Jan 3, 2021
THE TOHOKU REGION IS AT ITS MOST CHARMING in the winter months, when glistening snowscapes, steaming hot springs, and thrilling ski resorts combine to create a truly special experience. Strict safety measures are still in place throughout the nation in order to prevent the spread of the virus. As a result, visitors can ride the country’s legendary Shinkansen trains around the region with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that each of the trains is rigorously cleaned between journeys and that a state-of-the-art ventilation system replaces all of the air in each car every six to eight minutes. For those who wish to avoid driving in potentially icy conditions, the Tohoku Highway Bus Ticket is another safe, speedy way to effortlessly traverse the area. This pass allows travelers to take the efficient express buses connecting many parts of Tohoku at a discounted rate. Here are just a few of the wintery attractions that await.
Ojiya Chijimi, a traditional textile made through an intricate, centuries-old process involving the area’s pristine snow, is so significant that it has a place on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This handmade fabric made from a ramie, a type of natural fiber similar to linen, is the pride of the people of Ojiya. Comfortable to wear and quick-drying, these fabrics make for exquisite kimonos. Follow in the footsteps of visitors from all over the world and learn more about this fascinating technique and shop for souvenirs in Ojiya. Next, don’t miss the chance to visit Matsudai Shibatouge Onsen Unkai, a natural hot spring with a breathtaking panorama of Tokamachi’s terraced rice paddies dusted with snow. Finally, take the Joetsu Shinkansen to Gala Yuzawa in Yuzawa Town. The train station is directly connected to a top-tier ski resort and is a short distance from two additional resorts.
Skiers and snowboarders will find more pristine powder on the slopes of Zao Onsen Ski Resort, one of the largest ski resorts in all of Tohoku. After a day of adrenaline-packed winter sports, soothe your sore muscles in the hot springs at the base of the mountain. While you’re in the Shonai area, be sure to try cold cod-jiru, a hearty seasonal specialty. This warming fish stew gets a hit of umami from cod liver boiled with miso. It’s finished with shirako, or cod roe, and garnished with iwa nori. While this dish is available year-round, it’s at its most delicious at this time, when the cod are preparing to spawn. Families with little ones should be sure to check out Dondendaira Snow Park, which has all manner of delightful activities ranging from giant slides to snowmobile rides.
While those with fears of heights may wish to stay away, daredevils will love the spectacular views on the Hakkoda Ropeway, a 2.5-kilometer, 10-minute aerial wall. For a more languid rail journey than the blazing-fast Shinkansen, visit the Tsugaru Railway, which runs a special train heated by old-fashioned Dharma stoves from December to March every year. Oirase Gorge is impressively scenic all year long, but during the winter months, the chilly temperatures turn the gorge’s famed waterfalls into glittering ice sculptures. Embark on a guided night tour to see these magnificent natural formations illuminated in the darkness.
Sumikawa Snow Park is a true winter wonderland, one sure to delight visitors of all ages. From a juhyo tour by snowmobile to snowshoe trekking, there are all manner of diversions here. When the temperature drops this low, there’s nothing more lovely than to warm up with a visit to Naruko Hot Spring, an onsen with 1,200 years of history behind it. Nine different types of hot springs can be found here, meaning there are plenty of ways to soak up the mineral-rich waters. Another especially cozy way to ward off the chill is an oyster pot cruise in Matsushima, one of the most scenic areas in Japan. This bubbling, richly seasoned hot pot is the perfect way to enjoy this regional seasonal delicacy.
Nothing is more atmospheric than watching the snowfall from within the healing waters of Sakunami Onsen, a natural hot spring that has been renowned since ancient times. Children and teenagers will absolutely love Snow Adventure Kingdom, where visitors can enjoy the adrenaline rush of snow tubing, sledding and much more.