25 Things To Do In & Around Nozawa Onsen
Nagano has no shortage of beauty spots. Whether it’s luxurious onsen, humble yet homely ryokan inns or some serious hiking, the prefecture has something for everyone. However, Nozawa Onsen and its surrounding area offers that rarest of gems: a place that offers all of the above and so much more. So, join me today as we take a tour of the top 25 places to see and things to do when you come to Nozawa Onsen:
1 / Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort
As the centerpiece of the whole town, the Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort offers everything that one would expect from a world class ski resort.
Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort served as the venue for the Olympic Biathlon event when Nagano played host to the Winter Games back in 1998. To this day it remains one of the best-loved ski resorts not just in Japan but all across Asia. In total, you will find 36 different ski runs on site. Difficulties range from absolute beginners right up to seasoned skiers. The course breakdown is as follows: beginner level: 40%, Intermediate Level 30% and Expert Level 30%. The high volume of beginner courses available makes this an ideal ski retreat for families or perhaps those just needing to move at their own pace on the piste. The season at Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort Runs from Mid-December until early May The resort is a one hour drive from Nagano Station.
2 / Nozawa Onsen Dosojin (Fire Festival)
Nagano is known across Japan for its harsh winters. Thankfully, each year, on January 15th, there is a festival at Nozawa Onsen Town that will bring a little warmth to even the coldest of winter chills. The Dosojin Matsuri one of Japan’s most famous winter fire festivals. The festival has a long and storied history. It is said to bring good fortune to the village, blessings upon first born children and their families, as well as drive away evil spirits and bad luck. On January 13th and 14th, a towering shrine is erected in the middle of the village. Then, at 7pm on the 15th, the fun begins. In keeping with Japanese traditional numerology, the men of the village of the “unlucky” ages of 25 and 42 guard the shrine, whilst the rest of the villagers attempt to break through and set the shrine alight. The fierce back and forth battle can go on for hours, before the guardians of the shrine finally step aside around 10pm and the shrine is set ablaze, ahead of the festival finally winding down to a conclusion around 11pm. Why not combine the fire festival with a visit to the snow monkey park as part of our tour package?
3 / Nozawa Onsen Village
For relaxation, recuperation and an escape from the stresses and strains of daily life, there are few things in Japan more enticing than a good long soak in an onsen hot spring bath. At the base of the aforementioned Nozawa Snow Resort, you will find the village of Nozawa Onsen. In total, there are 13 different hot spring baths available to the public and maintained by the local community for more than 150 years.
These baths, known locally as Soto-yu, are free to the public, though a small donation is encouraged to help keep these baths in good order. Dating back to the Edo period, they maintain a simplistic and rustic aesthetic, that, whilst not perhaps the most luxurious, is not without is own endearing sense of charm and style. For those who want something a little more intimate, there are also a variety of Ryokan Inns on offer, some of which offer private baths for couples and families to enjoy. You will also find a variety of restaurants and bars dotted in and around the bathhouses for you to enjoy in-between each dip in the tub.
4 / Stay at a ‘Ryokan’ (Traditional Guesthouse)
For those who want to make the most of their time in the onsen town, or perhaps stay for a few days, nothing beats a local ryokan inn for the authentic Japanese experience. Ryokan Inns offer comfortable accommodations in a traditional style. You can relax and unwind in a tatami room, sleep as the Japanese have for centuries on a futon mattress, or maybe snuggle under the kotatsu (a table with a heater and blankets attached underneath). This is especially warm and cozy during Nagano’s long cold winters. At a ryokan you can also sample local, homemade cuisine, and bath in the onsite baths, reserved just for residents, at your leisure. There are a variety of ryokan rooms on offer across Nozawa Onsen Town, with deals to suit all budgets.
5 / Outdoor Onsen
Another experience you must try during your time at Nozawa Onsen Town is the outdoor onsen experience. Many ryokans, hotels and even some public baths too offer both an indoor and outdoor hot spring bath. Don’t worry, even though you are outside, you are still positioned behind fencing, away from any prying eyes! The outdoor onsen is a uniquely stimulating experience, particularly in winter. Feeling the hot water ease your muscles as the cold air hits your face and upper body is in equal measures both relaxing and empowering. If you get the chance, I highly recommend taking an outdoor onsen during a snowy period. There’s something truly enchanting about feeling those ice cold snow flakes fall upon you, as you luxuriate in the hot, steaming bath.
6 / Ogama Hot Spring
A short trek up the hill towards the Nozawa Ski Resort, you will find the Ogama Hot spring. This onsen is a focal point of local customs and community life, and as a flashback to simpler times. With temperatures hitting 90 degrees Celsius, the waters of Ogama Onsen are, of course, far too hot for bathing. However, this beautiful monument to nature and local traditions is not without its purpose. To this day, its scalding hot waters are used for cooking and also in the preparation of local crafts. It is a must see on any visit to Nozawa Onsen village.
7 / Try the Local Delicacy of ‘Nozawana’
One of the foods most commonly prepared with the aid of the waters of Ogama hot springs is Nozawana. This green leaf vegetable is a stable of a host of beloved dishes across the region. Perhaps most famously, it is commonly used as a filler for “oyaki” the delicious dumplings which you will find in shops all over Nagano prefecture. As you might expect, Nozawana takes its name from the town of Nozawa. Back in 18th century, the master of a Buddhist temple in the town first introduced the vegetable to the village, and so the name was born. In addition to being a popular filler for oyaki, nozawana is often pickled and served in onigiri (rice balls) as well as a side dish.
8 / Onsen Tamago (Eggs)
Another common usage for the fine, clear waters of Ogama Hot Spring is in the preparation of Onsen Tamago (Hot spring eggs). As the name suggests, this is an egg, soft-boiled in the waters of a boiling hot onsen. This heating process gives the egg a unique flavor, texture and consistency. It differs from other eggs in that, whilst the white of the egg takes on a milky, almost custard like consistency, the yolk remains firm and and creamy, as if it were uncooked. To serve Onsen Tamago, the egg is then removed from its shell and served in a small bowl alongside a broth and optional soy sauce. It may seem unusual to the western palate, but it is a taste experience that deserves to be savored at least once during your stay in Nagano.
9 / Restaurants and Bars of Nozawa Onsen
Of course there’s much more to Nozawa Onsen Town than just hot spring baths and skiing. You’ll also find an eclectic selection of some of the finest food Nagano Prefecture has to offer. Wakagiri, a restaurant and hotel in the heart of the town offers a wide variety of Japanese cuisine, using the finest local ingredients. The restaurant also offers a full English menu. If you want something with a little more spice, then Juntos Mexican Bar and Restaurant is your go-to place for tacos, fajitas and all manner of other fine Mexican foods. Shichirohei coffee is also another highly regarded food and drink option in the area. Among their selection of meals and snacks, you’ll also find a variety of vegetarian and vegan friendly options. As any regular visitor to Japan will know, such options aren’t always easy to come by. Their coffee comes highly recommended too.
10 / Iiyama Kamakura Festival
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have dinner in an igloo?
Well, every year from the end of January for around one month, the Iiyama Kamakura festival offers you the chance to do just that. Around 20 or so huts are constructed each year from the snow of the surrounding mountains. At night, the huts are illuminated by a string of lanterns, giving the whole area a “winter wonderland” vibe. For dinner, you can enjoy one of the area’s most beloved winter dishes: Noroshinabe. You may be familiar with nabe, the traditional Japanese winter hotpot. However, Noroshinabe is a special, Nagano variant on this classic dish. It is made with a blend of pork, mushrooms, and locally sourced vegetables, all topped off with a special Nagano Miso broth. As you can imagine, this is a popular annual event for both locals and tourists alike, so you will need to book in advance if you plan to go along. Booking information and the latest deals can be found here.
11 / Shiga Kogen Ski Resort – Japan’s Highest & Largest Resort!
Just a short ride away from Nozawa Onsen you will find another of Japan’s most popular and indeed largest ski resort – Shiga Kogen. Indeed, so large is the Shiga Kogen resort, that its Central Area alone exceeds the size of most other ski resorts in the area. Again, much like the Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort the 50 ski runs of this central area cater to all levels and abilities on the slopes. 50% of the courses are geared to beginners, but 15% are reserved for advances skiers. Like its Nozawa counterpart Shiga Kogen also played a prominent role in Nagano’s 1998 Winter Olympic Games. Its northern Higashidateyama area played host to the slalom and giant slalom events.
For such a prestigious resort, Shiga Kogen is also surprisingly reasonably priced. A one day pass, covering all 47 lifts and access to all 18 ski areas comes in at just 5500 yen for adults and 2700 yen for kids. Please click here for further information.
12 / Shiga Kogen Snow Mobile Tour
*Please note – snowmobiling in Shiga Kogen, including our guided tour, will not be available in winter 2020/21. We hope that it will be available again for winter 2021/22.
Of course, there’s more to Shiga Kogen than just skiing and snowboarding. For those who like their winter sports with a little more speed and power, there is our snow mobile tour. Probably best described as a cross between a snowboard and a motorcycle, the snow mobile is an exhilarating, fun, but also safe way to get experience winter sports in Nagano. Departing from Nagano Station in the morning, our combined snow mobile and snow monkey tour offers a mix of adrenaline soaked thrills and gentle nature.
You’ll spend the morning receiving expert instruction in how to use your snow mobile before trying it out for yourself on the mountain course. From there, you’ll then enjoy a delicious lunch at the nearby Hotaru-tei restaurant. Our day is rounded off with a visit to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park. Here, you can get truly up close and personal with this beautiful animals, as they move all around you, in between their frequent dips in the nearby hot spring baths. The Jigokudani Snow Monkeys are only monkeys of this type in the world known to regularly bathe in hot springs in this manner. This is sure to be an experience you will never forget.
13 / Jigokudani Monkey Park
The snow monkeys are something of a treasure, not just to the people of Nagano but to all of Japan. These beautiful animals roam freely not just in Jigokudani Monkey Park, but indeed all across rural Nagano. This writer even saw one swaggering along the side of the highway one night on his way home! With their distinctive silvery gray fur, bright red faces and playful nature, these gorgeous creatures really must be seen to be believed. They are perhaps best known however, not for their appearance, but for their love of Onsen Hot springs. The monkeys of Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park love nothing better than a long soak in these natural baths to escape the harsh cold of Nagano’s long winter. In this regard, they are unique.
To truly understand the beauty of these animals, once must experience them in person. A visit to the snow monkey park is just one of the highlights of our guided tours.
14 / Obuse & the Hokusai Museum
The area around Nozawa is known not just for its stunning natural beauty and winter sports, but also its historical and cultural significance too. This is especially prevalent when you visit Obuse, home to the Hokusai Museum. Hokusai was a legendary Japanese artist of the 18th and 19th centuries. His Ukiyo-e art style is probably best known for the print “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”, part one of his series of prints titled 36 Views of Mount Fuji. Though that particular print is housed elsewhere, the Hokusai museum does showcase many of his other famous works. The museum is open from 9am to 5pm and admission is 500 yen. However Hokusai’s influence over Obuse goes far beyond just the museum. Even the manhole covers that adorn the town’s sidewalks bear examples of his artwork. Obuse also has a number of charming cafes and souvenir shops, selling various local wares and delicacies. It is conveniently located, just 20 minutes by local train from Nagano Station.
15 / Shibu Onsen
Located in Yudanaka, about one hour from Nagano Station by train, and a mere short bus trip from the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, Shibu Onsen is an assortment of several hot spring baths interspersed with restaurants, bars and hotels. In total, there are 9 different public baths and 35 onsen ryokans in the area. It is not uncommon, even in winter to see people walking down the street in their Yukata robes, hoping from one bath to the next. Also, with the snow monkey park nearby, you may even run into the occasional red-faced mischief maker in search of food!
16 / Maguse Onsen
Onsen hot springs are a luxurious experience at the best of times but they are especially enchanting when accompanied by a scenic view. There are few views in all of Nagano more spectacular than the panoramic views over Nagano City that can be enjoyed from Maguse Onsen. Situated in a nature park, a 50 minute bus ride from Iiyama station, the onsen offers both indoor and outdoor baths with both city and mountain views. An assortment of cafes and restaurants, as well as a couple of ryokan inns for those wishing to stay overnight are also available in the area.
17 / Nagano Station
Although Iiyama Station is actually closer to Nozawa Onsen, many visitors to the area choose to alight at Nagano Station. As the capital city of the prefecture, Nagano has a lot more to offer in terms of amenities than Iiyama. The large shopping mall Midori is built into the station, The popular Don Quihote store across from the station offers a wide selection of local souvenirs, trendy fashion items and a host of other quirky goods.
For higher end items, the Tokyu department store offers the best in fragrances, footwear and other fine fashions. Our guided tours, which include both Nozawa Onsen and the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park depart from Nagano Station.
18 / Summer Activities at Nozawa Onsen
Whilst it may be best known for winter sports, Nozawa Onsen also has a plenty of things to keep the summer traveler occupied too. The hills and mountains around the area offer some fantastic hiking and climbing opportunities. From May until November, cycling is also a great way to see the sights. The road from Nozawa Onsen to Shibu Onsen is highly recommended, as is a ride around the picturesque Hokuryuko Lake. Nozawa Onsen sports park is also a must see in the summer months. It has 500m long dry ski slope, for those who just cant bear to be away from the piste. It is also home to Japan’s longest zip line. A golf driving range is also onsite, and for the more serious golfer, the courses at Mandarao and Iiyama Country Club are within easy reach.
19 / Hiking & Cycling
With its mountainous terrain, rolling hills and far-reaching forests, Nagano offers some of the best hiking and biking trails in all of Japan. As the weather changes from summer to winter and back again, new opportunities for exploration open themselves up to the adventurous traveler.
20 / Shiga Kogen Trail
Crossing the Joshinetsu National Park, a specially designated Unesco Biodiversity Reserve, The Shiga Kogen trail is perhaps one of the most eye-catching in all of Nagano, perhaps even all of Japan. From woodlands, to swamps, to active volcanoes, Shiga Kogen’s recoginition as a site of tremendous biodiversity is indeed well-earned. A trek through this region of Nagano is many things, but it is certainly never boring. With a variety of trails on offer, the area offers routes to suit everything from the casual rambler to the seasoned hiker. For more information on the Shiga Kogen Hiking trail, please visit our hiking homepage:
21 / Cherry Blossom Viewing Tours
Each year, in April in Japan, the long winter finally gives way to spring. This is symbolized in Japan with the emergence of the Sakura cherry blossoms. These beautiful bright pink flowers only blossom for a matter of days. As a result, cherry blossom viewing season usually lasts only two or three weeks. As such, this tour is only available for a limited time, in April each year. Our tour combines the opportunity to see these wonderful trees in full bloom with another of Nagano’s natural wonders: the Snow Monkeys! Your journey begins with a 9:35 am meetup at Nagano Station, where you will head over to the snow monkey park. After lunch you will then be taken to one of a number of prime cherry blossom viewing sites where you can enjoy the scenery at your leisure.
22 / Fruit-picking in Iiyama
Nagano is known globally for its delicious apples. Even the prefecture’s adorable mascot wears one on his head! So, no trip to Nagano is complete without a visit to a local farm to sample these delicious fruits. Shiozaki Farm, near JR Iiyama Station, offers 4 different varieties of apple, each with their own unique taste. For just 1200 yen, you can spend as much time as you like walking around the orchard and eating as many apples as you like. For an additional 300 yen you can also pick out 3 additional apples to take home with you.
23 / Iiyama Nanohana Flower Festival
Each year from May 3rd to May 5th, the Nanohana Flower Festival in Iiyama provides the perfect tonic to the often stressful hustle and bustle of Japan’s Golden Week holidays. Enjoy the tranquil fields of Canola flowers with festival foods and drinks, a parade and various walking tours, traversing the 13 hectares of flowers in full bloom. Admission is free.
24 / Autumn Leaves of the Matsukawa Valley (Yamada Onsen)
As the cherry blossom “Sakura” trees embody Japan’s springtime, its red, brown and golden “koyo” leaves embody Japan’s spirit of Autumn. Nagano has no shortage of great viewing spots for this most elegant of natural phenomena, but few locations can surpass the sweeping views of the Matsukawa Valley. With each year comes new seasonal variations, and much like the aforementioned cherry blossoms timing is crucial to seeing the Koyo leaves at their best. For more up to date information, be sure to consult our website.
25 / Festivals in Nagano City
As the vibrant heart at the center of the prefecture, Nagano City is home to some of the region’s most exciting festivals and events.Chief among these is the Zenkoji Ometsando Illumination. Sharing a name with a popular shopping district in Tokyo, Omotesando (Pilgrim’s Path in Japanese) is a straight road leading from Nagano Station to the city’s most famous Temple, Zenkoji.
In November of each year, this path is illuminated on both sides.
This is just the appetizer though, for the main course that comes in mid-December, when the temple itself is illuminated. Another, more recent addition to the Nagano City festive calendar is the Tomyo Fesitval. For this festival, the streets leading up to Zenkoji Temple are adorned with intricately designed paper lanterns. Among those contributing designs are school children, artists and other prominent local figures.
The event starts on the second weekend of February and lasts for one week.
Finally, we come to one of the highlights of the year in Nagano, the Ebisu-ko Fireworks Festival. Taking place on November 23rd each year, over the course of the 2 hour event, around 15,000 individual fireworks are detonated, creating a display to rival the world’s best.
Given the time of year, don’t forget to wrap up warm, and perhaps bring some of your own food and drinks with you. Food and drink will be offered on site, but it may be expensive and you could be facing very long queues, with tens of thousands of people attending the event along the Sai River.
Based in Nagano, Snow Monkey Resorts provides tours and charters throughout the region. Our charter vehicles are suitable for single travelers, couples, and groups (up to 45 persons) for private transport to and between the resorts, nearby major airports including Narita and Haneda, cities including Tokyo and Nagano, and other popular destinations. As Nagano’s No.1 tour operator, we offer a range of tours including private tours from the resorts to Nagano’s famous Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park – and other popular destinations. We’re here all year round to help you plan and get the most out of your winter adventure in Nagano!