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The Japan Alps, punctuating the middle of Honshu, Japan's main island, were made for winter. At resorts such as Hakuba, Shiga Kogen and Karuizawa – all venues for the 1998 Winter Olympics – you can join squadrons of local skiers and snowboarders enjoying the mountains in all their glory. Nagano city also has the giant M-Wave ice rink that is another legacy of the Olympics. One of the most authentically Japanese resorts to visit is Nozawa Onsen. This charming village, which claims to be the birthplace of Western-style skiing in Japan, not only has several free bathhouses around town to warm up in, but also hosts the spectacular Doso-jin fire ...

The Japan Alps, punctuating the middle of Honshu, Japan's main island, were made for winter. At resorts such as Hakuba, Shiga Kogen and Karuizawa – all venues for the 1998 Winter Olympics – you can join squadrons of local skiers and snowboarders enjoying the mountains in all their glory. Nagano city also has the giant M-Wave ice rink that is another legacy of the Olympics. One of the most authentically Japanese resorts to visit is Nozawa Onsen. This charming village, which claims to be the birthplace of Western-style skiing in Japan, not only has several free bathhouses around town to warm up in, but also hosts the spectacular Doso-jin fire festival on 15 January. It’s easy to make a sidetrip from Nozawa or Nagano to visit the famous snow monkeys that bathe in their own outdoor hot spring pool at Kambayashi Onsen. Taking a little more organization, but worth the effort, is arranging to stay in one of the “praying hands houses” – with giant thatched roofs so steep that they can cope with the heavy snowfall — in picturesque Ogimachi and Ainokura. The chilly conditions temper the otherwise large number of tourist visitors who flock to see these villages within the World Heritage-listed Shirakawago and Gokuyama areas.

Simon Richmond
About the Expert

Simon Richmond has written Rough Guides to Malaysia and Japan; Lonely Planet guides to India and Russia; and adventure travel guides for Frommer's on Australia, India, South America, and Southeast Asia.

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Simon Richmond for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

  • Location: The Japanese Alps is a series of mountain ranges in Japan that bisects the main island of Honshū.
  • Language: Japanese
  • Currency: Yen
  • Research: Wikipedia | Kamikochi
  • Current Time:

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  • Best Time to Visit:

    Be in Nozawa Onsen on 15 January to see the Dosojin fire festival, one of the most spectacular such festivals in Japan.