The Nagano Lifestyle: Real Estate & Property in Japan’s Ski Resorts
For many foreign residents of Japan and international visitors, the entire appeal of the Nagano lifestyle is about the ease of access it offers to some of Asia’s best ski areas, fantastic hot springs, great food and all manner of activities throughout the year. Real estate and properties vary greatly in price, condition and availability depending on where you are looking – from high-end/luxury chalets and homes in resorts including the Hakuba Valley and Karuizawa to traditional ‘kominka’ (farmhouses) and old guestshouses and businesses in need of revitalisation, dotted through some of the less well-known resorts and areas.
As such, it’s worth casting a wide net when considering where to buy with many buyers ultimately finding their property of choice in a location different to where they first envisaged looking. So with that, let’s look at some of the most popular, up-and-coming and hidden gems when searching for real and property in and around the ski resorts of Nagano:
Situated across the areas of Hakuba and Otari, the ten resorts making-up the ‘Hakuba Valley’ are the most international and popular winter destinations in Nagano. Hakuba’s popularity and established reputation as one of Asia’s best ski resort areas – often regarded in direct competition with Niseko and Hokkaido to the claim of the best ski resort area in Asia – means that its many high-end properties, including luxury chalets and homes, are in demand.
An increasing number of high-end restaurants, cafes, shops and other services in the Hakuba mean that demand for property looks set to grow over the coming years, with plenty of people attracted by the prospect of owning property or residing in one of Asia’s best ski areas; and as Hakuba continues to develop its reputation as an all-year-round destination, expect demand and prices to only increase.
Located within 25-minutes drive of Iiyama Station – a convenient stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line running from Tokyo to Kanazawa via Nagano – Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort is a stand-alone ski resort boasting a lively and historic hot spring village. Over the past ten years Nozawa’s reputation has steadily grown to the point that it is now established as one of Nagano’s most popular resorts, and with that, property prices have increased markedly.
Recent investment in Nozawa Onsen including the opening of a new gondola in winter 2020/21 and an increasing number of new or refurbished properties on the market, mean that like Hakuba, real estate is already in high demand with that trend set to continue into the future. Nozawa offers a range of property options ranging from high-end chalets to run-down homes and businesses and everything in between with prices high given the demand and limited real estate in and around the village.
MADARAO & IIYAMA
Located across the valley from Nozawa Onsen, Madarao Mountain Resort is a small but popular resort with a reputation for great powder, tree zones and backcountry. Less developed than Nozawa, properties in Madarao have typically been much cheaper however a recent surge in interest means that bargains are quickly disappearing.
At this time there are no truly high-end properties in Madarao however expect that to change in coming years with some decent accommodation and restaurants now popping-up. Like Nozawa, most people heading to Madarao will do so via Iiyama Station in the valley below. For that reason, while Iiyama itself doesn’t provide direct access to either resort the town is popular given its proximity to Nozawa and Madarao, and relatively easy access to Shiga Kogen – approximately 60 to 70-minutes drive in winter.
As Japan’s largest and highest ski resort – boasting Nagano’s longest season from late-November until May – Shiga Kogen Ski Resort is the region’s sleeping giant. Host of several events during the 1998 Winter Olympics, Shiga Kogen is yet to experience the boom in popularity that has already hit the Hakuba Valley and Nozawa Onsen however with the opening of a new, fifth gondola in winter 2020/21 and recent acquisition of some large hotels by large international companies, Shiga looks to be on the verge of major development.
Here’s the rub… ownership of land in Shiga Kogen is complicated and divided by different parties. At this time, it is not possible to purchase land within the resort with people operating accommodation there, renting the land from the responsible company or organisation. As such, if you’re looking to beat the boom and purchase real estate near Shiga Kogen we recommend looking in the valley below and the hot spring towns of Yudanaka and Shibu Onsen.
YUDANAKA & SHIBU ONSEN
Approximately 30-minutes drive from the lowest ski fields of Shiga Kogen, Yudanaka Onsen and Shibu Onsen are historic hot spring towns that are certain to grow in popularity over coming years. Home to numerous ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouses) with their own hot springs, residences and small businesses, property in both towns is notably cheaper than the surrounding ski resorts while offering buyers the big advantage of their appeal as all-year-round destinations.
Of the two towns, Shibu Onsen is more picturesque maintaining much of its historic character and a great atmosphere in its quaint lanes and alleys. A casual stroll through the town will quickly reveal the number of vacant properties while also conveying its massive potential – only 30-minues drive from Shiga Kogen (see above) and under 5-minutes drive from the Jigokudani Monkey Park.
Yudanaka Onsen is an equally historic town however development and the years have been less kind to it, with much of the town in need of revitalisation. But the bones are there for creation of a lively hub servicing not only Shiga Kogen and the monkey park but also the nearby resorts making-up Kita-Shiga Kogen. Centred around Yudanaka Station – the nearest train station to all of those destinations – Yudanaka and by extension Shibu Onsen are only 45-minutes from Nagano Station and 2.5 hours from Tokyo.
Located to the north of Nagano City and on the backside of Madarao Mountain Resort, the resorts making-up Myoko Kogen are actually part of Niigata rather than Nagano, however given their proximity to the resorts of Nagano, they are often grouped together when planning winter visits and where to buy real estate and property. Like Shiga Kogen, Myoko Kogen is yet to experience the investment boom of other resots but unlike Shiga, it’s decidedly easy to purchase land and property around the resorts of Myoko.
Comprising of five resorts – Akakura Onsen, Akakura Kanko, Suginohara Onsen, Ikenoaira Onsen and Seki Onsen – real estate prices in Myoko are typically much cheaper than Nagano with the prospect of still discovering a real bargain. To date, there is very little in the way of high-end/luxury properties in the region but again, that is likely to change in coming years as more people discover Myoko’s massive snowfall, liberal policy regarding backcountry, more local feel, hot springs and cheaper property prices.
NAGANO CITY inc. TOGAKUSHI
Most people traveling to and from the ski resorts of Nagano do so through Nagano Station – a convenient stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line running from Tokyo to Kanazawa. Passing through the station en route to the popular resorts of Hakuba, Nozawa, Madarao and Myoko Kogen, those visitors might be surprised to know that the nearest resort to the station is within the boundaries of the city itself.
Located only 45-minutes drive from Nagano Station, Togaksuhi Ski Resort is a small, picturesque resort with lots to offer. Set against the spectacular scenery of Mount Togaksuhi, the forests and villages of the area are home to some of Japan’s most important Shinto shrines, traditional ‘shukubo’ (temple lodgings), a historic school of ninjas, and Togaksuhi’s renowned ‘soba’ (buckwheat noodles). Local, authentic and offering all-year-round appeal, Togakushi is something of a hidden gem with some beautiful traditional buildings and businesses on the market.
Much like Myoko Kogen, the popular ski resort area of Yuzawa is also located in Niigata rather than Nagano, but given its proximity to the resorts of Nagano, is often grouped together when considering where to buy real estates and properties. Readily accessible using the Joetsu Shinkansen Line running from Tokyo to Niigata City, the resorts in and around Yuzawa are popular with Tokyoites due to their accessibility – indeed, the resort of Gala Yuzawa has a shinkasen station below the ski fields! – while also offering some great snow and terrain at resorts including Naeba, Kagura and Muikamachi Hakkaisan (pictured above).
Property prices are typically lower than in and around the popular resorts of Nagano while being just as easy to access from Tokyo and its airports. While the region lives in the shadow of Nagano and Niseko/Hokkaido, expect more people to discover Yuzawa in the coming years and property to start being snapped-up.
Not specifically considered a ski resort town, Karuizawa is a popular mountain resort town on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line – only 65 to 80-minutes from Tokyo Station. Home to Karuizawa Prince Hotel Ski Resort, the town is perhaps better known as a beautiful destination to escape the heat of Tokyo in summer, with plenty of Tokyoites and Japanese celebrities either residing or owning holiday properties in Karuizawa.
As such, property in Karuizawa is in high demand and prices are exceptionally high. Drawn by its enticing mix of luxury properties, shopping, dining and more, Karuizawa is one of Japan’s most appealing yet competitive property markets outside of the major urban centres.
KISO VALLEY & KISO-ONTAKE MOUNTAIN RANGE
Finally, lying around 2.5 hours to the south of Nagano City and 2 hours to the north-east of Nagoya, the stunning Kiso Valley and greater Kiso-Ontake Mountain Range is home to several small ski resorts and pristine natural beauty. Resorts in this area are small but at high elevation and very local, meaning that their appeal is quite narrow. However it is the region’s overall appeal and mix of truly beautiful natural landscapes, picturesque historic towns, and pleasant climate that underscore its massive potential.
Real estate and properties in the region remain exceptionally cheap, with some true bargains available including opportunities to take over existing businesses. So while the ski resorts in the area cannot compete with those in northern Nagano, Myoko Kogen and Yuzawa, expect to see the Kiso Valley and Kiso-Ontake Mountain Range grow in popularity given the combination of cheap property prices, beauty, liveability and the planned opening of a station at Nakatsugawa for Japan’s new Chuo Shinkansen/‘Maglev’ Line running from Tokyo to Nagoya – set to be in operation by the end of the decade and certain to make Kiso-Ontake a hugely popular destination.
REAL ESTATE COMPANIES SELLING IN & AROUND THE RESORTS
As the list above demonstrates, there is plenty of choice when it comes to choosing where to buy real estate and property in Nagano and the surrounding areas. The following real estate agents sell properties in and/or around many of the resorts mentioned above:
HOUSING JAPAN https://housingjapan.com/buy/resorts/
REAL ESTATE JAPAN https://realestate.co.jp/en/forsale/nagano
SAKURA REAL ESTATE http://www.srehakuba.com/
SEKAI PROPERTY https://en.sekaiproperty.com/search/japan/nagano
‘STAYCATION’ OR ‘WORKCATION’ – THE NEW LONG-STAY TRAVEL TREND
Not quire ready to buy in Nagano or want to test the waters first? The first (or perhaps final) step on many peoples journey to living or buying property in Nagano, is a longer stay in the region. Our ‘The Nagano Lifestyle: ‘Staycation’ or ‘Workcation’ – The New Long-Stay Travel Trend’ page introduces options for a working visit to the region – one that we hope convinces you to stay forever.