Activities & Tours
Nozawa Onsen Activities
Thousands of tourists head to Nozawa Onsen
in winter and don’t go there to ski or snowboard. This provides a bit of an indication of the extent of off-slope activities in Nozawa Onsen.
Just wandering around the charming cobblestone streets of Nozawa Onsen is an interesting activity in itself. Check out the architecture of the ryokans and browse through the various souvenir shops.
The focus of tourism in Nozawa Onsen is related to the hot springs, and the town is considered to be one of the best onsen resort towns in Japan. Reap the therapeutic benefits of soaking in the mineral rich waters, which is particularly great if your body is aching from skiing or snowboarding. And unlike some onsen towns where the stench of sulphur is over-powering, thankfully Nozawa Onsen is easy on the nose.
The town has more than 30 natural hot springs. Many of these are located within the ryokans, and some such as Ryokan Sakaya
and Sumiyoshiya have delightful outdoor onsens. If you’re not lucky enough to be staying in one of these beautiful Japanese hotels, it is generally possible to pay for the privilege of having an onsen. The Ryokan Jon Nobi
(meaning relaxed and comfortable in the local dialect) has a public onsen as well as a couple of private onsens, which is fabulous if you’re a bit shy. One of the private onsens is in the open area whilst the other is in a grotto, a cosy little cave. There is a fee to use the onsen, or it’s free if you have dinner upstairs in the restaurant.
Nozawa Onsen has 13 sotoyu which are indoor public baths that are free to use. All of the onsens are different with regards to temperature, mineral content and ambience, so try out as many as you can. If you have access to a yukata (an informal cotton kimono), make sure you wear this to strut down the street to the local onsen. This is all part of the culture of Nozawa Onsen!
See our overview of onsen etiquette
for tips on what to do when you visit a Japanese onsen.
Oyu, located in the heart of the village, is the most famous of the public baths. This is a reasonably hot onsen and due to its popularity there’s the potential that you’ll be packed in like a sardine whilst being boiled like a lobster.
Diagonally opposite Oyu is one of the famous foot baths. This is a great place to stop on the way home from skiing to soak the weary feet, particularly if you’ve got a towel in your backpack. The floaty bits in the water are supposed to be onsen flowers, special mineral deposits that indicate the high quality of an onsen, but you wouldn’t be alone if you were a bit suspicious about the origins of the floaties! This foot bath is rather popular, so your other option is to try the one outside Ryokan Sakaya.
The hottest of the onsens is the Ogama Onsen which is approximately 90 degrees Celsius. Obviously this onsen isn’t for humans to cook themselves, but the locals use the hot pools to cook eggs and vegetables. For safety reasons non-villagers have to remain behind a small fence, but this is still a good vantage point to watch the locals in action.
The Sparena at Nozawa has had a major refurbishment and there is a mixed outdoor onsen. This is a westernised onsen where you wear your bathers which is a bit weird but great if you’re shy!
Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival
Held annually on the 15th January, the Dosojin Matsuri (Dousoujiin) Festival is an exciting event with fireworks and lots of sake. Dosojin is held to pray for a plentiful harvest, health and good fortune for the year, whilst powderhounds can use it to pray for more snow. The fire festival is also a bit of a manhood test for 25 and 42 year old men (unlucky ages). The 42 year olds have to chant atop a wooden shrine whilst the 25 year olds sit below. The tradition then includes a battle whereby the villagers attack the shrine with burning torches. The fire battle is a great spectacular and the whole festival is lots of fun. Don’t wear flammable clothing, and if you’re a 25 or 42 year old bloke, lie about your age!
If you can’t make the Nozawa fire festival, in early March there are tour buses that depart to head to the Naked Man Stampede Festival where you can run in the raw to honour the buddhist god of war and wealth!!! I’m not quite sure what the chicks do?
Nozawa Onsen Snow Activities
The resort offers a few snow activities such as snowcat sightseeing tours, short snowmobile excursions, and 4 hour snowshoeing tours run by the ski school.
Nozawa Ski Tours and Activities
Cross country trails are located near the Karasawa slopes. There is a small fee to use the course.
There are a few guiding services that offer sidecountry and backcountry tours of Nozawa Onsen.
If you head over to nearby Madarao Kogen
, there are also sidecountry and backcountry tours available.
Visiting the Jigokudani snow monkeys
seems like a compulsory part of any Nagano ski holiday. The Jigokudani Monkey Park has more than 300 monkeys that seek refuge from the cold winters by hanging out in the hot springs of the park. It’s a great place to get some insight into the evolution of human beings! From Nozawa Onsen there are afternoon tours (1-5pm) to the monkey onsen that are combined with a trip to Shibu Onsen
on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Your accommodation provider can assist with bookings for this tour.
Other leisure activities include exploring the traditional Shinto shrines or otherwise head into the town of Iiyama to see the temples.
Alternatively check out the Japan Ski Museum which displays historic skis and exhibits the history of skiing in Japan, or take a 2-hour traditional cooking class to make Japanese dumplings or soba noodles.
For some complete pampering there’s a day spa at Ryokan Sakaya. Mirac is open 10am to 9pm and offers a range of beauty and relaxation treatments.