Niigata Echigo Yuzawa

Just one hour from Tokyo on the shinkansen, Echigo Yuzawa is a fun get-away to a snowy paradise. There are mountains for skiing, and even play areas for kids to sled. Even ski gear and snow boots can be rented, so no need to go up with heavy bags. We left sunny Tokyo and after passing through a long tunnel near our destination, was surprised to be arriving in a winter wonderland.

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Yuzawa Ski Park Resort

We used Yuzawa Ski Park Resort with a free shuttle from the station. After arriving we signed up for a kids’ ski lesson and rented a sled.

Yuzawa Kogen is walking distance from the station. We took a cable car from the base to halfway up the mountain where there was a blizzard and we were in the clouds.

We stayed at Taki no Yu and had our own private onsen (photo above right) in our room. The kid-friendly ryokan had Purare-ru train set in the lobby.

The cuisine was very good. Below are photos of the small dishes for the okayu breakfast (left photo) and the appetizers for dinner (right photo).

Taki no Yu. Request the Kikyou Room for the private onsen in the room. The water made my skin feel soft and the temperature was not too hot. The rotenburo, outdoors onsen, was set in snow. Soaking in a hot tub while snow falls down is so relaxing. The room we stayed in had two beds and a separate tatami room for futons. It said it could sleep up to seven, so a good option if traveling with family.

http://www.yuzawa-takinoyu.com/rooms/#con_kikyou

The station has a large shopping area for omiyage including regional food products, knives, fresh produce, and rice. Niigata is famous for Koshihikari grown in Uonuma. There are several restaurants including a sushi-ya, soba-ya, and a nice cafe for mattcha latte and soft serve made with local milk.

Ponshukan is a saké tasting room for a flight of five saké starting at 500 JPY.

There is a visitors’ center in the station that is a warm seating area and has free wifi as well as some brochures in English.

For the return shinkansen we picked up two bentō at the ekiben stand in the station. Both bentō  include a heating unit under the bentō that heats it up in five minutes. There is a big selection of cup saké sold at the station.

Echigo Yuzawa would also be an easy day trip from Tokyo. Round-trip tickets are less than 15,000 JPY. One tip, ask for seats on the second floor of the shinkansen for better views. Another tip, many roads and sidewalks have running water to keep the snow from accumulating. Be sure to go with waterproof shoes, or rent a pair of boots at the information center just outside of the station.

Nunohan Ryokan – Suwa, Nagano

When deciding where to stay while traveling in Japan there are many considerations for type of stay. When we can, we try to stay at local ryokan inns with onsen hot springs. Nunohan was put on my radar by a friend who lives in Suwa, Nagano.

We loved it. The ryokan is kid-friendly, had lovely cuisine, and my requirement for any stay a rotenburo, outdoor onsen. For dinner we included a flight of local saké with the full course kaiseki. Breakfast (photo on left) included freshly made tofu, grilled salmon, and much more. The rotenburo and onsen was big and spacious.

Nunohan is on the banks of Lake Suwa. Here is the view from our room. We loved taking a walk on the lake, kind of reminded me of being back in Minneapolis, but this lake is much bigger than the ones in the Cities and here we have mountains.

Nunohan has been in operation for 160 years.

ぬのはん Nunohan

〒392-0027  長野県諏訪市湖岸通り3-2-9

Tel:0266-52-5500(代) Fax:0266-52-5636

http://www.nunohan.co.jp/index.html

Keio Takao-san Onsen Gokurakuyu 京王高尾山温泉極楽湯

There is a brand new onsen at the Keio line Takao-san Guchi station. It is located just behind the new station, designed by Kengo Kuma. If you are going by JR Chuo line, when you get to Takao station, transfer to the Keio line and go one more station. Mount Takao is a great mountain for hiking. For those looking for an easy climb, take a ride to the top and do some simple walking around.

There are indoor and outdoor baths, a sauna, a micro-bubble bath, and more. On the first floor there is a big shokudō (dining hall), but the food was disappointing. I would go back for a beer and some small bites, but don’t plan on having your lunch or dinner here. There are many soba shops nearby that are worth the short walk. If you are looking for a very special meal, then make a reservation at Ukai Toriyama. I love coming here for lunch to see the gardens in the light.

The onsen was very busy, even though we went first thing in the morning. I imagine that in the afternoon when hikers are coming down from the mountain looking to refresh that it would be packed.

The onsen water is slightly cloudy and white and is alkaline. Most importantly, it isn’t too hot, so if you are not used to onsen, this is a good spot to start.

It’s only 1,000 JPY for adults, 500 JPY for kids, and children under 3 are free. There is a short period (only about 3 weeks of the year) that the prices go up by 100-200 JPY.

Keio Takaosan Onsen 京王高尾山温泉

Tokyo-to, Hachioji-shi, Takao-machi 2229-7  東京都八王子市高尾町2229-7

8:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. (last entry is at 10:00 p.m.)