As the weather begins to warm up in Tokyo – whether you are celebrating budding blossoms or blighted by seasonal allergies – there has to be something of a spring in your step.
But for some of us, there is panic in the air – there are only a few weekends left for a spot of late (ish!) season skiing and snowboarding and we wonder how many trip we can fit in before the thaw…
That it is already March does not, though, mean too much lack of choice, a fact no more easily illustrated than by taking a look at the area around Minakami, in Gunma prefecture.
The town, in the spectacular Tanigawa mountains, is just a 70 minute bullet train ride away, making it one of the easiest spots to reach from Tokyo, and while it is definitely a four season resort (all sorts of outdoor pursuits take over after the snow melts) now is a great time to visit. From skiing to strawberry picking, we took a look:
Late season skiing and snowboarding
Open until the end of March
The 820m-1,220m Ski Resort Minakami Norn offers night skiing until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights – its longest run is an incredible 2km and adult lift tickets are just ¥4,200 a day. The resort is just before the Kanetsu tunnel, 3km from the Minakami interchange and it offers free parking to those coming by car.
The Okutone Snow Park, just ten minutes by bus from Minakami station, offers great snowboarding country and has the benefit of beginner slopes towards the top of the mountain so that novices don’t miss out on the views on a clear day. The Minakami Kogen Fujiwara Ski Area and spa resort is great if you love the feeling of a hot bath after a day on the slopes.
The Akazawa ski resort (weekends only until Mar 17) has mogul ski events and experts love the slopes here. Oana Ski (weekends and holidays only, until Mar 20) is one of the most family friendly resorts out there – its snow park and open runs should please everyone.
Open until Apr 7
The Minakami Kogen Ski Resort is perhaps the best known in the area and is at the heart of many people’s Minakami ski trips and the Hodaigi Ski Area offers great runs through the forests. Both have ski schools and kids areas and are easily accessible from both the highway or by bus from Tokyo or Minakami itself.
Open until mid-May
The Tanigawadake Tenjindaira Ski Area straddles the peaks of the 1,502m Tenjin-toge and the 1,449m Takakura-yama. Being slightly higher up means the resort manages to stay open until mid-May and it offers expert courses as well as some of the best views in the area. This is a particularly ideal spot for those with intermediate and advanced skills who want to catch some late snow.
More to do in Minakami
Getting fruity with some strawberry picking
Any trip to the supermarket in Tokyo will tell you it’s strawberry season. The smell that greets you can sometimes lead to disappointment from imported varieties – or those that are not fresh – and picking your own is often the most enjoyable way to ensure perfect strawberries every time! Dole Land Minakami is a great place to start (see www.doleland.com or call 0278-64-2800).
The center offers half-hour ‘eat as much as you like’ sessions in the fruit fields (from ¥1,000 depending on when you go) as well as take away options for as little as ¥150 per 100g and even a Dole Land Set: “fruits plus barbecue” sounds good to us.
Onsen and Ryokan
There are 18 onsen in the area, each providing either a retreat style escape from the city or extreme relaxation after a real workout on the ski slopes. Local cuisine and hospitality in the area is worth staying for – you might crave simply curry rice on the slopes but when you head back to wherever you’ll rest your head (see www.enjoy-minakami.jp for a convenient go-to list of accomodation in the area, in English) you might find something more unique.
Takumi no Sato craft villages
Its mountainous backdrop (pictured at the top of the page) makes this area, with around 30 craft houses, a great place to stroll around and experience Japanese artisanal traditions – and get involved yourself. Watch local craftspeople make traditional products and indeed get your hands dirty in the many workshops on offer – just be sure and wash them before the soba making class!
Great for little and big kids alike, the area is family friendly but also a great spot to chill out if you have had enough of the ski slopes. Have a look at the website (takuminosato.o-oku.jp) for more information.
For more information on Minakami area and how to get there, see: www.enjoy-minakami.jp/eng/