A famous ski area easily accessed from Tokyo, Yuzawa is clearly a favorite spot with tourists. The winter season for November to May brings most of its visitors, so be sure to swing by the area then. Here’s a tip: book a resort combination ticket to ski down the most slopes at the most economic price possible!
1. An alcohol enthusiast's dream, where one can sample over a few hundred kinds of sake, salt and miso!
With Japan’s varying climate, its nationwide production of sake (a type of strong Japanese liquor), differs greatly from prefecture to prefecture. In that sense, sake has become a medium for the locality to express its unique culture, climate and ingredients. What an artful blend indeed! In Ponshukan, visitors can learn more about the different kinds of sake produced, in say Okinawa versus Niigata, as well as sample them.
The location of Ponshukan in Niigata is also highly apt, with locals in Niigata being the craziest over sake and sake consumption levels being the highest in the country. Prepare to wreak havoc. Then, go forth and sample over 115 kinds of sake in the museum! For those who want some quick side dishes with their sake, fresh cucumber, miso and salt are also great pairings.
Be sure to taste the local speciality, Echigo Tsurukame Junmaiginjo Yamahai, which evokes a creamy taste brought about by longer brewing compared to regular sake.
Ponshukan Sake and Rice Museum
Address: 2427-3 Yuzawa, Yuzawa Town, Minamiuonuma-gun, Niigata
Website: Ponshukan Sake and Rice Museum
2. Ski the forgiving slopes at the Naspa Ski Garden if you are a beginner, or with children
A self-professed skiers only resort, Naspa Ski Garden sells like hotcakes in the winter with families and children. In the winter, you can easily spot the many children receiving basic skiing lessons from instructors on site, as well as the adults going a few rounds on the basic slopes. The ski garden is one of the rare few in Japan with a ‘Pingu’ theme, a popular Japanese penguin cartoon. Local children often fawn over its adorableness, and crowd around the figurines for pictures. You might even catch a life-sized Pingu plushie walking around the resort if you are lucky enough!
The exciting white slopes and snowy wonderland is no doubt the main inspiration for the setting of famous Nobel prize-winning novel, Yukiguni (Snow Country). Niigata, with its multiple resorts like Naspa Ski Garden, can certainly earn its proud name of ‘Snow Country’.
Naspa Ski Garden
Address: NASPA New Otani, 〒949-6101 Niigata-ken, Minamiuonuma-gun, Yuzawa-machi, Yuzawa
Website: Naspa Ski Garden
3. Admire local and international art installations set as naturally as possible in the beautiful snowy landscape
The Echigo-Tsumari Art Field is a beautiful contradiction–the rural countryside of Echigo Tsumari juxtaposed against modern art is undeniably pleasing. Its location is certainly most apt in complementing the Art Field’s general message: to revitalize the dying past with exciting novelty, to sustain the aging community by bringing back youths and jobs. The background of abandoned buildings, schools and ubiquitous rice fields are incorporated as space for the artwork, making the latter very much alive.
For those visiting next year in 2018, you are in luck! Every three years, the Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale is held in the region for a few weeks in summer. During these art festivals, between 100 to 200 new art pieces are created and displayed in addition to the permanent installations. The ongoing expansion of the art field certainly allows you a unique experience every time one visits.
Echigo-Tsumari Art Field
Address: Echigo-Tsumari, Niigata, Japan
Website: Echigo-Tsumari Art Field
4. Hike the Kiyotsu Gorge on a cool summer day for the beautiful nature of Echigo Yuzawa
One of the top three gorges in Japan, Kiyotsu Gorge is a majestic geographical beauty nestled away in the mountains between Shiozawa and Tokamachi. The combined landscape of the flowing Kiyotsu River and mountains overhead is simply a stunning sight. For those who are physically fit, the 7 hour hike along the river that takes you to the back side of Yuzawa is highly recommended for the views along the way. Once you have finally reached the gorge, a tunnel awaits. It is a simple stroll after the strenuous hike, featuring four viewing stations offering spectacular views of the cliffs and rivers. Art pieces of the gorge, a short video projected onto the tunnel wall showing the changing of the seasons, and stuffed wildlife are also dispersed throughout, allowing you to admire and learn about the gorge.
Outside the gorge, there is a rustic little community of restaurants, a ryokan and an onsen, so definitely stay a night there for the gorgeous sunrise and an experience of living right next to such natural majesty.
Address: Koide, Tokamachi 949-8433, Niigata Prefecture
Website: Kiyotsu Gorge
5. Play in the flower gardens and feed some goats in the backdrop of the lovely Yuzawa Valley
With a serene background of the Yuzawa Valley, children and adults alike are often seen frolicking in the gorgeous flower gardens. This is especially picturesque in the spring and summer when the flowers are in full bloom. There are even clusters of wild goats you can feed! Although, be sure to buy the feed from local vendors there in order not to endanger the goats’ diets or the natural ecosystem of the alpine garden.
Check out the go-kart area where you can spin a few rounds with the children in juvenile fun, before heading for some gelato available in the shops nearby. A short stopover in the Yuzawa Highland Alpine Garden can indeed be the perfect breather away from the hustle and bustle of Niigata city or Tokyo.
Yuzawa Highland Alpine Garden
Address: 490 Yuzawa, Minamiuonuma-gun, Yuzawa-machi 949-6101, Niigata Prefecture
Website: Yuzawa Highland Alpine Garden
6. Try out your hand at the best slopes near Tokyo for advanced skiers and snowboarders in the Kagura Ski Resort
The Kagura Ski Resort offers not only exceptionally heavy snowfall which is perfect for skiing, but also a picturesque view of Niigata’s boundary mountains. This sure acts as an amazing backdrop to pictures! Furthermore, Kagura’s wide variety of slopes is clearly demonstrated by how it incorporates three areas, Kagura, Mitsumata and Tashiro. The extended space reduces the overcrowding during peak seasons, giving visitors more space to do as they wish. The Kagura Ski Resort is also interconnected with Naeba Ski Resort via the Dragondola, to form one large ski area referred to as Mt Naeba. Those who do not fear the height and would love an adrenaline adventure, be sure to take this gondola for the views of Mt Naeba!
Despite more beginner terrain, Kagura attracts lots of experienced skiers and snowboarders due to the off-piste and backcountry opportunities. So regardless of your skill level, you can certainly find a slope to your liking in the resort. Ski patrol also has an incredibly relaxed approach to tree skiing, so for those who are interested, knock yourself out, as long as you do it at your own risk.
Kagura Ski Resort
Website: Kagura Ski Resort
7. Soak in the many onsens Yuzawa is famous for in the icy winter!
The onsens in Yuzawa have had an extensive history of nearly 800 years. Blessed with natural hot springs, many resorts have developed around them, and offer a unique experience for those who desire to stay overnight and soak in one. There are even supposed healing abilities, such as the soothing of nerve pain, rheumatism, stomach disease, gout and even chronic women’s diseases. Regardless of whether these medical benefits exist or not, the hot springs are an amazing way to warm up in the icy winters of Yuzawa.
One particular onsen is Kannakuri, a foot-spa whose spring waters are renowned to be great for the skin! Many are dressed in traditional yukatas for rent while enjoying their foot bath–a beautiful shot indeed! Otherwise, you can opt to visit the Yama-no-yu, which is popular with Yuzawa townsfolk due to its natural volcanic spring water. The waft of mineral water is strong within the onsen. The Kaidou-no-yu is also highly recommended as it boasts a beautiful ‘rotemburo’, or heated outdoor bath. The contrast of the warm bath with the winter wind is certainly an experience!
Website: Yuzawa Onsens
8. Feast on a warm and hearty bowl of buckwheat soba and mountain mushrooms when arriving at the train station
Catch an outstanding last meal in Yuzawa as you wait at the train station in Kikushin. The restaurant is just across the road from the East Exit of Echigo Yuzawa Station and serves up one of the meanest tempuras you will ever try. Kikushin is a traditional family owned store with a basic English menu, so you can be sure of the authenticity of meals offered! The sets are incredibly worth it. Do pair them with a local sake or umeshu (plum wine) for the best palate experience ever!
Address: 1-1-2 Yuzawa Yuzawa-Machi, Minamiuonuma-gun, Yuzawa-machi 949-6101, Niigata Prefecture
Website: Kikushin (in Japanese)
9. Learn about the life of Kawabata Yasunari, the first Japanese recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature
Yuzawa is the inspiration for a Nobel-prize winning literary work, Snow Country. The area’s luscious snow fall and pristine icy weather mirror that in Snow Country. The Yuzawa Town History Museum was set up to commemorate both Yasunari, the fictional wonderland of Snow Country and Yuzawa’s climate. The museum features memorabilia from the life of Kawabata Yasunari, as well as recreations about life in the book. It is indeed brought to life in the most apt location. The “World of Japanese Paintings” gallery located on the first floor is highly recommended. This exhibit features fourteen works depicting various scenes from “Snow Country” including “Yukiguni no Tsuki”. Be sure to visit to get an immersive experience of the famed novel, Snow Country!
Yuzawa Town History Museum
Address: 354-1 Yuzawa, Yuzawa-machi, Minamiuonuma, Niigata Prefecture
Yuzawa, the worthy inspiration for literary masterpiece, Snow Country
With a Nobel prize-winning work tied to its name, Yuzawa certainly deserves all the praise it gets for the natural beauty of their winters. The onsens, gorges, museums and gardens all create a warm and homely atmosphere in the area, and is certainly a stop to visit when you arrive in Niigata.
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