With Chinese New Year came a week off work and a great opportunity to avoid the crowds in China by escaping to Japan! I also managed to convince my brothers and some Aussie friends to meet me there for a week of skiing 🙂
Thankfully I was organised enough to book flights and accommodation well in advance, as prices really started to go through the roof at that time of year. It was an easy direct flight from Shanghai to Tokyo, where I met up with my brothers and hopped a car up to the gorgeous village of Nozawa Onsen. Our arrival was not so promising, with some rain falling and snow melting on the roads… but within an hour we were geared up, and close to the top of the mountain where the precipitation was thankfully snow rather than rain! The weather was good to us for the remainder of the week, with some excellent snowfall dumps overnight and some incredible blue sky days to enjoy the fresh powder! There’s nothing quite like the feeling of cutting fresh tracks through powdery snow…
There were a few periods of low visibility, but thankfully no real white-outs or blizzards. It just gave us some good opportunities for hot chocolate breaks 🙂 We did have one less than pleasant evening wandering around the village in increasingly heavy snow, attempting to find a restaurant with a free table for dinner, but that’s all part of the adventure right?
It’s not the biggest or steepest ski resort in the world, but there was a solid range of trails from cruisy green runs to tough black runs (one of which we ended up on by accident after missing a turn-off; I think my friend has still not quite forgiven me for forcing her onto the ungroomed moguls!) My favourite trail was the long Skyline run which provided some stunning views of the village and an opportunity to clock some crazy speeds on a steep part. My record was almost 88kmh!
Nozawa Onsen itself is a lovely little village with some great restaurants, chilled out bars and plenty of hot springs. There are 13 public onsens (bath houses) that take advantage of the natural hot springs, and most locals use these for their everyday bathing. Once I got over the initial slight awkwardness of nude bathing (and got used to the scalding hot water!) I thoroughly enjoyed relaxing in an onsen after a hard day of skiing.
We also took a half day break from skiing to pay a visit to the Jigokudani Monkey Park and witness the snow monkeys enjoying their own “nacked” bathing! It was a nice sunny day so there were lots of baby monkeys playing around, plenty of sunbathing going on, grooming and playful antics… and finally one baby monkey who spent the entire time huddled alone looking very forlorn. I wanted to pick him up and take him home!
After a wonderful week in Nozawa, with plenty of good times (and possibly a little too much sake at times!) it was time to catch the incredibly efficient bullet train back to Tokyo for a quick visit. With only 1.5 days to spend there, we did a whirlwind tour of the city which included the famous Shibuya intersection with its pedestrian scramble when the lights change, a wander around Sensoji temple and my fortune being told (I think it was a good one? Hard to tell), a sunset view from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building, some traditional nightlife and a stroll through the park.
All too soon it was time to say “sayonara” and head back to Shanghai!
More photos available on Flickr here