Here are the top 8 reasons to Visit Nozawa Onsen, Japan. Nozawa Onsen is one of the best ski resort areas in Japan with deep powder that brings skiers and snowboarders from around the world to the slopes. It is also famous for the public hot springs, called onsen. As a traditional Japanese village, there is also an immersion in a different culture. The food of Nozawa Onsen is a major draw card, as is the Nozawa Onsen fire festival.
Where is Nozawa Onsen
Nozawa Onsen is located in the northern part of the Nagano Prefecture on the main island of Honshu. The resort is 46km northeast of the city of Nagano and 249km northwest of Tokyo. It is easily reached by bullet train, bus or taxi as detailed at the end of this post.
Editor note: updated December, 2018
1. The Snow
The ski area on Nozawa Onsen is one of the largest in Japan covering some 298 hectares with 50 runs suitable for all levels. A bonus is that there is guaranteed snow, with an average depth of 3.5 meters of mostly powder. There is also a vertical fall of 1085metres making for some very long runs. One of the runs for beginner to intermediate levels is 10kms. Snowboarders and skiers have a lot of choices and going off-piste are really popular with daredevil skiers.
Many of the runs are very wide, and the slopes are not at all crowded, though a little more so on the weekends when the people from Tokyo arrive. It is rare to get a queue of more than a couple of people, however.
On piste, there are many traditional Japanese cafes. What we found here is that the villagers are very welcoming people who create a really good atmosphere. The Japanese have a great approach to après life. They go in for lunch, eat and then lie down and sleep right in there in the café.
Powder hounds love Nozawa. The lift tickets are very reasonably priced, the queues are short, and the snow is guaranteed.
2. The Dosojin Fire Festival
The Dojosin fire festival, or Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival, i one of the three main fire festivals in Japan had is held every year on the 15th January. This festival is bound in tradition. The basic story is that 25-year-old and 42-year-old men, believed to be the unlucky ages according to Shinto beliefs, are expected to show their bravery while building the shrine. The 42-year-olds then climb the shrine and sit there with their sake, and sing songs as they try and protect the shrine from the marauding 25 years who ram the shrine with lit faggots and burn it down.
This serves to ward off bad luck and to assist in a good harvest for the year. This festival is fuelled by a lot of sake, and when the sake is finished, the shrine goes up, and the fireworks go off. For such gentle people it is pretty brutal, but in maintaining their generosity of spirit they share the sake with onlookers.
3. The Onsens
Soto no yu means public hot spring baths, and there are 13 free soto no yu or public bathhouses located within Nozawa Onsen. All of them are maintained by the local community. The O-yu bathhouse is the symbol of Nozawa Onsen and is located in the main street of the village. It is the largest and grandest bathhouse building among the Soto-yu. Entry is free if you are staying in the village. Read this guide to How to Have an Onsen, as there is considerable etiquette involved. Soaking in a communal onsen (traditional hot springs) is a popular thing to do all over Japan. Learn how to have an onsen in Japan.
4. Snow Monkeys of Japan
The snow monkeys of Japan are Japanese Macaque and are internationally renowned for bathing in the onsens or hot springs in the Nagano prefecture of Japan. It is a half day trip from Nozawa Onsen to the Jigokudani Yaenkoen Park. The monkey species which is native to Japan can survive temperatures of below -15 °C. They spend most of their time in the snow covered forest, hunting and gathering seeds and fruit and bathing in the very hot onsens. You can read more about the snow monkeys of Japan here.
The sake of the Nozawa Onsen region is said to be some of the finest in Japan. The 3 essential ingredients to making excellent sake are whose job is to watch every aspect of this bespoke production. Tanakaya Sake Brewery, known for ‘Mizuo’ sake, and Kadoguchi Sake Brewery of the ‘HokkoMasamune’ are renowned for their sake. The conditions in the Nozawa Onsen region, with fresh spring water, blended with Iiyama and Kijimadaira rice and experienced Toji’s, ensure that the sake is famous all over Japan . Learn how to drink sake in Japan, and remember it does creep up on you.
6. The Food
The food of Nozawa Onsen is some of the most authentic Japanese food you will experience, and also some of the most reasonably priced. While there have been some concessions to the Western palate, with pizza places open, by far and away, the best food is the local food. One of the first things most people do when arriving in Nozawa Onsen is the get one of the steamed buns, called Oya ki, from the main street vendors. The next thing to do is to munch away on an apple as the snow falls heavily on you. One of the hardest things is to find the newest restaurants. Many only open up for the ski season, and mostly you find out about them through word of mouth.
Some recommendations are Yoshimi Soba, Akibitei for the okonomiyaki, Wakagiri for the sashimi, and the Post Master’s wife cafe, located across from the Post office. There is also a fantastic place that sells the best gyoza and it has red lanterns outside, and probably no name. On piste, we have a favorite that we can’t share, should it become too popular and we can’t get a seat. Read about Japanese food in Nozawa Onsen.
Make sure to try the Onsen tamago which are ‘hot springs eggs’ or onsen eggs. Eggs are cooked in the cooking Onsen called Ogama Onsen. The Ogama Onsen, in Nozawa Onsen is used for cooking by villagers alone. Local people and restaurant owners cook here as the natural spring waters bring out the flavours of the food. Specialties of this region are the ‘onsen’ eggs and also the vegetables grown here in Nozawa. The water runs at 90 Celsius so it requires considerable skill to be able to cook here. You can cook your own onsen tamago outside some of the onsens, or buy them in a local shop.
For some inspiration, watch this video.
7. The Nightlife
It is a ski resort, and Nozawa Onsen has an excellent nightlife. One the best places for impromptu music sessions is Stay Bar. Foot Bar is on the main street and favorites for plum sake shots after a day on the slopes. Heaven is another bar that is fun for karaoke and watching people do karaoke.
8. Explore the Village
The village is well worth exploring. You can visit the Japan Ski Museum which features a collection of historic skis from all over the world and presents a history of skiing in Japan. It is interesting the follow the different little streets around and to see the people at work clearing the snow from the roofs of the houses. Make sure to sop for a foot onsen in the main street and to explore the Ogama Onsen, which is used for cooking by villagers. Get up early to see them cook the famous onsen eggs. Do an onsen crawl of the village, which is fascinating and helps you discover a lot of little hidden parts of Nozawa Onsen.
How to get to Nozawa Onsen, Japan
There are some different ways to get to Nozawa Onsen.
1. To get from Narita Airport to Tokyo or Ueno, read this for all details
2. Take the bullet train, Hokuriku Shinkansen, from Tokyo or Ueno to Iiyama. . You then take a bus for the 20-minute drive to Nozawa Onsen. The timetable is here. You could also take a taxi, and they are waiting at the station
Courtesy of Nozawa Holidays
3. Nagano Snow Shuttle has three shuttles per day from Narita/Tokyo airport, one shuttle from Haneda Tokyo Airport, Timetable.
4. You can hire a taxi that will provide a Door to Door Airport shuttle service to or from both Tokyo airports (Narita or Haneda) to Nozawa Onsen. The fare per adult is approximately 14,900 yen from Narita. This is the company what we use.email: email@example.com
This is another company also.
These are just the top 8 reasons to Visit Nozawa Onsen, Japan. There are undoubtedly more.
What would you add to this list?