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Japanese winters embody a breathtaking paradox. This country of ancient temples and neon cities transforms into a dreamscape of snowy tranquillity, proving that Japan’s magic lies in its ability to surprise and mesmerize. Beyond the bustling cities and deep-rooted traditions, it morphs into a captivating winter wonderland, offering a blend of scenic rail journeys, world-class ski slopes, and invigorating onsens (hot springs).
Your journey commences in Tokyo, the pulsating heart of Japan, and unfolds aboard one of the many legendary Shinkansen high-speed bullet train lines, synonymous with precision, speed, and comfort. As the train slips away from the city’s skyline and into the heart of the majestic Japanese Alps, you’ll find yourself swept into the embrace of Nagano and Hakuba Valley.
Embracing the snow at Nagano
Nestled within this breathtaking alpine panorama are ten interconnected ski resorts, including Happo-One, the region’s crown jewel. With an impressive annual snowfall of over 11 meters, it presents an exhilarating experience for all winter sports enthusiasts. The snowy slopes under a cerulean sky offer an exceptional skiing adventure that will enthral the novice and the expert alike.
The journey then carries you further into the winter reverie to Shiga Kogen. Another scenic two-hour rail journey from Hakuba, and you’re greeted by an expanse of meticulously groomed ski runs and thrilling moguls. Home to numerous interconnected resorts, Shiga Kogen is a paradise for winter sports lovers. Enhancing the charm of this winter haven is the annual March craft beer festival – an ambience-laden event featuring live music, cascading fireworks, and a sense of collective merriment.
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Slowing the pace down at Yamanouchi
Transitioning from the adrenaline-fueled ski slopes of Shiga Kogen, your journey ebbs into the calmness of Yamanouchi. Here, amidst an oasis of meticulously landscaped Japanese gardens, sits the Senjukaku ryokan, a sanctuary of tranquillity. With its soul-soothing open-air hot springs, Senjukaku offers an immersion into a timeless Japanese tradition. The rooms, adorned with traditional tatami flooring and offering breathtaking views of snow-laden mountains, encapsulate the quintessential Japanese living experience. Further enhancing the appeal, the ryokan’s lobby transforms into an art gallery gracefully adorned with intricate Japanese drawings, adding a stroke of artistic elegance to your journey.
Travelling through Japan during winter offers a journey that transcends the ordinary. It’s a multifaceted experience that invites you to explore landscapes adorned with winter’s graceful touch, exhilarating ski resorts boasting world-class facilities, and the serenity of traditional hot springs. As the snowflakes dance in the cold air and the warmth of an onsen wraps around you, the allure of Japan’s winter wonderland is undeniable.
So, pack your ski gear, embrace the chill, and let Japan’s winter landscapes captivate your wanderlust. Be it the breathtaking train journeys, the adrenaline rush of the ski slopes, or the soothing calm of an onsen, every aspect of your journey will inspire and create memories that will last a lifetime. Japan’s snowy splendour awaits, ready to charm travellers from every corner of the globe. ◼
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© This article was first published online in Aug 2023 – World Travel Magazine.