A snow resort right in front of the Shinkansen station. Bring just yourself whenever you’d like!
After about an hour of riding the Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo to Niigata, the view from the window changes dramatically. “The train came out of the long border tunnel — and there was the snow country.” This is the opening line of the novel “Snow Country” by Yasunari Kawabata, a Nobel Prize-winning Japanese author. Just as described in this line, a country of snow unfolds as soon as the tunnel ends. Mountains completely covered by snow, trees and roofs of houses wearing white snow caps – it’s a snow country! What activities are you going to engage in and what experiences await you? Your expectations grow ever greater.
For those who first want to enjoy snow activities, the snow resort “GALA Yuzawa” is recommended. It is directly connected to Joetsu Shinkansen station, which is 77 minutes from Tokyo Station, and you can access to the entrance to the snow resort as soon as you exit GALA Yuzawa Station. Since you can rent not only ski or snowboard equipment and clothing, but also small goods such as goggles and caps, you can bring just yourself whenever you’d like. However, it is a good idea to bring a change of clothes, as snow activities will make you sweatier than you’d expect. Once you get ready, head to the slopes using the gondola, which is a specialty of GALA Yuzawa. You can enjoy a skywalk for about 8 minutes while viewing the snowscape below.
Many of the snow resorts in Niigata are designed so that visitors can choose slopes according to their skill level or preferences. GALA Yuzawa has gentle slopes for beginners, slopes where sledding can safely be enjoyed, and snow areas for children to play in, so even those who are not good at skiing or families can fully enjoy snow activities. Of course, it is perfect for those who would like to seriously take up skiing or snowboarding. Since there are ski and snowboard lessons provided by native English speaking instructors, you can take advantage of these lessons to improve your skills without worrying about a language barrier.
For those who would like to enjoy serious snow activities, “Naeba Ski Resort” is also recommended. The spot that is crowded with people who come to enjoy the Fuji Rock Festival turns into a vast ski resort in winter. Kagura, Mitsumata and Tashiro Ski Resorts can also be accessed by gondola from here, allowing you to enjoy as much skiing or snowboarding as you’d like. In addition, Naeba Prince Hotel is also located inside the ski resort, so you can enjoy a grand snowscape from your room.
GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort
Address:1039-2 Kayabira Yuzawa Yuzawamachi Minamiuonuma-gun, Niigata
Access:Directly connected to Joetsu Shinkansen “Gala-Yuzawa” Station
Operating period:December 21, 2013 (Sat) – May 6, 2014 (Tue, holiday)
Open hours:8:00 – 17:00 (Ski Center closes at 19:00)
Weekdays, from April 7 to 25, 2014: 8:00 – 16:00
(Gondola operates from 8:00 to 16:30)
YUZAWA SNOWSPORTS SCHOOL
Address:45 Yubiso, Minakami-machi, Tone-gun, Gunma
Naeba Ski Resort
Address:Mikuni, Yuzawa-machi, Minami Uonuma-gun, Niigata
Access:Approx. 50 minutes by bus bound for Naeba Prince Hotel from Joetsu Shinkansen Echigo Yuzawa Station
Operating period:December 7, 2013 – May 6, 2014
Open hours:8:00 – 17:00 (closes at 21:00 from Dec. 21 to March 30)
Naeba Prince Hotel
Address:Mikuni, Yuzawa-machi, Minami Uonuma-gun, Niigata
Access:Approx. 50 minutes by bus bound for Naeba Prince Hotel from Joetsu Shinkansen Echigo Yuzawa Station (A free shuttle bus is available for hotel customers during the winter season.)
Enjoy a full-fledged hot spring spa after playing in the snow!
It is fun to indulge yourself playing in snow. However, if you visit Niigata in winter, you might want to also enjoy the unique features of Niigata. Some examples include hot springs and gourmet foods that relive your fatigue from snow activities. The appeal of hot spring inns is that you can fully enjoy both features. Winter in Niigata is the best season for yellow tail and other kinds of fish that come out of the rough winter sea. For example, “Hotel Futaba” in Echigo Yuzawa insists on fish that are in season, while being equipped with 28 different hot spring baths, including an observatory bath that commands a view of the Tanigawa Mountain Range, which consists of 2000 meter-class mountains. In the town of Yuzawa, the “Multilingual Information Tool” (English, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Korean) containing a menu with pictures and travel conversation phrases is made available at hotels and restaurants throughout the town to provide support to foreign tourists so that they can enjoy their visit.
“Ryugon” is a hot spring inn located in Minamiuonuma, the hometown of delicious “Koshihikari” rice, which represents Japan. The inn has 8 different hot spring baths, including an open-air bath from which you can enjoy a view of a traditional Japanese garden. The facilities were constructed by relocating the house of a village headman built in the 18th century and other buildings. You can discover the deep appeal of Niigata when you enjoy hot spring baths and gourmet dishes using ingredients from the local rivers and mountains while thinking about the lives of wealthy farmers of olden times.
Address:419 Yuzawa, Yuzawa-machi, Minamiuonuma-gun, Niigata, 949-6101
Access:Five minutes on foot from Joetsu Shinkansen Echigo-Yuzawa Station
Address:79 Sakado, Minamiuonuma-shi, Niigata
Access:Approx. 30 minutes by taxi from Joetsu Shinkansen Echigo-Yuzawa Station, approx. 20 minutes on foot from JR Joetsu Line/Hokuhoku Line Muikamachi Station
Immerse yourself in the charms of hot springs and festivals a little deeper in the snow country
Niigata Prefecture has the third highest number of hot springs in Japan. By taking a small side trip, you can visit secluded, little-known hot springs surrounded by snowy mountains. “Jizaikan” hot spring inn, which obtains its water from Tochiomata Hot Spring, is one such hot spring, and it provides radium hot spring baths with abundant amounts of water. Its water is not too hot, with a temperature of around 36°C it is soft and gentle on the skin, and is said to have health benefits when consumed. You can relax your body and mind if you warm yourself in a hot spring and enjoy seasonal gourmet dishes like kamo nabe (duck hotpot) or robata-grilled trout with sake from Niigata.
If you are planning to go to Niigata in winter, your trip will be more fun if you visit festivals. Winter festivals in Niigata take place on pure white stages covered by snow. At the “Minami Uonuma Snow Festival”, you can experience “kamakura” (small igloos made with snow), which are one of the winter features of snow countries, or the dreamy scenery of “snow light corridor” (the light of many candles coming through holes made in snow walls). In addition, Yunosato Snow Festival “108 light”, held at Oritate Hot Spring in Uonuma City, is a traditional festival in which prayers are offered for sound health and the productiveness of grain. The sight of 108 straw fires set alight along the mountain ridge is impressive and mysterious.
Tochiomata Hot Spring Jizaikan
Address:Tochiomata Hot Spring, Uonuma-shi, Niigata
Access:Approx. 30 minutes from Joetsu Shinkansen Urasa Station or approx. 35 minutes from JR Joetsu Line Koide Station
Minami Uonuma Snow Festival
Address:Minami Uonuma Snow Festival special site (alongside Uono River near Muikamachi Bridge)
Telephone:025-783-3377 (Minami Uonuma Snow Festival Executive Committee)
Access:Approx. 15 minutes from JR Joetsu Line/Hokuhoku Line Muikamachi Station
Date:The second Saturday and Sunday of every February
Hours:Saturday 12:00 – 21:00, Sunday 10:00 – 16:00
Yunosato Snow Festival “108 light”
Address:430 Shimooritate, Uonuma-shi, Niigata/The Mallet Golf Course (Oritate Hot Spring special site)
Telephone:025-792-7300 (Uonuma City Tourist Association)
Access:Approx. 22 minutes by bus from JR Joetsu Line Koide Station, approx. 5 minutes from Oritate Onsen bus stop
Date:The first Sunday of every March
Hours:The stores booths start at around 17:30, the fire is ignited at around 19:30 (scheduled)
“Crisp and dry” sake from Niigata that you should try at least once
Niigata is one of the largest sake producing areas in Japan. From olden times, sake production has always been active in Niigata. Unique techniques and flavors that take advantage of local features have been established and have been handed down and kept as traditions to this day. Sake from Niigata, made from high quality rice and water containing few minerals, is characterized by a mild and light flavor, described as “crisp and dry”. It goes very well with Japanese dishes, and is easy for those who are drinking sake for the first time to try; so why not try some if you visit Niigata?
In addition, in Narita, Haneda, Chubu and Kansai Airports, the “Take a sip of Japan! Japanese Sake & Shochu campaign” is being held for 6 months starting from October 1st, and it offers foreign tourists opportunities to try Japanese sake and shochu. How about stopping by at the beginning of your trip to Japan or on your way home to find souvenirs?
Take a sip of Japan! Japanese Sake & Shochu campaign
Address:Duty free areas of Narita, Haneda, Kansai and Centrair airports
Telephone:03-3501-0108 (Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association)