Resort Spotlight: Mt 6 (Various)
Ski area opening: 1912
Nozawa Onsen has a history of evolving hand-in-hand with skiing since the establishment of its ski club in 1923. Although Nozawa Onsen is a tiny village with less than five thousand inhabitants, it has successfully hosted numerous international ski championships including FIS races and Interski-related tournaments. It has also produced numerous Olympians and other international skiers. The Japan Museum of Skiing is also in the village, preserving Japan's history of skiing. The museum exhibits a wide assortment of precious material including items used by Hannes Schneider, a champion skier involved in Nozawa Onsen's history.
Nozawa Onsen's ski and snowboard area extends from Mt. Kenashi's crest at 1,650 meters above sea level. Even beginners can board a gondola lift and view the breathtaking 360-degree panorama from the gently sloping crest. There are twenty courses with distinctive qualities such as the 5,000-meter Skyline Course, the challenging Schneider Course (a Nozawa Onsen special attraction), Japan's first competition course - the Kandahar Course - and more. The lift system is fully equipped with gondolas, lifts and moving walkways.
Coming down to the foot of the mountain, you find yourself in the famous hot spring area. This hot spring area, which legend says was discovered by Gyoki the bonze in the first half of the 8th century, has been prospering as a therapeutic bath resort since the days of old. Strolling through the village, you come across community bathhouses called "sotoyu" operated under the traditional membership system of the 17th century Edo Period. At Ogama, one of the hot spring sources, you can catch a glimpse of the Nozawa villagers' daily hot spring lifestyle. It is not unusual to see them boiling field mustard or wild mountain plants in the hot spring water.
Although there are modern facilities in the village such as Nozawa Onsen Arena and Kurhaus Nozawa, all in all Nozawa Onsen retains a traditional atmosphere. As a rare resort retaining it's traditional Japanese heritage, Nozawa Onsen is world class resort and well worth a visit.
Ski area opening: 1925
Sister city: Kitzbuhel, Austria
According to legend, Zao Onsen was discovered by Kibi-no-Takayu in 110 A.D. when he was sent by Prince Yamato Takeru-no-Mikoto to subjugate the eastern enemy. It's peculiar location of lush natural beauty and manifold hot springs gives it a unique feel. It's sparkling silver-frosted trees in winter - "Snow Monsters" - are especially famous as a distinctive characteristic of the area. It is said that skiers first discovered the Snow Monsters when they climbed the Zao Mountains in 1914. In 1936, the Zao Mountains were unveiled to the outside world when a German film crew shot them for a documentary movie about mountains. Zao Onsen was selected in top place in the mountain category of "Japan's Top Hundred Sightseeing Spots," giving rise to an increase in sightseers to the area. In modern times, Zao Onsen flourishes as a skiing resort in winter - ropeways and a more modern lift system have been put into operation. All of Mt. Jizo is linked together with a remarkable conveyor system based on three ropeways and cables.
Promotion of Austrian skiing began early at Zao Onsen. After inviting ski instructors such as professor Franz Derbl, Professor Kruckenhauser, Professor Hoppichler and Toni Sailer from Austria, Zao Onsen gradually deepened its character as an international ski resort. In 1979, Zao Onsen was the first site in Asia to be selected to host an Interski conference.
On the one hand, Zao Onsen has a distinct international air. But on the other hand, it maintains it's traditional Japanese heritage and is brimming with local character. There are simple local specialty foods such tamakonnyaku (small balls made of devil's tongue starch) and igamochi (which are small caked rice balls with bean jam filling)
Ski area opening 1914
Sister city: Neustift, Austria
With one hundred large and small natural hot spring fountains, Kusatsu is well-known as the best hot spring resort in eastern Japan since the days of old. All sorts of legends about Kusatsu have been passed down through the ages. In one legend, Prince Yamato Takeru-no-Mikoto discovered Kusatsu in ancient times, which indicates how long Kusatsu's history is. In another legend, Shogun Minamoto-no-Yoritomo bathed at the hot spring called Shirohata on his way back from a grand hunt. And in another legend, Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune ordered his men to carry water to Edo (now Tokyo) from the fountain of Yubatake (field of hot water), so that he could bathe in it. Kusatsu Onsen has been famous as a hot spring resort for recovering health since the middle of the Edo Period (1603-1867). In fact, it was flourishing so much during the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate that people would often refer to it as "the resort with a thousand flourishing spas."
2,000-meter high mountains including Mt. Shirane, Mt. Hon Shirane, Mt. Ainomine, and others tower in the skies of the northwestern part of the town, which centers around Yubatake. The mountains together are known as "Mt. Kusatsu Shirane". Endowed with valuable alpine plants and a unique volcanic belt landscape, the whole area is carefully preserved as the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park and popular throughout the year for all sorts of outdoor and natural activities.
The Kusatsu Summer International Music Academy & Festival is a popular event with artists from both Japan and overseas taking part with classic concerts and lessons taking place. Only in Kusatsu can you enjoy a soak in a traditional onsen followed by live classic music like that.
The full-scale winter season begins when the cold northwest winds arrive with the snow. In winter, Kusatsu turns into a silver white world. Covered with high quality snow, the slopes come alive with throngs of skiers, marking the surface with a myriad of ski and snowboard tracks. The first ski lift in Japan; the first ski school in Japan; the first ski competition in Japan…. Kusatsu enjoys a long, unique and distinguished history with skiing in Japan. Kusatsu enjoys a long snow season from the beginning of winter to the end of spring.
HAKUBA HAPPO ONE
Ski area opening: 1928
Happo One is located at the foot of the Hakuba Mountains, which belong to Chubu Sangaku National Park. It's ski environment wins high international acclaim for attributes such as fine quality natural snow, the backdrop view of of the Hakuba mountains and the huge range of ski and snowboard courses on offer. Being one of the few ski areas in Japan that conform to the downhill race course standards established by the FIS, Happo One has been selected to host numerous tournaments. Examples include the traditional Riesen Slalom championships, national championships, FIS World Cup championships and All Japan Ski Technique Championships.
At the 1998 Nagano Olympics, Happo One was the main stage for the men and women Alpine ski downhill races, Super-G and Nordic-combined events. The action at the Hakuba Ski Jumping Stadium awed the people of Japan so much that the stadium has now become a memorial symbol of Happo One. Since then, a new facility called Norway Village has been built next to the stadium and is becoming a new popular sightseeing spot.
Another popular attraction is the Hakuba Happo One Ski School. With a long history, it is one of the most prominent ski schools in Japan. In 1940, it was inaugurated as the Hosono Ski Training Club. In 1947, its name changed to the Hosono Ski Workshop, then to the Hosono Ski School in 1958. And after 1965, its name changed to its present name and the school evolved into what it is today. It is the behind-the-scenes tradition and outstanding ski environment such as this that has produced the numerous racers and demonstrators from Hakuba Happo One.
When the snow melts away, the village is popular with mountain climbers aiming to tackle the challenging Hakuba Mountains. And after working up a sweat in the lush natural landscape, many enjoy a soak in the Hakuba Happo hot springs. The hot springs are simple thermal springs with colorless clear alkaline water that speeds recovery from sore muscles and fatigue.
MYOKO AKAKURA ONSEN
Ski area opening: 1911
Mt. Myoko is listed as one of the hundred most famous mountains in Japan. It's summit is 2,454 meters above sea level and it is renowned as an enchanting highland zone. In 1916, Myoko Kogen became nationally famous when it came first in a vote taken to find the most popular summer resort in Japan.
Around that time, university clubs such as the Tokyo University Red Gate Club and the Keio Mita Club started skiing practice at the foot of Mt. Myoko and this was the beginning of Myoko Kogen's history of skiing. The local people welcomed the students and named their practice area "University Slope." In 1922, the Akakura Ski Club was formed and skiing started taking root in the region as a favorite activity to brighten the long winter. It was through this that Myoko Kogen became a mountain resort of all four seasons.
In 1937, the Akakura Kanko Hotel opened for business. In those days, the tourist bureau of the Ministry of Railways of that time had been widely promoting sightseeing in Japan to the outside world and this hotel was planned to be a main means for attracting visiting foreign tourists. In fieldwork for the hotel construction, the owner, Okura Kishichiro, flew to Switzerland to observe European mountain hotels. The Akakura Kanko Hotel was born as a modern resort hotel, and at that time it was the only one of its kind in Japan. With this hotel as a nucleus, Akakura became a resort area clearly distinguished from any other.
In 1950, wooden pole lifts were completed in Akakura and Ikenodaira. The area at the foot of Mt. Myoko then went into full-scale development and eventually grew to its present-day scale as Myoko Kogen. During that time, numerous national ski championships were successfully held in Akakura, and contributions were made to the development of skiing. With the inauguration of the Nagano Shinkansen bullet trains, Myoko Kogen became a two-hour and eight-minute ride from Tokyo and with the completion of the Joshinetsu Expressway, it became possible to easily drive to Myoko directly from the capital.
If you get the chance, be sure to experience the joy of Niigata Prefecture's delicious local sake and fresh seafood, the natural beauty of the different times of each season, and the Myoko Kogen hospitality.