Sightseeing in Nagano: 5 things to do in Nozawa Onsen (野沢温泉) - Vikingess Voyages

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sightseeing in Nagano: 5 things to do in Nozawa Onsen (野沢温泉)

It is again ski season here in Japan, and this time I've had the pleasure of trying out the ski slopes in Nozawa, which is an area that is also famous for.. You guessed it right; onsen! Just like Kusatsu where I visited a couple of months ago Nozawa has what they call and onsen-gai (温泉街); a hot spring district within the town. This made Nozawa an extra great ski destination; after a day out in the cold we could all go and soak in the hot spring and at the same time enjoy the laid back atmosphere of the town.
Nozawa Onsen bus station
But first thing first; in order to get to Nagano we took the night bus from Shinjuku, a trip that took around 7 hours due to a number of longer breaks on the way. It was a bit tiring to be honest; we arrived in Nozawa at 6 am, and ended up sleeping for a couple of hours on a bench in the reception area of our ryokan hotel. Not sure if I would recommend that to anyone. Nozawa is actually not that far from Tokyo; you can get there in 4 hours by train. So if you have more time available than we did (longer holidays is a luxury here in Japan) I would recommend going by train instead. If you prefer to do things the spartan way and save some money there are some tour operators that sell packages including bus tickets, lodging with breakfast & dinner, ski equipment and access to the ski lifts, so if you're opting for a package then the bus would be a cheap way to get to your destination.
Nozawa Onsen is as already mentioned a great destination if you're interested in doing some skiing in Japan and at the same time enjoying traditional Japanese food, onsen and architecture. In fact Nozawa has a rich history; it is said that the village dates back to the 8th century, and that the area was renowned for its onsen even back in the Edo days. The village has without a doubt kept its charm, and although it is becoming a very popular destination also among foreign tourists it is still a place where you can get that authentic Japanese cultural experience.

If you're planning on a trip to Nozawa and wondering about what to do while in town you can check out some of my recommendations below:

1. Staying at a traditional Japanese ryokan hotel

There is nothing as relaxing as sleeping on the floor.. I mean, tatami-mat. It smells so nice! At the Japanese ryokan the staff are so friendly and helpful that it almost feels like being on a visit to your grandparents' home. Simultaneously it is simply impossible to get that authentic Japanese feeling without a ryokan stay where you can stroll freely around in your yukata (Japanese bathrobes are usually provided at the ryokans for free use during your stay).

2. Go on onsen hopping

When you're in Nozawa you really should have to try out the traditional Japanese onsen bath. The onsen is well-known for its many health benefits, and after a day outside in the snow there is nothing like soaking in the warm onsen bath. There are some public baths that are open for free, and it is common for visitors to go from one onsen to the next. In our case we only had the chance to use the onsen in our ryokan because we spent most our time skiing, so onsen hopping is one of the top things I'd like to try if I get the chance to visit Nozawa again. 
Just be aware of the onsen etiquette, and that most places don't accept people with tattoos.
In Nozawa you can also find some public hot spring foot baths, known as ashinoyu (足の湯). Unlike the regular onsen the ashinoyu can be accessed freely regardless of gender, and is thus a great option if you're traveling with friends from the opposite sex and you want to hang out with friends in the hot spring. It is also a good way to warm your body up without having to go through the hassle of undressing.

3. Enjoy Japanese traditional food - washoku

Again, if you're staying at a traditional ryokan you should make sure to go for a plan that includes dinner. Traditional Japanese food is, as you probably already know, extremely healthy. And it tastes like heaven! A Japanese traditional dinner is also like a piece of art; in addition to the great taste so much effort is put into making the meal look aesthetically pleasing. Pictures below is from our dinner at Asahiya Ryokan.

4. Do some sake tasting

In the village you can find some local sake stores selling all types of locally produced sake. In Japanese this is known as jizake (地酒). In order to get some good recommendations you could for instance ask the storekeepers: "osusume no jizake wa arimasu ka?" (おすすめの地酒はありますか). And of course they also have locally produced beer, known as ji-biiru (地ビール), available for those who prefer that.

5. Enjoy the warm indoor temperature

I know it sounds stupid, but one of the things I like the most about winter is to be able to sit inside in the warmth and gaze out into the cold, white snow. It is so relaxing! It gets especially idyllic when the snow is falling outside..
From the lobby of our ryokan

...And finally of course one of the things you definitely should do while staying in Nozawa is to go skiing in the Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort! But I suppose that this is one of the main reason visitors come to Nozawa in the first place so I haven't even listed it up this time. Other things that can be mentioned is that it is possible to take day trips to other popular places in the area such as the Hell's Valley - Jigokudani (地獄谷) - famous for its bathing snow monkeys. Enjoy!
Basic Info
  • ・Place: Nozawa Onsen / Nozawaonsen (野沢温泉)
  • ・Access: 4 hours by train from Tokyo

Hotel Booking:
Hotels in Nagano

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Thank you for reading! Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below
- Anette

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About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who enjoys both the great outdoors and her urban lifestyle.

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About Me

Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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