Tourism Agency announced yesterday that the total number of visitors to Japan increased by 21.8% from the previous year. More than 24 million tourists visited Japan last year but the same number in 2006 was just about 7 million, so this is really a big jump!
However, still tourists are visiting only specific areas such as Tokyo, (and around), Osaka (and around), Hokkaido or Fukuoka. (See the above map. Red, orange or yellow are places tourist paid visits.)
Last weekend I traveled to Akita prefecture for skiing and hot spring (and of course nice food and Sake!!) with my husband and an Irish friend. My another old friend is now living in Akita for his work and he will soon move back to Tokyo, so I wanted to visit there while he was there.
Enjoying a couple of beers and Sakes at the comfortable Shinkansen seats I fell a sleep and next time when I awake and looked outside the window, it was already completely different world. Snowing heavily and no more city lights. Shinkansen finally arrived at Tazawako station, three of us and two other unacquainted people stepped on the platform covered with 10-15 cm fresh snow. It was about 3 hour pleasant Shinkansen trip.
We stayed at Kokumin Kyukamura hotel chain, and they have 37 hotels located in various national parks in Japan. This hotel chain is originally government owned so the price is relatively reasonable. (Kokumin Kyukamura website) The room is a normal, traditional tatami room so we slept on Futon mattress wearing Yukata, Japanese traditional pajamas. We re-started drink Sake…..Akita has lots…..of nice Sakes!
These are the selection made by my friend, Kosuke! The middle one is “ゆきの美人” which means “ゆきYuki, 美人Beauty” and Yuki is my name, well done, Kosuke 🙂
The next day was started with Asa-Buro, the first Onsen of the day. For this way, I can reset myself from the previous nights drinking and be ready for skiing! As the weather forecast already had told, the snow continued for a whole day but not windy and snow was not that heavy so the condition was just fabulous for enjoying skiing in deep powder snow.This was my first time to ski in Akita, and to tell you the truth I didn’t expect too much about the snow condition in Akita, I thought it was wet snow but luckily I was wrong.
Kosuke took a very good picture of mine with his Nikon D5. Immediately I changed my Facebook profile picture to this one!
We skied until the chair lifts stopped their service at 4 pm. And drove back to the hotel. Soaked into Onsen (my second one on this day) to relax my sore muscle. The hotel is located well-known Onsen resort called Nyuto Onsen, actually Nyuto means a nipple, I know it is a very strange name… It is named after the mountain nearby and this mountain’s shape is similar to women’s breast, so that’s why. And also the color of this Onsen water is white, cloudy color like milk. I like sulfur smell very much and Nyuto Onsen is sulfur bath.I soaked Onsen one more time after dinner and Sake just before going to bed (or actually Futon!).
Next day was wonderful weather, we could looked down the lake Tazawa from the mountain. Amazingly there was no cue for lifts or restaurants, this ski resort has 13 runs some of them were well groomed and some are natural and lots of powder snow. Some are steep but mostly moderate. We skied until lunch time and then packed our gears to send them back to Tokyo by Takkyubin. I always envy when I talk with my bike tour guests who travel to Japan for skiing from Australia, New Zealand or even from Europe, as they have a few weeks holiday but my schedule is so tight, 1.5 days skiing and had to go home… Before taking Shinkansen back to Tokyo, we drove to Tsurunoyu Onsen, which is the most famous, popular and the oldest Onsen in this area. I have read many articles about Tsurunoyu and seen lots of nice pictures. We had originally tried to book this Ryokan (Inn) but was fully booked and we could not stay here this time. However you can try as visitors if you go there by 3 pm, and which we did this time. Even though I had heard about this place already but the actual impression was far above the expectation. The atmosphere, scenery, Onsen water, everything was just lovely. Simple and beautiful. I liked this place very much!
We took same way back to Tokyo, by Shinkansen. Although it is just 2.5 days short visit, I fully enjoyed the weekend retreat, I will definitely come back!
My Irish friend was one of very few Western guests everywhere, at hotel, ski mountain or Onsen. The map above, the data can tell this fact. If you have JR pass, just jump into Akita Shinkansen and get off at Tazawako station. You need to reserve hotel / Ryokan and reserve the pick-up bus from Shinkansen station. Please enjoy this very local experience in Akita.
Tazawako Ski resort website
Tsurunoyu Onsen website