This itinerary is perfect for ski sports enthusiasts hoping for fresh tracks in plenty of powder on Japanese mountains while still getting a taste of the unique culture the Land of the Rising Sun has to offer. You will hit the slopes of Mt. Hakkoda, Mt. Zao, and Mt. Bandaiwhile also getting to explore ancient temples and traditional samurai villages. Excursions to important nature sites such as Lake Towada and Inawashiro Lake give you a chance to see bizarre ice formations and beautiful scenery. There are also winter festivals filled with fireworks, tasty local dishes, and unique local artwork. Finally, what truly make this trip stand out are the hot springs and the trademark Japanese hospitality you’ll get to experience along the way —especially in the town of Ginzan Onsen where there are no cars on the streets and no worries in your mind. The ideal time to explore Tohoku during the winter for the snow sports and festivals is from early to mid February.
• Skiing: From powder-rich slopes to the curious “snow monster” phenomena, Japanese ski resorts are very different from their North American and European counterparts while still offering spectacular runs.
• Ryokan Town: A ryokan stay is the highlight of any Japan trip, but in the town of Ginzan Onsen, the ryokan approach to life extends beyond accommodations and into the streets, ensuring an exceptionally peaceful experience.
• Winter Festivals: Festivals at Lake Towada, Morioka and Kakunodate feature igloos, live performances, snow mazes and impressive firework displays.
Today you will land in Tokyo, the vibrant capital of city of Japan that features wonderfully preserved temples and gardens, some of the best food in the world, and a bold approach to fashion. Millions call the city home, and the iconic Mount Fuji dominates the skyline of this economic and cultural powerhouse of a city. After arriving, you will be privately transferred to your hotel; we recommend the Peninsula Tokyo or Aman Tokyo, and if time permits you can wander about this exciting city.
This morning you will take the shinkansen, Japan’s high-speed rail system, to Hachinohe Station, Aomori Prefecture. The trip takes three hours, and when you step out of the train you will be in the northernmost prefecture of Japan’s Tohoku Region. From there you will be taken to Oirase by car, a one-hour drive, and you’ll then have some time to take a lunch break and relax. Afterward, you will set out to explore the frozen streams and waterfalls of Oirase. There’s also the option to put on snowshoes and see even more snow-covered branches and glistening frozen waterfalls. That afternoon, you’ll be driven to Lake Towada, the largest crater lake on Japan’s main island, known for its dazzling blue coloration, to experience its Winter Story Festival. The festival is known for its grand snow statue, igloo bar, illuminated sculptures, and a light tunnel created with 160,000 LED lights. There are also fireworks at night, which sound particularly crisp in the area's low humidity. There’s also a hot spring to dip your feet in, a warm meal, and hot wine.
You’ll head for Mt. Hakkoda today and put in a full day of skiing. The Hakkoda ropeway whisks skiers and sightseers alike to the scenic platform atop the summit. Of particular interest are the “snow monsters,” a curious phenomenon where snow and wind leave the trees in the upper reaches of the mountain look like an army of frozen monsters. The yearly snow base exceeds 13 meters, which translates into massive amounts of powder and has turned the mountain into a mecca of sorts for skiers and snowboarders looking for backcountry runs. That said, in addition to the many ungroomed slopes for intermediated and advanced skiers, the mountain does have runs available for all skill levels. After a day of skiing or riding, you’ll retreat to your hotel to enjoy the on-site onsen hot spring bath as you look out across the snowy scenery beyond.
Today you’ll have a second shot at skiing or snowboarding Mt. Hakkoda. Get out to the run you missed yesterday, try to conquer the one that defeated you the day before, or just keep enjoying the powder for which this mountain is renowned. This evening, if you wish, you can head out to experience a night tour of the frozen waterfalls, which reveal a dynamic new side to their beauty when illuminated.
This morning you’ll set out southbound for Morioka. The drive takes about two and a half hours, and upon arrival you’ve got a full day of touring Morioka and enjoying the Iwate Snow Festival ahead of you. Morioka is the quaint capital of Iwate Prefecture that is mostly known for its local noodles, Wanko Soba, but during the Iwate Snow Festival, the city truly comes alive. The festival is one of the greatest in the Tohoku region, replete with live performances, sleigh riding, igloo houses, and horseback rides. There is a snow maze to wander through, sleds, and even a snow train. The snow sculpture contest will pique your curiosity, and the firework display at night can fill you with awe. There are a number of mobile yatai food stands there that are worth checking out. Japanese-style grilled lamb and milk ramen are dishes, and you can wash them down with amazake, a traditional, sweet fermented rice drink. It's low in alcohol, but high in flavor.
You’re headed for Kakunodate this afternoon, but in the morning you’ll still have time to explore the Iwate Snow Festival. If you haven’t already, be sure to try Wanko Soba. This specialty noodle is served in small bowls, and the waiters continue topping you off until you indicate you’re full. After this, it’s a one-and-a-half-hour drive to Kakunodate, a former samurai stronghold in Akita Prefecture. You’ll spend the afternoon enjoying a hot spring bath, and in the late afternoon, guests can enjoy the Hiburi Kamakura Festival. During this traditional purification ritual, people twirl burning straw bags filled with charcoal in an incredible display. For dinner, warm up with kiritanpo nabe, a local dish of pounded rice on a stick that can be toasted over an open hearth or served in dumpling soups. The dish is rich with flavor, and full of warmth.
Take the morning to relax and enjoy your luxurious ryokan accommodation. After your sumptuous meal, you can soak in a hot spring bath and take in the surrounding winter scenery. In the afternoon, you’ll set out to explore the renowned samurai district of Kakunodate. You’ll get the chance to step inside both the Aoyagi and Ishiguro houses, two residences of important samurai class families that have hundreds of years of history and are filled with numerous antique items. These historic sites are illuminating, as is the Denshokan Museum, which is your next stop where you can see the renowned birch craft of Akitain a traditional setting. You’ll take a quick stop by the Ando Workshop, which makes miso and shoyu (soy sauce). After enjoying some complimentary samples, you’ll be transferred to Yokote for the Kamakura Snow Festival. The transfer takes an hour, and the site that will greet you is incredible. Hundreds of miniature snow kamakuras (igloos) that are illuminated by candles line the ground along the riverbed. You can build your own igloo and will have the opportunity to eat rice cakes and drink sweet sake inside a kamakura with a group of locals.
Up bright and early this morning for a three-hour drive to Ginzan Onsen, but after that it’s nothing but relaxation. The town pedestrian-only and traditionally designed buildings evoke feelings of a bygone era. Streets are narrow and lined by ryokans while little bridges cross the gently flowing river that runs through the middle of the town. There is a 22-meter-tall waterfall at the back of town, and guests can explore a historic silver mine with 500 years of history beneath. But this town’s hot spring baths are its true raison d'etre. There are two public paths and a foot bath in the town center, but the best approach is back at your accommodations where there are five hot spring baths to choose from, one of which is even on the roof and offers spectacular views. An inn with 350 years of history, the Fujiya Ginzan prides itself on its service, food, and the feeling of serenity it inspires in its patrons.
You’ll head out to Mt. Zao by car today, but en route you’ll stop to tour the Yamadera Risshaku Temple. Founded in 860 CE, this mountain temple constructed of beech wood and stones hugs the mountainside, and you can explore its many structures as you make your way to the top, from where you can catch stunning views of the surrounding valley. You'll also stop by Yamadera Basho Memorial Museum, which was created in honor of haiku pioneer Matsuo Basho (1644–1694 CE), and a sake brewery where you can sample this iconic Japanese drink. Finally, you’ll reach Mt. Zao in time to get a few runs in. This is the largest ski resort in the Tohoku Region, and it is another famous place where the snow monsters can be seen. There are more than thirty lifts, gondolas, and ropeways, and its area encompasses runs suitable for skiers and snowboarders of all abilities, especially at the beginner to intermediate level.
Today you’ll get a full day of skiing in on Mt. Zao. There are 17 slopes in total, which translates to a day full of skiing or snowboarding. Besides being lauded for its size, Mt. Zao is also praised for the quantity and quality of its powder, and there are many patches of virgin powder waiting to be explored. Surrounding peaks create a scenic view to look out across, and the snow monsters almost seem to be abstract art installations lining the runs. The longest run is just over six miles long and passes from the snow monster-infested upper reaches to the peaceful town below. At night, the snow monsters are illuminated, and if you wish, you can take a snow mobile excursion around the well-lit upper reaches of the mountain to get an up-close look at the “army” of frozen snow monsters.
This morning you’ll set off toward Urabandai, but along the way you’ll also stop by the Fox Village. Located in the mountains near Shiroishi, this “village” is filled with more than 100 animals, representing six different types of foxes. You can watch them freely roam about the preserve, feed, and even pet the adorable, furry creatures. Upon arriving at Urabandai, Fukushima Prefecture, you'll tour around Inawashiro Lake. The scenic lake is the fourth largest in Japan, and during the winter months you can spot packs of migrating swans that gather around the expansive shores. You can also go snowshoeing or ice fishing around the area. Of particular note are the shibuki-gori that surround the lake. This literarily means "ice spray" in English, and is caused when waves from the lake are blown into the air by strong winds and then instantly freeze upon making contact with the trees and shrubs on the waterfront.
Today you’ve got another full day of skiing ahead at Gran Deco Resort. While Urabandai is an idyllic destination for lakes, hiking, and walking paths in the summer, come winter the gondola and four quad chairlifts begin carting skiers and snowboarders to the upper reaches, presenting the opportunity for gleeful hours spent carving shapes into the fresh powder. The mountain features a few steep stretches, some nice tree runs, and the slopes are generally crowd free. The lack of crowds is likely related to the relatively easy terrain, but this also translates into lots of virgin powder to be had and hours of fun.
You’ll be transferred to Aizu first thing and will reach the Aizu Sazaedo temple just in time for a morning tour. It is an original wooden pagoda built in 1796 that features a one-of-a-kind double-helix design, which allows visitors and Buddhist patrons alike to ascend and descend its four stories without ever encountering someone walking in the opposite direction. The next stop is Suehiro, a local sake brewery, where you can learn about the distillation process and, of course, taste some samples. You will also stop by Tsuruga Castle, which was originally constructed in 1384 CE but was razed by the Imperial Japanese Army in 1868. It has since been rebuilt and is surrounded by a beautifully landscaped park. In the afternoon, you’ll tour around Ouchijuku and enjoy negisoba for lunch. Negisoba is a type of noodles where the stalk of a green onion is used in place of chopsticks, and Ouchijuku is a festive winter scene consisting of thatched-roof houses and dirt tracks that pay homage to the Edo period. There are a number of shops and stores filled with local products and snacks for you to browse through, and there is also the Ouchi Town Museum, which was originally an inn created for Japanese feudal lords, but now displays around 1,300 items shedding light on the culture and lifestyle of the Edo area.
This morning you will be transferred to Fukushima Airport and will then fly to Tokyo. From there, connect to your flight back home.
Mere steps from the Imperial Palace sits Tokyo’s newest luxury hotel, The Peninsula Tokyo. Located in Marunouchi district just a short walk from the shopping paradise of Ginza, the hotel is perfectly located for business or pleasure. With a total of 314 elegantly decorated rooms and 47 suites, the Peninsula Tokyo’s accommodations are among the most spacious in all of Tokyo, and offer plenty of amenities including espresso machines, complimentary Internet access, multifunction fax machines, nail polish drying machines, and shoe shining service. The hotel’s culinary options include Cantonese cuisine at the Hei Fung Terrace, regional Japanese fare at Kyoto Tsuruya, and International food and beverages at Cirque Culinaire and Peter. For relaxation, enjoy the hotel’s state of the art health club with pool complex, undergo a “spa journey” at the Peninsula Spa by ESPA, or try a leisurely jog around the Imperial Palace. Other amenities include a business center and a boutique store that offers food, gifts and souvenir items.
Since its opening at the end of 2014, Aman Tokyo has been one of the most talked-about luxury hotels in the city. The most striking thing about it is its location; spread across the top six floors of a 40-storey tower in the Otemachi business district, the panoramic views are simply incredible. What’s more, all of the 84 rooms and suites take full advantage of the lofty position with floor-to-ceiling windows letting light in during the daytime, while also framing the breathtaking lit-up cityscape at night. Aman Tokyo has also received praise for its impressive interiors, which have been inspired by minimalistic design, including the use of camphor wood, washi paper and stone surfaces throughout the rooms as well as traditional Japanese facilities such as large ‘furo’ baths. Situated on the 33rd floor, both guests and non-guests can enjoy the fine Mediterranean food at the hotel’s signature restaurant, not forgetting more of those incredible views across Tokyo stretching as far as the Imperial Palace Gardens and Mount Fuji in the distance. Elsewhere, there is a spa, enclosed garden area, swimming pool, wine cellar, cigar lounge and a whole host of other facilities to keep guests entertained.
Stood alone in the undisturbed serenity of virgin nature, the only sounds filling the air that of the Keiryu mountain stream’s trickle and the echo of chirping birds, Oirase Keiryu hotel is a true haven. Time seems to stop for guests who visit this inn in Towada-Hachimantai National Park and walk or cycle through its surrounding beauty, led by experts from waterfall to waterfall or to discover the fascinating world of moss on a guided tour. The inn’s luxurious rooms are modern and sleek in style featuring elegant décor and all the amenities to ensure a comfortable stay. With their source bubbling up from within Mount Hakkodasan, its hot springs wash away stress, tiredness, and soreness and leave the mind and body feeling rejuvenated. The outdoor baths afford incredible views of the neighboring stream and “Kokono-e Waterfall.” In the lounge, guests can enjoy a coffee and look out at picturesque vistas of the local beauty before enjoying a dinner rich with the exquisite tastes of Aomori Prefecture. Both breakfast and dinner buffets are available, and the delicious meals can be enjoyed out on the terrace or within the Aomori Ringo Kitchen serving Aomori apples in many imaginative ways. Alternatively, a Western adaptation of the kaiseki style traditional multi-course dinner promises to excite the taste buds with dishes of seasonal ingredients prepared with a Japanese touch.
Melding elements of classical European style with local traditional aesthetic, the Hotel Metropolitan Morioka is one of the best hotels in the city. Easy accessible from Morioka Station, the property houses 121 guest rooms, each representing elegant comfort and the perfect spot from which to set out and explore the nearby Koiwai Farm, Kaiunbashi Bridge, Children's Museum of Science and Yotsuya Church, to name but a few local attractions. Amenities include high-speed WiFi, LCD TVs and refrigerators. Every room boasts a deep soaking bathtub in its elegant bathroom space. There are also the three restaurants spanning Japanese, French, American and European cuisine – Mukai Tsuru, Mont Fleuve, and Giovanni – as well as the bar Clover and lobby lounge, which serve a wide variety of spirits, cocktails, wines and beers.
Weeping cherry trees line the streets of traditional samurai buildings in the town of Kakunodate, which, beside the loss of its samurai stronghold, remains remarkably unchanged since its founding in 1620 and is home to the exclusive chalet of Kakunodate Sanso Wabizakura ryokan. This hot spring inn provides guests with a relaxing and rejuvinating retreat from daily life as well as a nostalgic view into Japan’s past. Each of the ten rooms is uniqely decorated in some elegant combination of Japanese and Western influences and features a private, free-flowing hot spring spa and terrace with both tatami and living room areas. The suites include Japanese style futons or western beds. The interior of the 200 year old main building is fitted with antique furniture from the esteemed Aoyagi Samurai Clan and the exterior’s star feature is its rustic thatched roof. The inn also houses a bar lounge, massage and oil treatment centre, and star-gazing deck from which guests can stare up in wonder at Kadoya’s famously clear skies. Boasting a two Michelin star chef, the restaurant serves delicious, organic multi-course meals in the manner customary of Japan’s haute-cuisine, Kaiseki. Guests staying at the inn receive complimentary tickets to the nearby Aoyagi Samurai Manor Museum and only need drive ten minutes to arrive at the local samurai village and samurai street.
Set amongst the peaks of one of Japan’s most renowned mountain and ski destinations, Le Vert Zao offers both easy access to adventure trails all year round and luxurious comfort to return to after a long day of skiing or hiking. The hotel houses Japanese and Western style rooms featuring all the modern amenities required and decorated with the art of the late modern artist Taro Okamoto. Another elegantly decorated space is the hotel’s restaurant which serves locally sourced ingredients such as rainbow trout, Yamagata beef, and local rice to be enjoyed by guests as they sit facing out to the mountain slopes. Breakfasts are either Western or Japanese by request. After highly active days, visitors are able to relax with a soak in the hotel’s private or communal natural hot spring baths open 24 hours a day. With ski equipment hire available on site, the hotel is a short walk to the town’s ski resort, renowned for its vast scale and “Ice (or Snow) Monsters,” surreal looking trees coated with ice and snow. It is also conveniently located just seven minutes from the Zao Onsen Bus Terminal, which is served by buses from Yamagata Station, ten minutes from Sanroku ropeway station, and a 20 minute drive from Yamagata Wild Grass Park.
Founded on the philosophies of rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation, Ginzan Hot Spring Fujiya is the ideal retreat for anyone in search of ‘quiet time.’ The hotel blends modern design and traditional Japanese aesthetics as imagined by architect Kengo Kuma; its layered bamboo screens, textured paper screens, and many stained-glass windows bestow the space with an ethereal quality that emanates through every room and fills anyone who stays here, leaving them with a renewed and heightened sense of wellbeing in body and mind. The three-story all wooden inn simply houses eight guest rooms, and this is what allows every stay here to be so special: the small size and host’s meticulous adherence to Japanese inn-keeping traditions ensure an intimate but never intrusive experience. Moreover, the hostess has gained celebrity status in Japan because of her practice of the traditional Japanese art of hospitality: she can anticipate and meet guests’ needs before they are even aware of them themselves. All fed by the area’s famous Ginzan onsen, the hotel contains five private natural hot spring baths, one of which is on the roof and affords spectacular views of the serene and beautiful surroundings. The dishes served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner are traditional Japanese cuisine prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients and the café brews three blends of coffee beans.
To repose in steaming waters surrounded by cherry blossom, fresh greens, orange and red leaves, or snowy landscapes depending on the season is the luxurious comfort on offer at Onsen Ryokan Harataki. Located in the historical hot spring village of “Higashiyama Onsen” in the Aizu Region, Fukushima Prefecture, the traditional Japanese inn is one of the few hot spring inns in the area with a private spring source. Authenticity is key here as guests can enjoy Japanese cuisines at the indoor or outdoor dining spots, which serve freshly sourced ingredients and locally brewed sake in earshot of the neighboring gorge’s waters. The refined and minimalistic accomodation includes Japanese style rooms with tatami mat/futon and Western style rooms. Bathing in their room’s private bath with a panoramic view of the gorge outside, visitors can relax their body and soul before heading to explore the many popular historical sites in Aizu-Wakamatsu City such as Bukeyashiki (samurai residences), Nisshinkan, and Oyaku-en. Sake brewery tours and the sublime landscapes of Lake Inawashiro, Urabandai, Ouchijuku, and Nishiaizu further afield are also highly recommended.
Travellers who like to end days of exhilarating activity in commune with nature by unwinding in luxury rooms and a bathe in a hot spring should make their way to GranDeco Resort, Fukushima. High upon the verdant peaks of the Bandai-asahi National Park in the Tohoku Region, the hotel is the perfect homebase for exploring the nearby famous Mt. Bandai, visiting Lake Inawashiro (Japan’s 4th largest lake), or carving through powder snow. The hotel’s range of 104 rooms is diverse enough to accommodate any need, with a choice of tatami mats/futons or Western beds and space enough for two to six people. Every guest is able to admire the mountains they’ve conquered from their balcony and those with the superior, luxury, or suite rooms can even do so from their bathtub. The hotel also houses three restaurants serving Western (Clair), Japanese (Azuma), and Teppanyaki (Karamatsu) menus, a lounge, bar, conference and meeting rooms, banquet hall, swimming pool with Jacuzzi, and sauna. “Green Harmony” reflexology treatments are available at request as a great means of relaxation and skiiing, snowboarding, all-season hiking, snowshoe tours, and cross country skiiing trails are all accessible via the gondola lift and four quad lifts ascending to 1,590 meters (5,216ft) above sea-level.
Price is based on double or twin hotel room occupancy and includes accommodation, transfers, car/driver, English-speaking guide, activities and entrance fees including Hakkoda ropeway, all breakfast, dinners at Ryokans and ski resorts only, JR Bullet Train transfer from Tokyo to Hachinohe in Gran class. While at ski resorts, ski lift day passes, ski outfits, ski rentals and Japanese-speaking ski guide accompaniment are included. Flights and optional special activities will be quoted separately. Most personal expenses, including dinners, alcoholic beverages, spa treatments and gratuities can be paid on the spot while traveling. Prices may vary depending on season, choice of accommodation and other factors.
With Remote Lands you'll travel with people who have made Asia the solitary focus of their own lifelong adventure. As our guest, you'll discover Asia on a journey that is completely, authentically your own, adapted from our own remarkable experiences and adventures over the years.
With Remote Lands you'll travel with people who have made Asia the solitary focus of their own lifelong adventure. As our guest, in the continent that our north American founders Catherine and Jay have adored and explored for decades, you'll discover Asia on a journey that is completely, authentically your own, adapted from our own remarkable experiences and adventures over the years.
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