February 26, 2016
Skiing in Japan is wonderful. I would have loved to go to Hokkaido to experience the best powder snow in the world, but with Mark’s limited amount of holidays and the costs and time involved to get there, we decided to go for the closest possible option. In fact the weather forecast was not too brilliant anyway with rain predicted for the Nagano region, so we took the right decision to only spend a little over 2 hours from door to door. We had two super sunny days on the slopes and the rain in Echigo Yuzawa only started on our third and last day after lunch. Perfect planning!
Echigo Yukawa is ideal for beginners and you would not want to spend more than two or three days here as it is not a large ski resort and it soon gets boring. The good thing was that we could even take the boys to the top – which made them really proud – and go down the green and red slopes easily. All three took some skiing lessons again and Lilo can do parallel turns now! She is doing extremely well and none of the children has difficulties following me down the hill even if I feel I am going a bit fast…..
If you are going skiing in Japan, you have to make sure you go to the onsen (hot spring bath) afterwards. It is most relaxing and best of all, you do not get muscle ache! We had chosen a small Japanese hotel with a nice onsen area with inside and outside baths. The large family room had tatami flooring and we slept on futons. I have to admit that sleeping on futons is none of my favourites. I do not find it very comfortable and I somehow feel it spoils the wonderful effect of the onsen.
The hotel’s dinner room was the usual Japanese kind. I do not know what it is, that a culture with so much sense for beauty and design and so much love for food and the presentation of food, does not care at all about the atmosphere in their dining rooms. The rooms are usually much too bright, the furniture reminds me of youth hostels, decoration is sparse if existing, the arrangement of things in the room is to say the best, pragmatic. Dinner is served between 6 and 7 and you better show up at 6, because the food will be sitting on the table as of then. 7 pm sharp, the rice pot is taken away from the buffet, so there is no mistake – dinner is over. And then you go back to your room as the “ambiente” is so uninviting that you do not even think about having another beer. There is no bar in such small hotels, but vending machines provide the necessary.
Nevertheless we were extremely happy with our hotel as the food was delicious, the onsen and room spacious and the service beyond expectations. The free shuttle bus to the ski resorts would go any time you needed them. And they would even take a detour to drive you to the local ATM. Pick-up times from the ski resort were scheduled at the full hour, but of course they came any time we called them. Same is true for the shuttle to the station. The fixed schedule was not convenient for us as we would have missed our train. So they just called the driver and told him to take us immediately. On our last skiing day we had already checked out of the hotel in the morning. When we came back from the slopes early afternoon to get our luggage, we were invited to use the onsen again for free before leaving.
Another amazing thing was the lift system. I bought the tickets at the valley station. I did not receive the usual plastic card that you swipe to go on the lift, but some paper tickets. As the lady did not speak any English and my Japanese was not sufficient, I could not get an answer to my question on how this is going to work with those paper tickets. We went to the lift and got on – paper tickets in the pockets of our jackets. No-one ever asked us to see the tickets. It goes without saying that you buy a ticket before you use the lift. No need for checking. I noticed that some skiers had transparent pockets around their arms for the tickets, but most people did not.
As in Hakuba, there is literally no outdoor gastronomy in Yuzawa. We found two huts on the slopes with benches in the sun and some vending machines. The good thing about the vending machines is that you can get cold drinks or beer as well as hot coffee (in cans)!
We did find an amazing Italian restaurant with delicious pizza and pasta and and an impressive wine cellar which we could not investigate any further. The whole place made you feel like being in the Alps. Talking about “ambiente” and decoration – this one was truly Tyrolean – with Swiss prices!
Today’s fun fact:
Who said street musicians need portable instruments? Last summer in Ueno park. With sound below: