Winter Paradise at Takaragawa Onsen

Being the volcanically-active country it is, Japan is teeming with natural hot springs. Though these onsen are everywhere from cities to the seaside, the best ones are always found in the mountains, in my opinion. There are few things more relaxing than soaking in an outdoor onsen (rotenburo) alongside a river in the middle of a forest. Continue reading “Winter Paradise at Takaragawa Onsen”

Setagaya in the Snow

The entire country, bar the subtropical Okinawan islands, has entered a deep freeze this week. On Monday, a snowstorm swept across Honshu, and Tokyo welcomed its first heavy snowfall since the “snowpocalypse” of 2014. It usually snows only a few days a year, and rarely enough each time to accumulate on the ground. Continue reading “Setagaya in the Snow”

The Monkeys of Hell Valley

With their gentle pink faces and thick fluffy coats, the snow monkeys have to be one of the cutest wild animals in Japan. I’ve encountered Japanese macaques in a few different areas – Kamikochi, Tateyama, Kyoto – but nowhere is comparable to seeing them at Jigokudani Yaen-koen. Continue reading “The Monkeys of Hell Valley”

Snow Magic in Sapporo

Sapporo, the city of the north… Despite it’s harsh winter weather and average annual snowfall of about 6 metres, it’s surprisingly Japan’s 5th largest city. It’s not constantly dark and gloomy, though. Just think, endless chances to have snowball fights, make snow angels, go skiing, eat fresh seafood, slurp down miso ramen – there’s a lot to love! Continue reading “Snow Magic in Sapporo”

Food and Fun in Hokkaido

Last month, I went on a very short trip to the top end of Japan. My big sis, her partner and my little brother flew over for a bit of fun in Hokkaido! It was awesome to have some family time so far away from home. I wish I could see them more than once or twice a year!

Hokkaido is one of Japan’s four main islands, close to Russia, and gets some pretty serious snowfall during the winter months. The snow arrives in November and sticks around til May! It’s bizarre to see the tops of road signs sticking out from a field of white. In the mountains, they use overhead signs to tell drivers where the road is. Summer huts, and any evidence of summer for that matter, get completely buried!

The snow in the north is famous for being powdery dry – perfect for snow sports. But there’s a lot more to this huge island that just that. When I think of Hokkaido, I think of a remote (…very, remote) land, hot springs, the Sapporo Snow Festival, delicious butter corn ramen, the freshest of fresh seafood, mountains and vast plains, Sapporo beer, and the indigenous Ainu people. I’ve never been in summer, but from what I hear it turns into a wilderness adventure land… mountain climbing, rafting, fishing, camping – that kind of thing!

This was my second time to the north island – both of my trips have been to go snowboarding. Last year I visited a small, local ski resort called Kiroro with a friend, and this time we headed to the world famous Niseko at Mt. Niseko-Annupuri. The beginner slopes were pretty packed, but further up it was very spacious with lots of skiers choosing to zip through the trees instead. I’m always in awe of little 5-year-olds flying down the runs – no fear! Apart from the actual slopes, another reason I loved Niseko was for the spectacular view you get of the neighbouring volcano, Mt. Yotei.

Niseko is famous for its village as much as its slopes. There are plenty of restaurants and bars to enjoy, and there’s just as many people about at night time as there is during the day! With the help of cheap airfares and package deals, the village becomes overrun with Australians making the most of the ski season. The resort is so popular among Aussies that one of my favourite Aussie hiphop groups actually played a gig at a bar in Niseko a couple of weeks before we went! That was very cool, although not cool we missed seeing them…

The more time I spend in Hokkaido, the more I love it. It’s a great place to get away from it all!