Did you know Nozawa Onsen is the only village in Japan that contains the word “onsen” as a part of its name?
For more than 700 years, Nozawa Onsen has established itself as one of Japan’s most famous onsen towns with naturally sourced hot springs that are known for its hot waters. In recent years, Nozawa Onsen has become well-known among outdoor adventure enthusiasts and traditional Japanese experience-seekers alike!
Located about a four hours drive northwest from Tokyo, the Nozawa Onsen area is surrounded by the Japan Alps in Nagano Prefecture. Boasting moderate and cool temperatures throughout the year, the Nozawa Onsen slopes played host to the biathlon event during the 1994 Nagano Winter Olympics.
The vibrant natural environment welcomes guests from all over the world and especially those seeking a travel destination that takes advantage of Nagano’s natural terrain and outdoor activities, such as downhill biking, trekking, and rafting.
Nestled in the mountains, Nozawa Onsen is also the perfect place to plan an escape from the city all year-long! During peak season, the quality of snow is high in Nagano and Nozawa Onsen is popular among skiiers and snowboarders who keep coming back for more.
Whether you live in Japan or are visiting on holiday, Nozawa Onsen is a must-visit summer retreat and winter sports playground!
Depending on your starting point and connections, it would be wise to budget approximately four to six hours and about ¥10,000 to ¥15,000 to Nozawa Onsen per adult.
The cheapest way is to reach Nagano is to take one of the highway buses departing from Shinjuku bus terminal. Multiple stops are made, but none go directly to Nozawa Onsen so you’ll need to connect to another bus or taxi at some point.
The Nagano Snow Shuttle departs from Narita and Haneda airports during ski season and takes about five to six hours. After a long flight, sitting down again for an extended period of time may not appeal but the direct bus to Chuo Bus Terminal provides the convenience of not having to haul luggage between varying modes of transportation.
There are also Nagaden buses with service between Nozawa Onsen and Nagano station.
Getting to Nozawa Onsen by car can be tricky for visitors unaccustomed to driving in Japan. In the winter, hazardous road conditions are the norm and almost always requires 4WD and chains.
Google Maps will guide you to Nozawa Onsen better than we can. Some driving times to keep in mind:
- Tokyo: about 4.5 to 5 hours
- Narita Airport: about 5 to 6 hours
- Nagoya: about 5 hours
- Osaka or Kyoto: about 7 hours
Visitors to Nozawa Onsen coming by train will almost always arrive via Iiyama station, located about 12KM from Nozawa Onsen. From Iiyama station, your options are to take the Nozawa Onsen Liner Bus (about ¥600) or take a taxi (about ¥5,000). Both options take about 20 minutes. The bus timetable align with train arrival at Iiyama station; after 8PM, you will need to catch a taxi to your final destination.
From Narita Airport, Haneda Airport and the general Tokyo area, make your way to Tokyo station (if you’re taking the NEX from Narita Airport; about 1 hour) or Ueno station (if you’re taking the Keisei Skyliner from Narita Airport; about 1 hour). Then, catch the Hokuriku shinkansen (bullet train) and enjoy a uniquely Japanese experience for about 1 hour 40 minutes. Departures are frequent (a handful each hour).
Green mountains, luxurious fields, and the natural landscape of the Japan Alps aptly describe Nozawa Onsen throughout spring and summer. During the colder months, guests are welcomed to a snowy winter wonderland. No matter the season, Nozawa Onsen is a popular destination for those seeking nature’s refuge.
Did you know?
Laku Hokuryoko is famous in Japan for its beautiful seasonal backdrops. In particular, the lake is surrounded by bright yellow field mustard flowers, pink cherry blossoms, and the green of the mountains.
As the temperatures warm, nature puts on a brilliant display of colors that are reflected in the serene waters of the lake. Photographers from around the country gather in the spring for this scene. Lake Hakuryoku is also heart-shaped and many believe a visit to the Lake bodes well for love and relationships.
There’s always something to celebrate at Nozawa Onsen and festivals are held throughout the year. Called “matsuri” in Japanese, festivals are day- or days-long affairs oftentimes sponsored by a local shrine or temple and may feature processions involving elaborate floats called mikoshi.
One of the most recognizable festivals is the Dosojin Fire Festival, held annually on January 15 (no matter the day). Important people have designated this festival as an Important Intangible Cultural Property and it is nationally recognized as one of the three biggest fire festivals in Japan.
Originally established as an invocation for a plentiful harvest, prosperity, and good health, the Dosojin Fire Festival starts the day before with the final touches to the construction of shrine pavilions (about 8 meters in diameter and over 10 meters tall) made of sacred trees logged from a communal forest and the past year’s New Year’s decorations.
The shrine pavilions are hand crafted by men aged 42 and 25 – so-called “unlucky ages”. This group of men must also protect the shrine pavilions from villagers keen on setting fire to their very flammable constructions. A battle ensues as the 42-year old men protect the top of the shrine pavilions while their younger counterparts stand guard at its base from villagers with lit torches.
After a few hours, the men capitulate and allow the shrine pavilions to be set on fire. The contrast of the snowy background, fiery flames, and glowing embers in the darkness of night are a sight to behold! For good reason, visitors may only spectate and cannot participate.
At Nozawa Onsen, visitors may mingle with villagers at one of thirteen public hot spring bathhouses called “soto-yu”. Since the Edo era, each of the facilities have operated as common property and are managed by locals.
Dotting the onsen-gai, these bathhouses range widely in size and appearance but are all well-maintained. All of the soto-yu are open to everyone and free of charge. However, donations to support the soto-yu culture are welcomed and appreciated.
Regardless of the season, residents and visitors alike gather at the bathhouses to wash, heal, and rejuvenate. The onsen experience is meant to be relaxing and offers an opportunity for you to reflect on the day and talk with others as you soak in the warm water.
Different hot springs source the water at each soto-yu, meaning that each of the bathhouses claim different benefits. As a result, the waters may look, smell, and even feel different from one onsen to another. Those who like a challenge may seek to soak in all thirteen – or you might just choose the soto-yu that suits your condition (or is closest!).
Can’t decide? The O-yu bathhouse is the most well-known of them all and informally known as the symbol of Nozawa Onsen. Centrally located in the onsen-gai, the O-yu is a traditional, grandiose building that you can’t miss.
The onsen-gai or onsen district is a part of Nozawa Onsen and home to the thirteen soto-yu, along with many quaint Japanese inns and shops. A far cry from the gleaming high rises and steel structures, the onsen-gai exemplifies tradition with its exposed wooden beams and intricate Japanese architecture. Walking down the street, one can’t help but feel transported back to days long gone of the Edo period.
Despite its name, the onsen-gai offers more than onsen bathhouses. In fact, the onsen-gai is a bustling area in Nozawa Onsen for visitors to not only enjoy the hot springs and sightseeing, but also stay at the ryokans or traditional Japanese inns and satiate their hunger with local delicacies.
Nozawa Onsen boasts approximately thirty hot spring sources. In the village and around the nation, one of the most famous hot spring sources has been designated as a national treasure and is only available for use by locals. This particular water source is known as the ogama and is utilized not for bathing but for the washing and cooking of vegetables, eggs, and meals – it’s like an all-natural communal kitchen sink.
For those who may not like to soak, there’s the ashi-yu. Basically a bath for feet, the ashi-yu is a good alternative to enjoy the hot springs with your clothes on. Keep in mind though, that not all onsen offer ashi-yu. We recommend visiting Yurari, a small onsen located near the ogama that treats visitors to a dynamic view of the onsen-gai from on top of a hill while enjoying a warm foot bath (free of charge).
Hit the slopes with over 35 courses across Nozawa Onsen’s ski resorts
Blaze the trails and hike a journey to tickle your senses in Nagano’s great outdoors
Hop on a bike and take a spin over mountains, around lakes, and amidst nature’s best
Among powder hounds, Nozawa Onsen is a known resort town. Since 1924, the village has been home to expansive ski fields (about 297 hectares) filled with powder snow. In fact, those who gather to Nozawa Onsen and the surrounding areas come from around the world pursuing this ideal quality of snow.
What’s more, with over 35 courses across the ski resorts and at least 40% marked for beginners, everyone can have fun regardless of age or ability! Much to the delight of winter sports enthusiasts, the snow remains until the end of May.
After the outdoor activities, it’s time to head inside and dig in to the hot, delicious foods at any of the restaurants nearby the slopes or lodges in the area. One of the many edible pleasures enjoyed by skiers and snowboarders is a hearty bowl of Japanese curry rice – sure to satiate your hunger. In fact, this is one of those meals that taste great no matter what season it is!
Popular also as a summer resort area for urbanites seeking reprieve from the sizzling heat of the concrete jungles, Nozawa Onsen is a breezy break during the day and as the temperatures cool in the evening, you might even find yourself reaching for a long-sleeved shirt!
Hiking and cycling are popular activities during the summer. Whether you’re propelling yourself forward on a mountain bike, a road bike, or on your own two feet, a journey through the lush green landscapes, climbing mountains, and across streams of ice cold water is sure to please the senses.
Of course, after a long day of sweat and exertion in the great outdoors…reward yourself with a soak in an onsen! Natural therapeutic healing is available at almost every corner in Nozawa Onsen – go on and treat yourself.
Save for the focused and goal-oriented traveler, equipment and gear rentals can be a lifesaver! Nozawa Onsen offers a variety of outdoor activities that can be made more fun with the help of equipment you normally wouldn’t be traveling with. Check out two great options designed to help you make the most of your time at Nozawa Onsen!
Winter Sports Rentals: Mt Dock
Are you a snow bunny? Hitting the slopes for the first time ever? Whether winter sports is your thing or not, you’ll want to swing by Mt. Dock. Located right by the flagship Nagasaka Gondola of the gondolas at Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort, Mt. Dock is your go to shop for renting winter sports equipment.
Forget drabby and unfashionable rental wear – Mt. Dock has full and partial sets available in stylish designs and bright colors! Of course, should you feel ready for a commitment, the shop also has plenty of gear for purchase. Check out their website here (http://mtdock-nozawa.com/).
Bike Rentals: Mt Port
If you’re visiting Nozawa Onsen during the warmer months, why not explore the area by bike? Mt. Port offers a wide range of bicycles suited for different terrains and purposes. Choose from any of the following (price per day)!
Downhill Bike: Best for speeding down rough slopes and hills, the downhill bike is a solid but rigid ride without rear suspension that enables increased handling at high speeds.
Freeride Bike: Compared to the downhill bike, the freeride bikes are lighter in weight and designed with front and rear suspension. Climbing uphill and descents are easier and the freeride bikes are well-suited for all-terrain cycling.
Full Suspension Bike: Much like the freeride bike, the full suspension bikes come equipped with front and rear suspension and are an easy, stress-free off-road ride. Light in weight, the full-suspension make for a smoother, more comfortable ride than the rigid mountain bikes.
Rigid Mountain Bike: Suitable for paved and unpaved roads, the rigid mountain bikes lack rear suspension and are not suited for rough rides. Their light bodies and front suspension are suited for smoother rides with a little more speed.
Kids Bikes – 4’3” and under: Choose a bike for the little humans depending on the terrain expected! Two types of kids bikes are available – the rigid mountain bike and the full suspension bike.
Hop on a bike and spin those pedals! Cycling around Nozawa is not only a great way to get around, it’s an efficient introduction to the various attractions around Nozawa Onsen!
If you’re pretty confident with a map, feel free to lead the way! Between May and November, we recommend a spin over to Lake Hokuryuko – just a light 10KM journey roundtrip. In late spring and during the summer months, you’ll see flowers in full bloom and brilliant shades of green all around. As the temperatures cool, beautiful autumn foliage will welcome you and you’ll ride amongst the falling leaves.
Otherwise, bicycle tours with knowledgeable guides provide visitors with an excellent exploratory experience. Shops offering rental bikes can not only recommend routes but also personal guides and useful information.
Foods & Drinks
Nozawa Onsen’s location in the northern part of Nagano prefecture is a bucolic area known for its lush green landscapes and natural spring waters. You can be assured that the vegetables and foods sourced from the mountains of Nagano and around Nozawa Onsen are unbeatable!
Nozawana is a leafy vegetable popular in Japan. The name nozawana literally translates to Nozawa leaves and derives from the fact that these green edibles have been cultivated around Nozawa Onsen for generations. Nozawana is most commonly consumed pickled and you’ll often find the Japanese eating nozawana-zuke (Nozawana pickles). The salty pickles complement white rice well and various forms of nozawana-zuke are often served in restaurants and households alike. Around Nozawa Onsen, nozawana-zuke are sold at gift shops and are a common omiyage or souvenir.
Another great snack for those on the go! Local to Nagano, the oyaki is an excellent choice for those who shy from the sweets and prefer the savory. Similar to a dumpling, oyaki are filled with marinated mountain vegetables, leafy greens, or beans, enclosed in a chewy dough casing. Some people swear oyaki stuffed with nozawana-zuke are the best kind!
Served steamed or grilled, oyaki are a palm-sized snack perfect for when you’re walking around Nozawa Onsen!
All the eating has to be paired with some hydration! Nagano just happens to be one of the best places in Japan to taste delicious sake to quench your thirst. With the second highest number of sake breweries in the country, the Japanese rice wine made in Nagano is not only some of the best you’ll find but even the naysayers will enjoy the refined flavors!
High quality sake relies on crystal clear waters and Nagano’s sakes are made using the clear spring waters from the prefecture’s mountains, including those surrounding Nozawa Onsen. In addition, the nutrient-rich soils, fresh mountain air, and the pure waters combine to deliver conditions well-suited for cultivating rice. Together, Nagano’s waters and rice combine to develop some of Japan’s tastiest sakes – don’t miss the opportunity to sample local sakes at Nozawa Onsen!
Got the munchies? Try the onsen manju – a regional snack usually filled with homemade azuki bean paste. Among those in the know, onsen manju from Fukiya are bestsellers. Since 1904, the onsen manju have been made using the same recipe and maintained the same taste since they began making them over a hundred years ago. Onsen manju may be offered in different flavors of paste filling – don’t be too shy to try the popular chestnut paste before they sell out!
Did you know that Nagano Prefecture hasn’t always been called Nagano? Between the Nara Period and the Meiji Period (approximately AD 700 to 1850), Nagano was called “Shinshu”. If you’ve been to Nagano before or are a Japan foodie, you may have seen the name before with Shinshu apples, Shinshu miso, Shinshu trail run, etc.
At Nozawa Onsen, Shinshu soba or buckwheat noodles are very popular and considered to be a part of local cuisine. Nagano boasts well-drained lands at high elevation – conditions highly suitable for the cultivation of buckwheat. As a result, soba culture has flourished throughout the prefecture and sustained the prefecture’s diet. To make a meal, sides such as tempura, vegetables, and meats common to Nagano often accompany the noodles.
Hotels & Inns
Enjoy both indoor and open-air baths filled to the brim with naturally-sourced hot water springs that flow freely from our inn! Established in 1912, the Naraya Inn has thrived as a ryokan designed in the style of a private Japanese house. Step inside and bask in the Naraya Inn’s traditional atmosphere that simply can’t be replicated anywhere else!
At Naraya, the cuisine focuses on rustic, homemade Japanese cuisine with an emphasis on the seasonable blessings from the mountains. Since guests often come a long way to reach Nozawa Onsen, we make it a point to serve dishes that are specific to the region. Various cuisine courses are available for guests to take advantage of the season’s offerings and fresh flavors unique to our mountain village in Nagano Prefecture.
Our indoor bath boasts a high ceiling and is a perfect starter before stepping out to our traditional outdoor bath called the rotenburo. Experience the beauty of Nozawa Onsen throughout the year – at our our large open-air bath! During the spring months, Japanese bush warblers are a common guest while in the summer, you’ll be captivated by the fireflies illuminating the night. As the temperatures cool and leaves turn, enjoy the crimson mountains of autumn which will eventually turn white as you simmer in the hot water amidst the snow.
Ryokan Sakaya is situated within the central Nozawa Onsen village known for its famed onsen resorts. Passed on from one generation to the next, this ryokan or Japanese inn has been a family business for over 17 generations. A tribute to its heritage, elements of Japanese architecture are hard to miss throughout the establishment.
Guests will enjoy their rotenburo, an open-air bathing facility meant for the enjoyment of seasonal changes and a relaxing taste of the great outdoors. In this area, natural hot spring waters can still be found flowing abundantly underground. No matter the time of year, guests will feel welcome at Ryokan Sakaya, where everything from the hospitality to the cuisine, winter-time skiing and other outdoor activities are top-notch!
Osanpo tour (daily walking tour)
Learn about the Nozawa Onsen district from a local! Available for all Ryokan Sakaya guests, the daily walking tour starts at 4:30PM and introduces Nozawa Onsen’s thirteen hot spring bathing facilities, as well as a popular “power spot onsen” with waters bubbling at nearly boiling point!
Guests will also be shown the Ogama “village kitchen” where locals utilize the different natural origin hot water sources as means of washing and cooking various meals. Walk along O-Yu Dori and get to know where the souvenir shops, bars, and eateries are – we recommend taking part in the osanpo walking tour in your yukata!
Onsen hot springs
Nozawa’s onsen hot springs are all-natural and comprise of two separate onsen sources. Bathing facilities are available 24 hours at Ryokan Sakaya, giving guests no excuse to miss out on an authentic Japanese onsen experience. You’ll be stunned at how soothing it is to soak – and your skin will thank you for it!
At Ryokan Sakaya, there’s an emphasis on using seasonal ingredients to share local delicacies. Wild plants and mushrooms harvested directly from local grounds are used liberally. The region boasts soils rich in nutrition, enabling farmers to grow delicious vegetables perfect for modern Japanese cuisine! As the seasons change, the dishes are adjusted to highlight freshness and flavors. Please note images are representative of seasonal cooking; actual dishes served may differ from image.
Image credit: Ryokan Sakaya
St. Anton embodies a design ethos centered on simple, understated luxury while delivering authenticity and individuality. Located right in the city center, St. Anton is a classic, European-style hotel with a touch of Japanese essence. The hotel features refurbished rooms, each fully equipped with a warm, rustic decor and historically-themed accents. The hotel features a wide range of on-site facilities and services, including a restaurant, bar, onsen (Japanese hot spring), ion bath, ski rentals, and more.
With craftman designs and elements of the owner’s creativity, each room is designed differently for guests to experience the unique combination of tradition and modernity. All rooms are non-smoking, so kick back and relax as you bask in the peaceful serenity of our rooms!
While some rooms are furnished with separate bathroom and/or private shower, please keep in mind that some rooms share bathrooms (including the toilet and bath/shower). Most rooms are also equipped with a hair dryer, TV, and phone.
St. Anton proudly serves imaginative European and Japanese cuisine that is sure to please every palate! Meals at Haus St. Anton feature an enticing menu offering a fusion of both Japanese and Western tastes – don’t forget to sample the variety of homemade jams and juices during the delectable hot breakfast!
Image credits: Haus St. Anton