Nozawa Onsen

This year for our Christmas break, rather than heading back to Australia, we met up with some family at Nozawa Onsen in Nagano, Japan for our first White Christmas! It was amazing, and easily one of, if not, the best trip we've had in Japan so far.

I don't know that i'd ever heard of Nozawa Onsen before my sister mentioned they were wanting to go there for Christmas, but after reading some reviews online I was sold. Honestly, I was a bit concerned that it would be just another ski village in Japan overrun with Aussies, but that is actually one of the things that I think made it so great (more on that later).

We headed up to Tokyo the day before, then the next morning, caught the Shinkansen out to Iiyama station before getting a bus to Nozawa Onsen. I stupidly left booking train tickets to the last minute, which meant there were no reserved seats left. We had to get non-reserved seats and arrived at Tokyo station a good hour or more before the Shinkansen we wanted to get. The station was chaos because it was a national holiday and I think everyone was heading away for the long weekend! If possible, I definitely recommend securing Shinkansen tickets in advance if you're travelling towards Nagano during peak ski season!

National holiday madness for the Shinkansen
Lucky we managed to get seats on the train, and once we arrived to Iiyama station we headed to the supermarket next to the station to pick up some snacks before our bus left for Nozawa Onsen. This is a great idea because although there are a lot of places to eat in Nozawa onsen, there aren't really any convenience stores if you're looking to buy snacks or drinks between meals.

The day we arrived, there was actually minimal snow and I was a little worried we wouldn't get our white Christmas. We decided to stay at Lodge Nagano, which was pretty central to everything including the town and the ski areas. When we arrived we were welcomed by the friendliest Australian staff and shown around the place before being taken to our room, which was actually ready before check in time.

Giant Asahi and a lil' gulp

Lodge Nagano in Nozawa Onsen was a fantastic place to stay, with incredibly friendly staff and a different hot breakfast every morning.
Lodge Nagano

We headed out for an early dinner (travelling with kids!) at Wakagiri, a little izakaya in town. The sashimi was delicious and super fresh and they even had kids meals and toys for the kids to keep entertained! During the ski season, the restaurants in Nozawa Onsen get full quickly, so it's a good idea to book some places when you arrive at your hotel (the staff were really happy to help as well as give recommendations).

Nozawa Onsen village
The village
The next morning we woke to a snow covered winter wonderland and we were SO EXCITED! This was my first real snow experience, and it was lovely. Lodge Nagano offers a different cooked breakfast every morning and we got to eat our omelettes in the communal kitchen while watching the snow fall outside.
Nozawa Onsen, view from our room at Lodge Nagano
The view outside our room window

The village
Seeing as we were going on a tour to see the snow monkeys that afternoon, we headed up to the Hikage kids park area for the morning for some snow play! I was honestly so surprised to see how much fun stuff there was to do for free. You can borrow sleds and snow bikes for free from the information centre (which we did!) and we spent a good couple of hours playing with these as well as building snow men and having snow fights.

It was the perfect way to spend our first morning in the snow! After our trip to the snow monkeys we went to a new Mexican place in town called Juntas that had only opened the day before, but was fantastic and run by an Australian girl. After just one day in Nozawa Onsen, I could see why there are people that endlessly chase the ski seasons around the world. All the people we met working in the lodge, cafes and restaurants seemed so happy with their lives! I think this is one of the reasons that being surrounded by Australians even though I was in Japan didn't bother me at all because everyone was so happy. Another thing I really think the Aussies added to the place was the standard of the food. I honestly ate some of the best food i've had in Japan while I was in Nozawa Onsen, and this was because most of these places were run by Australians. Anyway, of course the Village is not completely overrun by Aussies, and it is actually just like a small Japanese village with people going about their normal days, and pretty shrines and traditional shops scattered around. All in all, a great experience and a good option for first-timers to Japan.

We booked our accommodations through Nozawa Holidays, and they were extremely helpful and kind! This post is not sponsered in any way, I just wanted to give a shout out to the awesome service we received from them.

Part 2, Christmas Day in Nozawa Onsen is still to come.....

Snowball stack

The most fun i've had in a long time :)

This christmasy person was handing out candy on Christmas eve

Lovely snow-covered shrine on the way to see the snow monkeys
Dinner at Wakagiri on our first night in Nozawa
My tips for staying in Nozawa Onsen

  • Try to book your Shinkansen tickets in advance if you're going at peak season
  • Book restaurants for dinner when you get to your accommodation to avoid disappointment (and wandering the streets trying to decide where to eat)
  • Go and see the snow monkeys! They're only an hour away
  • If you want to use the free snow sleds and bikes, get to the Hikage information centre early (before 10am) and they're all taken
  • Stock up on snacks and drinks at the supermarket next to Iiyama station before you get the bus to Nozawa Onsen
If you've got any other tips, be sure to comment below

Arashiyama - Kyoto

Before I continue on with my snowy holiday in Japan posts, I have one post left from our trip to Koya-san and Kyoto this past November. Our last full day in Kyoto we ventured out to Arashiyama. Can you believe that i've been to Kyoto at least 5 times before and never been to Arashiyama!? How stupid I was to miss this area every time! Arashiyama is gorgeous and a prime spot for viewing the autumn leaves.

As soon as we stepped off the tram I was in love. The station was adorable and we walked straight onto a street full of cute shops and restaurants. We stopped for a croquette from a street stall, then continued on towards the bridge. Arashiyama was CROWDED, and it wasn't even a national holiday or a weekend when we were there. It was crowded for a reason though. The autumn leaves covering the mountain backdrop were stunning and the area is just so cute.

We only spent a half day here because we were tired from non-stop sightseeing for the previous 4 days, and we wandered off track and ended up kind of in the middle of nowhere and hungry with a small child, so ended up heading back into the city around lunch time. Still though, we had a lovely time. We walked by the river, through the park and came across the bamboo grove. 

If you ever find yourself in Kyoto, I definitely recommend taking a day out in Arashiyama. It's not far from the city centre and everything is just so pretty! Also, I wish I had known about it before (it's obvious I didn't do much planning for this, isn't it?), but there's a lovely train ride in Arashiyama, that you can read about on my friend Ashley's blog.

Gorgeous fall colours in Arashiyama, Kyoto

Fall colours in the mountains surrounding Arashyiama

Amazing fall colours in Arashiyama, Kyoto


The famous bamboo grove in Arashiyama, Kyoto
The famous bamboo path

So in love with these colours

The cute Randen tram at Arashiyama, Kyoto
Cute little tram we caught to Arashiyama
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Arashiyama in Kyoto is a must-see when visiting Kyoto. It is a charming little town with lots of traditional shops, restaurants and temples and is the perfect spot for viewing autumn leaves or Cherry blossoms in spring!

Snow Monkeys of Nagano - Half Day Tour!

As you know, if you read my last blog post, I was lucky enough to spend the holidays in the snow in Japan! It was one of my best trips in Japan so far, and i've been thinking about it constantly since I got back to Okinawa. Before I get to my posts about our time staying at Nozawa Onsen, I couldn't resist sharing with you our trip to see the famous snow monkeys of Nagano at Jigokudani Yaen-Koen. I always had the snow monkeys on my Japan bucket list, but I wasn't really too sure what the experience was going to be like in reality. Trust me when I tell you - this is a MUST if you visit Japan in winter!

Perfect snowy day
Because we were staying at Nozawa Onsen, which is only about an hour away, we booked into a half day tour organised by our hotel. It was extremely laid back, and included a stop for 100yen sushi lunch on the way, and was a good amount of time for the trip!

One thing that I think surprised me the most and that people never seem to mention is that seeing the snow monkeys is not the only fabulous thing about visiting the monkey park. One of the highlights for me was the walk there and back. The walk before you actually get to the monkeys is actually 1.6kms each way through forest, and it was magical. Even though we had a 3 kids in tow, it wasn't a difficult walk and everyone enjoyed walking through the trees with the occasional falling of snow.

When we arrived at the actual monkeys, there were a lot of people there, however there was still plenty of room to get good photos and get up close with the monkeys.

All in all, if you are in Japan during the winter and can spare a half day (or a full day from Tokyo), I thoroughly recommend making the trip to see the Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani Yaen-Koen. Scroll down toward the bottom for my essential tips you need to know before you go!

The 1.6km walk to the snow monkey park in Nagano. It was lovely, but be sure to wear waterproof shoes!
The 1.6 km walk to the snow monkeys

family selfie!
The view from the Snow Monkey Park Jigokudani Yaen-Koen in Nagano. This day trip is a must if you are visiting Japan in the winter.
winter wonderland!

Some of the monkeys at the Snow Monkey Park Jigokudani Yaen-Koen in Nagano. This day trip is a must if you are visiting Japan in the winter.

Some of the monkeys at the Snow Monkey Park Jigokudani Yaen-Koen in Nagano. This day trip is a must if you are visiting Japan in the winter.
Monkey onsen times
Some of the monkeys at the Snow Monkey Park Jigokudani Yaen-Koen in Nagano. This day trip is a must if you are visiting Japan in the winter.
Seriously! Look at these guys!

The view from the Snow Monkey Park Jigokudani Yaen-Koen in Nagano. This day trip is a must if you are visiting Japan in the winter.
This view is everything!

Some of the monkeys at the Snow Monkey Park Jigokudani Yaen-Koen in Nagano. This day trip is a must if you are visiting Japan in the winter.

Some of the monkeys at the Snow Monkey Park Jigokudani Yaen-Koen in Nagano. This day trip is a must if you are visiting Japan in the winter.

Tips for getting the most out of your visit:

  • DO go when there is snow - I honestly don't think the trip would have been anywhere near as beautiful without the snow. Apparently the snow monkeys don't get in the onsen if it's not cold enough, and everything might look a bit bleak without the snow
  • DO wear waterproof shoes - preferably waterproof boots! The walk is long, and wet and muddy. Thankfully we were all wearing waterproof boots, as this was a MUST. They were covered in mud by the time we got back to the bus
  • DO enjoy the walk - 1.6kms sounds like a long walk, but enjoy it! Look up at the trees and appreciate the view. It's truly magical.
  • DO wear plenty of warm clothes - It is really cold, and you want to be comfortable to enjoy the experience. I found Uniqlo Heat Tech layers were amazing.

Have you ever been to see the snow monkeys?

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Some of the monkeys at the Snow Monkey Park Jigokudani Yaen-Koen in Nagano. This day trip is a must if you are visiting Japan in the winter.

Happy New Year - Life lately

Happy New Year everyone!

Can you believe it's already 2017!? It's almost 2 years since I moved here to Okinawa.

I thought I would give a brief recap of our holiday season as it was definitely one I'll always remember. at the end of 2015 we went back to Australia for Christmas and New Years with family. It was a great but fairly exhausting trip. This (last) year), when my sister contacted me to say they wanted to come to Japan, we jumped at the chance for our first ever white Christmas, and it was so amazing!

Family selfie at the bottom of Tokyo Sky Tree

A few days before Christmas we flew up to Tokyo. Instead of focusing on presents for G this year, we decided to go with just one present from the mummies, as well as one experience! We dropped our luggage at our AirBnb and headed straight to Tokyo SkyTree.

Nozawa onsen on Christmas day 2016
Amazing snow on Christmas Day at Nozawa Onsen

The next day we hopped on the shinkansen (bullet train) and headed out to meet my sister, her husband and their kids at Nozawa Onsen in Nagano prefecture. We spent 3 days enjoying the snow before heading back to Tokyo for a couple of nights.

Kindle, sun lounge and the beach in Okinawa

We ended the holidays with 6 quiet and relaxing days back in Okinawa. It's actually the most time we have ever had off work in Okinawa, and it was so nice to read books, do some chores and sleep in before returning to work.

I can't wait to share in more detail about our amazing time in the snow over the coming weeks!

What did everyone else get up to over the holidays?