Sometimes you just need a rest-day, and you’ve got an abundance of choices on those days, from lounging in your favourite onsen to visiting some of the famous local shrines.
Nozawa Onsen is an ancient hot spring and ski resort village in the Nagano prefecture. The village, numbering 4,500 residents, is said to have been established in the 8th century, giving it a charm and atmosphere quite unique from other ski destinations in Japan. Tradition is vastly important to the villagers of Nozawa Onsen, and the ski fields are managed and preserved communally. It was one of the first places in Japan to embrace skiing, more than 100 years ago. The skiing at Nozawa Onsen almost takes somewhat of a backseat relative to the charming village that offers a completely traditional Japanese experience. The village is famous for the abundance of hot springs that were discovered in the 8th century. Steam rises up everywhere amongst the bustling narrow cobblestone streets and the traditional ryokan inns and shops.
Bathing is a social event – the “onsen” of Nozawa Onsen means “hot spring” – and villagers still congregate daily at the Ogama hot spring in the center of town to boil their eggs and vegetables in the piping, sulfurous waters. Among its produce, Nozawa is noted for its fine sake, the ubiquitous Nozawa-na pickle, soba noodles, and Oyaki steamed dumplings. It has a glorious Zen temple and a renowned Edo-style main spa building.
The culture of skiing at the Nozawa Onsen ski resort is also historic. An Austrian introduced skiing to Nozawa Onsen in 1912. Nozawa is considered by some to be the birthplace of skiing in Japan. From 1930, Hans Schneider from St. Anton Austria further developed the ski culture within the village by teaching Arlberg skiing techniques.
Nozawa has been celebrated in poetry, painting, and song for centuries. The imposing Mount Kenashi, the cardinal symbol of Nozawa, rising high above the landscape, heralds the vivid changes of Nozawa from season to season.
Every year more and more travellers are choosing Nozawa Onsen to enjoy the excitement of an expansive ski resort coupled with the still strong existence of Japanese culture, architecture and cuisine. Exquisite long-standing culture; the delicate, celebrated flavours of a long culinary tradition; the rich history and vibrant ever-changing landscape and the superb quality of snow makes Nozawa a year-round resort destination unlike any other…
Jigokudani, home of the world-famous snow monkeys, is around a 1 hour bus or car ride from Nozawa Onsen. Japanese macaque monkeys inhabit the area. Despite the harsh conditions (snow-covered for one-third of the year) and the rough cliffs (hence the Jigokudani “Hell’s Valley” name), the area is a paradise for the monkeys. One amusing reason is that the monkeys enjoy lounging in the hot spring water that collects in pools. This provides an excellent opportunity for visitors to observe the macaque’s fascinating behaviour up close and personal. If you’re interested in visiting the snow monkeys, just enquire with Kenashi’s Manager.
After a day on the slopes, nothing can compare to the experience of coming out of the cold, and climbing into a hot spring bath. Feel your aches and pains (and your mind) melt away. For 400 years, visitors have made the journey to Nozawa Onsen to be reinvigorated in its renowned hot springs. There are 13 free public hot spring baths in the village, the most prominent being the enchanting wooden Edo-style O-yu in the center of town. Take an early evening stroll through the streets of Nozawa Onsen and you’ll see bustling villagers (some in light kimonos and clogs) carrying shampoo, soap and a towel, off to soak themselves and chatter with friends. We invite you to experience this sublime soak, but wish to point out that Japan’s public bathhouses have a strict code of etiquette and ask all our guests to respect this. You can read more here about the do’s and don’ts.
Want to enjoy the hot springs but prefer to keep your bathers on? Perhaps enjoy it with your family? No problem! Nozawa Onsen has Sparena. At Sparena, you can enjoy the hot spring experience, with your family and with your swimmers on! You can find out more about Sparena here.
There are also private or family onsens available for use, however, advance reservation for these are highly recommended as there is a very limited number in the village.
In a snow-locked village high in the Japanese Alps, a towering wooden shrine is about to be burned down in an act of collective hysteria. It is defended by determined young men – each one exactly 25 years of age – against wave after wave of attackers wielding burning branches. Welcome to the Dosojin Matsuri Fire Festival. Nozawa Onsen is famous for this annual fire festival, an unforgettable experience and one of the ‘big three’ fire festivals in Japan. If you are lucky enough to be in Nozawa Onsen on 15th January, this is an event not to be missed, but be warned, it’s not for the faint-hearted!
In early March, the Winter Lantern Festival is celebrated during the evening at the Hikage Ski Area. A magical flare run will light up the ski slope. There will be entertainers, live music and fireworks to commemorate the occasion. Kids will enjoy seeing Naski make an appearance.
The Japan Ski Museum near the Hikagi Gondola features a collection of historic skis from all over the world and chronicles Japan’s history of skiing. An extremely interesting break from your playtime on the slopes.
Ask our Kenashi Manager about a load of other exploration options including Shinto shrines, trail-walking, exploring landscapes or good old-fashioned souvenir shopping.