurance Limited ABN 15 000 122 850 AFS Licence No. 234708. Any information or advice here does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should consider the Product Disclosure Statement available at allianz.com.au before buying this product.
^Terms, conditions, limits, and exclusions apply. Please see the Product Disclosure Statement for more information. Any information or advice here does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. If you purchase a policy, Allianz Global Assistance receives a commission which is a percentage of your premium – ask them for more details before they provide you with any services on this product.
My 10-step packing guide for any destination
For me, the holiday planning is all part of the excitement and anticipation of being on that escape. I love nothing more than going down the rabbit hole that is the internet looking for inspiration and ideas for what to do at the chosen destination but also for the types of clothes and accessories that will best suit that destination at the time that I’m travelling.
The formula I use for packing is one that can be adapted and applied to every destination and type of holiday. It’s not complicated. If you follow all the steps it’s quite liberating. I can’t ever imagine returning to my bad old days of throwing everything into a suitcase, sitting on said suitcase to get it closed, and hoping that I’d packed what I needed.
Want to get that formula? It’s all in my e-book.