Friday, March 14, 2014

Nozawa Onsen Trip

It's been way too long since I've blogged. There must be a "season" for blogging and a season to remain silent. Life comes in waves of adventures and activity and we've enjoyed the first 2.5 months of 2014. Wow, it's gone by fast!

This year is special for us as we finally have good health in terms of healthy joints. For the last 10 years, one or both of us have suffered with bad hips, shoulders and knees. We're thankful that we've recovered and can fully enjoy our favorite winter sports: skiing and snowboarding.

For the first time, we decided to meet old PIC friends in Nozawa Onsen, a quaint village in northern Nagano for a ski trip. We landed in Narita, took the Narita Express to Tokyo Station and then the shinkansen to Nagano station, an express bus to Nozawa Onsen and finally a taxi to the Kamoshika Lodge, located just meters from the lifts.

Gardner had arranged the accommodation for us and we shared the Lodge with a few other groups, one being a famous New Zealand Band called Shapeshifter! They were performing that weekend in Hakuba for the Snow Splash.

 This was Russ' second trip to Nagano, but first on the shinansen. It took roughly 75 minutes from Tokyo... not bad.
 Upon arrival, we took a walking tour of the village and checked out the interesting snow sculptures.
 The weather was on the warm side so we didn't need to bundle up as we usually do in Niseko.
 Nozawa Onsen is completely different from Niseko and it has retained its authentic character.
 There are 13 public free onsens in the Village, run by the Village citizens. They're nice on the outside but very basic on the inside with two baths: super hot and excruciatingly burning hot water. There is also a water spigot to help cool down and that's it. No stool, no shampoo, hand-held shower or hairdryer. Our first night's experience was unique in that we thought we could relax in the onsen for an hour. Little did we know that we would hardly be able to stand the "Lukewarm" water which was 45degrees C. Our long soak in the onsen diminished into a 20 minute clean and go. I couldn't wash my hair as there was no hairdryer and I didn't want to walk around in the cold with wet hair. For the next onsen visits, we went to the Paid ones for 500-700 yen, well worth the price.
 We were fortunate to ski the first day under a blue-bird sky with Shoji & Chikako who traveled up from Chiba and Gardner from Chigasaki. We had all worked together in Saipan in the mid-90's.
 Jack Gao and pro skier Atsushi Yamada joined us on the slopes, too, on the second day. Atsushi was THE perfect ski instructor for Jack, who had never skied before. Jack's martial arts training and superior coordination led him to the top of the mountain! Great job!
 On the third day, it rained so we took a side trip to see the snow monkeys at the Jigukodani Park where the macaque monkeys go into the onsens on their own to relax and warm themselves. This monkey had such soulful eyes.
 Atsushi drove us there and took us on the tour which was fantastic. We've encountered monkeys in Bali, but they were much more aggressive and mean. These monkeys were quite the opposite. They didn't mind the attention and just enjoyed the environment, full of tourists.
 50 monkeys was the approximate number we saw at the park. They roam freely and the park rangers feed them barley, seeds and nuts.
 On Sat, our friends had departed so it was just the two of us skiing and snowboarding all day. The weather conditions improved slightly as it was a bit colder and some slight snow fell later in the day.
 That evening was the village's Holy Light's Festival and we toured the area and headed to the "Hikage" section of the hill.
 The villagers and tourists were out, drinking the free sake, watching the taiko drum performance, fireworks and skiers.
 One of the most interesting performances was the display of skiing from 1911 as depicted here with one paddle and for the lady, a kimono.
 Afterwards, we entered a pub which served delicious enoki mushrooms, bacon steaks and yuzu sake.
Sunday was another half ski day and then the journey back to Narita for our flight. All went smoothly and we vowed to return sometime again to experience more of Nozawa.


Kirstin Gentry said...

Looks like such a fun trip!
Funny spot to introduce myself, but my family and I are moving to Saipan in a couple of months and I found your blog.
Would love to chat over email if you have a chance- my email is and my name is Kirstin.

Lance Dunsmoor said...

Thinking of going to Saipan. Do you know cost to live modestly per month? Room and board cost per month?

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