Wintertime activities in Japan - more than just great skiing or snowboarding!
Japan, one of the most mountainous countries in the world, is not surprisingly one of the snowiest. Hokkaido and the central and northern areas of Honshu are regularly blanketed with snow up to depths of several meters in winter. Which makes Japan one of the most popular destinations for lovers of winter sports!
Awareness of Japan as a winter sports mecca rose sharply in the wake of the country's hosting of the 1998 Winter Olympics in the town of Nagano and nearby resort of Hakuba. Skiers and snowboarders from overseas quickly became aware of the quality and reliability of the country's snow.
Many of those who have already skied in traditionally popular resorts in Japan like Niseko and Hakuba are increasingly looking for new winter destinations here. There are plenty to choose from, and many of them offer activities beyond skiing and snowboarding. Here are some recommendations!
Urabandai in Fukushima prefecture, three hours by road from Tokyo, contains two large ski resorts and a winter camp. The ski resorts--Nekoma and Urabandai--boast high quality "ultrafine" powder snow formed when arid inland terrain at more than 1,000m elevation interacts with cold air cooled by the surrounding lakes. Many of the slopes face north, which helps retain the powdery condition of the snow even during sunny days, and skiing is often possible until early May. Urabandai also offers a brand new sledding course.
Want to try angling on a frozen lake? At Urabandai you can fish through holes drilled in the ice for wakasagi, a kind of silvery fish in the salmon and trout family. Then how about enjoying a hot spring bath gazing at the clear night sky?
Just two hours by public transport from Central Japan's Chubu International Airport, near Nagoya, is the huge winter resort of Gujo in Gifu prefecture in the Takasu mountains. It offers no fewer than 18 individual runs suiting all levels, from complete beginners to advanced skiers and snowboarders. For families, the gentle slopes at Dynaland facility at Takasu Snow Park are equipped with moving belts and escalators designed to allow safe and fun sledding for all ages. Gujo also offers snowshoe trekking, snow rafting and an exhilarating ride on a winter zip line!
Around one hour north of Gujo, the Shirakawa-go UNECSO World Heritage Site attracts visitors all year round with its famous steep-roofed thatched houses and artisans' workshops.
In winter you can enjoy a range of experiences there, including a unique "tent sauna" amid a landscape of pure white snow. The hosts provide everything from towels and sauna hats to hot tea!
Nozawa Onsen, in Nagano prefecture, is one of Japan's oldest ski resorts. It offers more than 50 kilometers of trails and pistes with a wide variety of terrain; family-friendly wide open pistes, challenging mogul runs and some great powder between the marked runs. There is also a terrain park with jumps, rails, boxes and an 80-meter pipe to get the adrenalin pumping.
There is additionally a rest station for kids in the Hikage Trail Information Centre which is easily accessible from the village. Its facilities include a daycare center for children between the ages of one and six staffed by fully qualified childcare workers. Just outside is a safe and secure Kids Park with attractions including an inflatable bouncer, junior sled rides and tubing courses.
With most of Japan's immigration restrictions now lifted, the country is ready to welcome back overseas winter sports fans this season. You'll find a host of resort and area recommendations at our "SNOW LIKE NO OTHER" website. With still two months to go before the start of the main season, there is still plenty of time for winter sports fans and their families to book their trip here!
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