If you’re heading to Japan in the winter you can’t leave without hitting the slopes in Nagano, or seeing snow monkeys! Luckily Nozawa Onsen offers both, just over 2 hours from Tokyo. Nozawa Onsen is very much a ski town, with hostels, restaurants and small stores all packed in together at the bottom of the hill. It makes for a very exciting and friendly atmosphere. This mountain is no stranger to tourists, and lots of rental shops offer everything you could possibly need to get you on the slopes, for reasonable prices. We were lucky enough to arrive after a 24 hour dumping of fresh snow, and had a blast in the powder and glades at the top of the mountain. We were also very thankful for the multiple restaurants perched on the hill, as we could rest our tired legs and warm up with some udon noodles before heading to the bottom. You won’t find snow monkeys on the hill, but they’re not far away! Check out our guide for getting to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park here. We only skied for one day at Nozawa Onsen, and wish we could’ve stayed for a few more, not only to hits the slopes longer, but also to explore this fun ski community!
How to Get There
We travelled from Kanazawa to Nozawa Onsen on our loop around Japan. We took the Hakutaka Shinkansen (bullet train) from Kanazawa Station to Iiyama Station, which took about an hour and 15 minutes. From there, go find the Nozawa Onsen Liner (Express) bus on the main floor of the station. It was at Bus Stop #4 when we were there, and you can find your ticket for 600 yen outside at the ticket machine before boarding the bus. The buses run consistently, and take about 25-30 mins to get from Iiyama station to the final stop in Nozawa Onsen (close to the middle of the village). Please note, there is no option for IC Cards if you have been using that in the past.
The Nozawa Onsen Liner bus has numerous different stops within the ski village, but the main one will be in the centre of town in a large parking lot. From here you can usually walk to your hotel/hostel easily. There are signs posted here letting you know when buses are heading back to Iiyama station.
We also travelled between Nozawa Onsen and Tokyo at the end of our trip. We took the 25 minute Nozawa Onsen Liner (Express) bus to Iiyama Station. The bus picks you up in the same parking lot you would have been dropped off in (the last stop in the parking lot). From Iiyama station it was just under 2 hours to get back to Tokyo on the Hakutaka Shinkansen.
Where to Stay
- Peanuts Guesthouse – This is a very fun hostel near the main area of the town, and less than a 10 minute walk to the hill. The rooms are very basic, ryokan style with futons on the floor, and barely enough room to fit two side by side. There’s a small closet to store bags in your room, but pack light if you can! Bathrooms are communal, and the shower is on the basement level along with a communal onsen (split by gender of course). The owner was extremely friendly and welcoming, and it was a very laid back atmosphere. You can also get discounts at Nozawa Sports Thanx for ski and board rentals through them. Our room was 9500 yen for one night, which was cheaper than anywhere else we could find in the village by a long shot! You can book online here, we highly recommend it!
What to Do
- Ski/Snowboard! – Almost everyone heading here is planning on hitting the slopes. Check out Nozawa Onsen Thanx for affordable rentals, they have literally everything, including coats, snow pants, hats and gloves. Ski your butt off, but also make sure to stop in at the restaurants on the side of the hills to warm up with some yummy noodles. The hill is great for experts or beginners, with a very long barely sloping green run you can take all the way down, as well as glades and steep slopes at the very top.
- Aprés Ski – Not into skiing but got dragged here by your friends or partner? There are lots of cafes and pubs right at the base of the hill for you to hang out at! Aprés ski is all part of the experience, and who says it can only be enjoyed after skiing (other than the actual phrase…).
- Snow Monkeys – Nozawa Onsen isn’t far from Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, where you can watch these cute primates soak themselves in hot springs. Generally we recommend going to the park as a stop on your travel to/from Nozawa Onsen as opposed to a day trip from there (unless you want to pay quite a bit for a tour). Check out our full guide to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park here.
Where to Eat
- The Craft Room – Lots of great craft beers, as well as Kirin beer for 600 yen and Kirin cider for 700 yen. It’s located right on the base of the hill by Nagasaka Gondola, perfect for an Aprés Ski. We didn’t eat here, but almost ordered when we saw the delicious chicken wings arrive at the table beside us. It also has wifi.
- Mt. Dock – This is a little café right in front of the Nagasaka Gondola, a great place to grab a quick takeaway bite before hitting the slopes. Toasties were 800 yen and if you wanted to warm up after a long day of skiing they also have hot chocolate with rum for 700 yen. They also have wifi.
- Hagukin Lodge – This lodge/restaurant is located on the actual hill, about halfway down. It has a regular (western style) section with tables, a Japanese style section, and a whole upstairs part as well. Heaters spaced around can warm your gloves and helmets. We had amazing Japanese curry and tempura udon that hit the spot after a long day of skiing, and prices weren’t marked up as we expected, being on the side of a mountain.
- Kebab House – Heading back to the village, the Kebab House had great kebabs for 700 yen. That’s all we have to say about that!
- Winter land – You can’t miss the sign for Winter land when walking to the main part of town. Cool vibe and very yummy gyoza. It has craft beer, cider and Chu-hi’s, but they’re all a little on the expensive side.
- St. Anton – Grabbed an Oyaki from here, which is a steamed pork bun, and it was to die for. So good! Also little snacks and coffees in a warm atmosphere.
- The Grill – Didn’t have a great experience here, we’d suggest avoiding it. The service was non-existent and we did not feel comfortable.