Snow Paradise NAGANO

Steady snowfall and an abundance of ski resorts

Nagano Prefecture is located in central Japan and is surrounded by high mountains known as the Japanese Alps. There are many locations in the prefecture that are perfect for ski resorts and so there are about eighty ski resorts here due to its having some of the largest amounts of snowfall in Japan. One of the reasons why it was chosen as the site for the Nagano Olympics in 1998 includes its various ski resorts with their fine snow, stable snowfall, broadness in area, and landscape.

Children playing on sleds at a kids’ park at a ski resort in Nagano Prefecture.

If you go to an actual ski resort, you will find various courses with the perfect level of difficulty for you ranging from gentle wide slopes for families to courses with steep slopes for experts, medium-distance courses that let you ski for a long time, and kids’ parks where children can enjoy riding on sleds. A feature of many ski resorts in Nagano Prefecture is that the courses set up at the wide bases of mountains where there is plenty of space.

And of course, there are plenty of courses for experts as well as skiing classes. There are even many ski resorts with kickers, boxes, and rails for performing air tricks on skis and snowboards. Statuses on deposited snow and snowfall as well as warnings may easily change so please be sure to check weather conditions ahead of time, check for information on the websites of where you are visiting, and constantly be up to day with the latest news even after you arrive.

With great snow and courses! The representative snowy resorts of Japan.

The snowy resorts of Shiga Kogen area and Hakuba area are becoming very popular in Nagano Prefecture. Each have over ten unique ski areas, let you go to the ski resort of your choosing from the town you stay in, and offer common tickets.

Shiga Kogen Ski Resort (with 19 large and small ski areas)

Ski resort map
Kasagatake and the Northern Alps as seen from the top of Mount Yokote (2,305 meters / 7,562 feet above sea level) at the Shiga Kogen Ski Resort
Kasagatake and the mountain range straight ahead as seen from the top of Mount Yokote (2,305 meters / 7,562 feet above sea level)

Featuring Japan’s largest ski area spreading 425 acres out with 19 large and small ski resorts and 52 chair-lifts. You can enjoy all of the ski resorts throughout the mountains with one common lift ticket that also lets you board shuttle busses that take you to ski resorts and hotels for free.

The central zone has easy access to locations such as the family-oriented Ichinose area, the unique Shiga Kogen Giant Ski Resort where the giant slalom was performed during the Ski World Cup, and the Nishitateyama Ski Resort. The Okushiga area is for those who would like to spend a time of rest and relaxation. It is known for its quiet and luxurious environment and great snow due to its low temperatures. The Mount Yakebitai zone and Mount Yokote zone offer pleasant views. The view from the top of Mount Yokote 2,305 meters (about 7,562 feet) above sea level is particularly wide and exhilarating.

Hakuba Valley

Powder riding on fresh snow can be enjoyed at the upper parts of Hakuba Happo-one Ski Resort.
Powder riding on fresh snow can be enjoyed at the upper parts of Hakuba Happo-one Ski Resort.

Hakuba Valley has 11 ski resorts at the base of 3,000 meters (9,842 feet) above sea level – class mountains. A common ticket can be purchased to board all lifts and gondolas. They can let you enjoy skiing and snowboarding at a ski resort with the perfect level of difficulty for you.

Places such as Hakuba Sanosaka Ski Resort and Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort are good for beginners and families with small children as they have gentle slopes. In contrast, places like Hakuba Happo-one Ski Resort and Hakuba Cortina Ski Resort offer skiing on fresh snow while taking in beautiful scenery. You can also enjoy the feeling of the fresh snow depending on its condition. The extremely popular HAKUBA47 Winter Sports Park has features such as a full-scale halfpipe and kicker where you can practice doing snowboard tricks.

Enjoying skiing and snowboarding in beautiful scenery.

There are activities that you can enjoy precisely because you have on skis or a snowboard. One of them is taking in beautiful scenery from a snowy mountain.

Ryuoo Ski Park

A beautiful view from the top of the Ryuoo Ropeway at 1,930 meters (6,332 feet) above sea level
A beautiful view from the top of the Ryuoo Ropeway at 1,930 meters (6,332 feet) above sea level

Towards the top of the Ryuoo Ropeway at 1,770 meters (5,807 feet) above sea level is the “SORA terrace”, which lets commands a beautiful view from up in the sky and is known as a scenic spot that can be enjoyed all throughout the year. You can even go higher up to 1,930 meters (6,332 feet) above sea level on a chair-lift in the winter. You can feel as if you are sliding into a sea of clouds from the peak of Mount Ryuoo because the sky is often clear even on days with bad weather since you are above the clouds. A huge panoramic view that spreads about 20 kilometers (12 miles) out awaits you on clear days. A long course that runs up to 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) due to differences in elevation is also appealing.

Sugadaira Ski Resort

A beautiful view on a Tour of Mount Neko by SNOW CAT
A beautiful view on a Tour of Mount Neko by SNOW CAT

A snowy resort consisting of 12 ski resorts on mainly three mountains. The scenery that reminds previous visitors of the Swiss resort town of Davos located at the base of mountains is appealing.

There is also a special experience you can enjoy where you a take tour up to near the peak of Mount Neko by a snowmobile known as the ” Tour of Mount by SNOW CAT”. The scenery from an altitude of 2,207 meters (724 feet) is magnificent. The surrounding area is dotted with trees with soft rime, and this beautiful scenery can be seen all the way to the mountain range of the Northern Alps with their cluster of summits that runs through Nagano Prefecture. And of course, you can ski or snowboard on your way back down and enjoy the powdery snow to your heart’s content!

A snowy resort with plenty of attractions besides ski resorts

In addition to fully enjoying skiing and snowboarding, there are plenty of other things to experience! Here is a snowy resort for those who would like to do so.

Karuizawa Prince Snow Resorts

A grand winter paradise with outlets, a hotel, and a ski resort
A grand winter paradise with outlets, a hotel, and a ski resort

Just 1 hour by Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station. Karuizawa Prince Snow Resorts, which is located right by JR Karuizawa Station, is a snowy resort where you can enjoy everything from a hotel to hot springs, shopping, and a post station along a former highway. It is also open every year from early November even if there is no snowfall because there are 195 snow-falling machines that spray compressed air and water into the air so as to freeze them and 8 snow-making machines that scrape ice into fine particles. It is known not only in Nagano Prefecture but also throughout the island of Honshu as a ski resort that opens early in the winter.

The hotel offers hot spring baths with high-quality water so you can slowly relax after your trip or long day of playing in the snow. Spreading out in front of the hotel is an outlet mall that is easily accessible. Visitors can freely enjoy their shopping without having to worry about their baggage.

Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort

The Ogama hot spring - a natural monument at Nozawa Onsen
The Ogama hot spring – a natural monument at Nozawa Onsen

Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort is recommended for those who want to experience Japanese culture more when they are not skiing or snowboarding. It has long been famous for its hot springs and the hot springs town has developed over a period of hundreds of years. One of the attractions is the 13 public bathhouses known as “sotoyu”, which are managed by the local residents outside the hotel. They can all be enjoyed at low fees and visiting various sotoyu bathhouses is a popular activity as they offer different kinds of water at different temperatures.

It has become a hot springs town where tradition and modern times have come together as young people have been opening up bars and izakayas so people of all ages can enjoy their time here in their own ways.

Nagano Prefecture has many snowy resorts with fine snow and various kinds of courses. Please be sure to enjoy skiing or showboarding in Nagano Prefecture if you plan on visiting Japan in winter.

HOT SPOTS IN KYUSHU

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kyusyu_map.jpgFollowing the extension of the Tohoku Line, Japan Railways will open its new Bullet Train Route in the Kyushu area (the Southwest part of Japanese Archipelago) on March 12th 2011, which enables travelers to experience south western Japan with rich history, nature and onsen, hot springs more convenienly.

The new complete line will be 159.7 mile long betweenHakata and Kagoshima. From Shin-Osaka to the final stop of Kagoshima-Chuo, the traveling time will be 3 hours and 45 minutes, 77 minutes shorter than the current service. The new connecting line makes Kyushu’s historic landmarks and nature within an easier reach:Kumamoto Castle, built in the 17th century has very unique ninja-proof walls. Kagoshima, at the end of the line, is the gateway to Yakushima Island, home to a primeval forest of “Yaku-sugi” cedars dating back thousands of years.

Kumamoto Castle Yaku-sugi

Kyushu was once called the “Land of Fire” for its abundance with volcanoes, which brings remarkable views such as that of Mt. Aso, the world’s largest volcanic caldera in Kumamoto, and Sakura-jima, an active volcano where a rising column of smoke is sometimes observed from downtown Kagoshima. What’s more, the island is blessed with countless onsen, Japanese traditional hot springs: Ibusuki is known for its unique sand bath. Unzen, Beppu, Yufuin and Kurokawa are all beloved onsen resorts in Kyushu.

sakurajima.jpg Mt. Aso

Suna mushi buroTo make your trip easy and reasonable, JR Kyushu offers a discount ticket called theKyushu Rail Pass. It covers either the Northern Kyushu area or the whole Kyushu area, depending on the type you purchase, and can be used for unlimited times for both express and local trains. Please visit here to check out the details!

For Further Information, please visit
JR Kyushu Railway Company

LET’S CLIMB MT. FUJI!

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Mt. Fuji is one of Japan’s icons for its perfect shape and snow-capped peak. Many visitors to Japan enjoy the view from the Hakone or Fuji-Goko (five lakes) areas. But have you ever thought of climbing it? Actually, it being a relatively easy climb, everyone from young kids to senior citizens can enjoy the experience. It takes about 6 hours to ascend and 3-4 hours to descend, originating from the 5th Station base point which you can reach by car or bus. When I say “relatively easy”, I do not mean it is not hard. You do not need special mountaineering knowledge or techniques, but you do need average physical strength and endurance.

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Mt. Fuji is 3,776 meters (12,388 feet) high. The climbing season is from the beginning of July to the end of August.

Many climbers start climbing in the afternoon, spend a night at a hut and start climbing again early in the morning to watch the sunrise at the summit. You should ascend slowly and steadily to avoid altitude sickness. You need to bring warm clothes since the average temperature at the summit is approximately 40°F even in the summer. Raingear is also a necessity due to weather changes. Other things you should bring with you are: suitable shoes; a hat; extra clothes for change; a towel; handy food such as chocolate; water; sunblock lotion; and a headlight or torch. (If you are prone to altitude sickness, bottled oxygen will help.)

Mountain huts are very basic and rustic. Some do not have showers. You are usually required to share a room, and there are certain rules you should follow, such as when to have supper and turn the light off. As they are sometimes very crowded, making reservations in advance is recommended.

The best moment is the sunrise. You will feel a sense of accomplishment, and it is a somewhat religious experience. It is no wonder that Mt. Fuji has been an object of local religions, and you may even meet people on pilgrimages in traditional clothes on the way to the summit. Yamanashi Prefecture issues a certificate of climbing to the top of Mt. Fuji for foreign visitors which will commemorate your achievement forever. (For more information about the certificate, send an email to kokusai@pref.yamanashi.lg.jp.)

You can try to conquer the summit of Mt. Fuji for yourself, although some companies offer guided climb tours:

JTB Sunrise Tours:
http://www.japanican.com/tours/tourdetail.aspx?tc=GMT01TYOOF777
IACE Travel:
http://www.iace-asia.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=779&Itemid=49
Whole Earth Nature School:
http://wens.gr.jp/english/03.html

OUTDOORS: 6 Ways To Enjoy Open-Air Life In Japan

Welcome to Japan, an outdoor wonderland! From the mountains to the sea, Japan offers unforgettable experiences for every kind of season and outdoor aficionado!

With so many activities to choose from, it’s difficult to know where to start when planning your outdoor getaway to Japan. So we put together this list of 6 outdoor travel tips to help you get on your way:

1. Camping

Camping Japan

Did you know that you can camp in Japan? With over 3,000 campsites nationwide, you’re sure to find the perfect spot to take in Japan’s natural beauty.

2. Skiing/Snowboarding

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It’s no coincidence that Japan has hosted the Winter Olympic Games twice. The powder there is second to none and although you can take to the snow most anywhere in Japan, try Tohoku (northern area) in late April or Hokkaido in mid-May to catch the cherry blossoms in bloom while you hit the slopes.

3. Hiking

Japan Hiking

If you really want to experience the outdoors, why not take a nature walk and get up close and personal with Japan’s impressive landscapes? With mountains covering over 70% of Japan’s terrain, you’ll have no trouble finding a great hiking trail.

4. Extreme Sports

Japan rafting

For those adrenaline junkies, Japan has no shortage of extreme sports. From white water rafting to bungee jumping, paragliding and more, you can be sure to find a thrilling activity to get the blood pumping.

5. Spelunking

Japan Spelunking

Japan’s long history of volcanic activity has left the island nation with countless caves and caverns just waiting to be explored. Exercise your inner adventurer with a cave tour and explore Japan’s hidden natural wonders.

6. Fishing

Japan Fishing

Aside from the obvious ocean fishing available to Japan as an island nation, there are also an abundance of rivers and lakes that offer fisherman the chance to catch some amazing freshwater fare. Try ice fishing like an Ainu for smelt on the Barato river in Sapporo and have your day’s catch made into tempura on site!

Taketomi Island: Japan’s Southern Paradise

Just over 300 people call Taketomi Island home, and they must surely be some of the luckiest people in Japan to be able to enjoy the island’s fine climate, pristine beaches and traditional architecture every day of their lives. The rest of us, however, can still enjoy the laid back charms of this small but quaint island on a day trip from nearby Ishigaki Island. A ten minute ferry crossing brings you in to Taketomi’s port, where aside from the Ishigaki ferry, the majority of water traffic is made up of sun-bronzed fisherman.  If you are feeling energetic, you can rent a bicycle at the port and travel to Taketomi Village. Alternatively, a more traditional mode of transport is the suigyusha or water buffalo cart. These docile water buffalos transport visitors around the village while a local driver serenades you with melodies on the sanshin, a traditional Okinawan three stringed lute.

Enjoy charming fauna in an idyllic setting.

Enjoy charming fauna in an idyllic setting.

 

The village itself has only a few streets, but what an impressive few streets they are! Almost all of the houses are built in Okinawan style, a tradition that is sadly dying out on the larger islands. With their red clay roofs and guardian shisa lions standing watchfully, you might find yourself transported to a different time entirely. You may find no more beautiful sight in all of your Okinawa travels than the bougainvillea and hibiscus flowers that completely surround the houses in Spring.

Having enjoyed the architectural splendor of Taketomi, you can then dive (literally) into its natural wonders. Rent a snorkel from the visitor center and then cycle, walk, or take a buffalo cart around half a kilometer north of the village to Misashi, the island’s best snorkeling point. The shoreline is surrounded by coral reefs and as soon as you enter the water, the magical colors of the undersea world will come to life in front of your eyes.

Shisa lions are a common sight around Taketomi island.

Shisa lions are a common sight around Taketomi island.

 

Just over a kilometer south on the west coast lies the beautiful Kaiji beach. It is also known as “Hoshisuna-no-hama” (star sand beach), so named because of the star shaped ‘sand’ that accumulates there. The sand is in fact made up of countless shells broken into tiny fragments over time by the tide. After a swim you might have worked up an appetite. Taketomi has several charming restaurants such as Takenoko which serves a good range of simple, high quality soba noodle dishes in a beautiful traditional house. After refuelling, pick up a souvenir in the adjoining shop; one of Taketomi’s classic keepsakes is a bottle of star shaped sand. You can also go to the village mingeikan (craft gallery) for samples of traditional southern Okinawan minsa, a finely woven indigo-dyed cloth that will always remind you of your Okinawa travel experience.

A buffalo-drawn cart is the ideal way to enjoy getting around.

A buffalo-drawn cart is the ideal way to enjoy getting around.

 

After a full day of sightseeing, there should be just enough time for a well-deserved beer before heading south to the ferry terminal and back to Ishigaki. Alternatively, if the thought of leaving doesn’t appeal, there are a number of friendly Bed & Breakfasts on the island. Staying will allow you to enjoy the sun going down over the village while savoring Okinawan food and perhaps a musical performance from your host. After all, when you’ve found paradise, nobody can blame you for wanting to linger.

How to get to Taketomi island: A two-hour flight from Tokyo to Naha on Okinawa island, then a 30-minute flight to Ishigaki island followed by a 10-minute ferry ride from Ishigaki Port to Taketomi.

 

 

photo credit: コンドイ浜 via photopin (license)

Tokyo Day Trips: Best Places to See Fall Foliage

Koyo, is the autumn season in Japan –  where the leaves start to lose their green and people across the nation flock to enjoy the last few temperate days and sights of breathtaking foliage before winter sets in. Spending a day indulging in the array of colors brought on by the changing leaves is a pastime as old as the spring counterpart of viewing cherry blossoms. Though many believe you can’t truly enjoy koyo from Tokyo, there are many spots within and just a day-trip away from the metropolis which surprisingly offer koyo viewing unrivaled by countryside areas. Here are a few such areas to enjoy autumn in Tokyo.

Inokashira Park

With lively vendors and street magic shows, Inokashira Park in Musashino City is a wonderful place to visit anytime of the year, but as a place to enjoy koyo it solidly tops the list of best spots in Tokyo. As the Tokyo autumn sets in, the maple and zelkova trees scattered throughout the evergreens gradually lose their pigment to create a dazzling spatter of greens, yellows and reds. Especially iconic of Inokashira’s autumn scenes are the sunsets, amplifying this orchestra of color to create a sight expected to be seen in an untouched countryside forest. From the central pond, paved and dirt paths stretch all throughout the park, making it ideal for an afternoon stroll with loved ones.

Autumn Inokashira Park

A peaceful pond provides a stunning backdrop for Inokashira Park’s foliage!

Changing Leaves: Mid November ~ Mid December

Primary foliage:  Icho (Ginkgo), Keyaki (Zelkova), Momiji (Maple)

Showa Kinen Park (Memorial Park)

Also in the heart of the capital, Showa Kinen Park in Tachikawa City is a popular picnicking spot to enjoy autumn. This park is well known for its plethora of ginkgo trees, their leaves a glimmer gold in the autumn sun. With large open grassy areas, it is a perfect place to lay out a blanket and either doze away the day or kick a football around with friends. The park also has a barbecuing area for larger groups and a number of moderately priced sports facilities and open to the public. It is the ideal spot for families to spend an autumn afternoon.

Ginkgo Trees Show Kinen Park Autumn

Ginkgo trees form a colorful autumn canopy when strolling across Showa Kinen Park!

Changing Leaves:  November

Primary Foliage: Icho (Ginkgo) Momiji (Maple), Hanamizuki (Candleberry)

Lake Kawaguchi

Though a bit far from Tokyo (about 2.5 hours by public transportation, 1.5 hours by car), Lake Kawaguchi offers one of the most iconic koyo viewing spots in all of Japan. The reason? It has none other than Mount Fuji as a backdrop! This placid lake is often the site of many professional photographer shots of autumn in Japan, offering views of crimson and gold trees from which arises the snowcapped peak of Fuji, all reflected in the calm waters of Lake Kawaguchi. There are a number of tourist spots in the area, including art museums and nature parks, but you could spend an entire afternoon sipping coffee and gazing across the lake and still never tire of its timeless beauty.

Foliage with Mt. Fuji as a backdrop – What better way to enjoy the season of color!

There are any number of koyo sites you can access from here, but we recommend the area around the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum in Yamanashi. To access it, from Kawaguchiko station, take the Retrobus Kawaguchiko line bus for about 25 minutes and get off at Itchiku Kubota Art Museum.

Changing Leaves: November

Primary Foliage: Momiji (Maple)

photo credit: Jokin Sukuntza via photopin cc
photo credit: YoAndMi via photopin cc
photo credit: YoAndMi via photopin cc

Climbing Mount Fuji 101

Mount Fuji, the iconic 3776 meter active volcano a stone’s throw from Tokyo, is arguably the most celebrated landmark in Japan. With over 300,000 people climbing her summit during the summer months, Mt Fuji thrives on the Japanese proverb “A wise man will climb Mt Fuji once; a fool will climb Mt Fuji twice.” And with UNESCO’s recent designation of Mount Fuji as a World Heritage site, many wise men (and women!) are making the trek up Japan’s most iconic mountain.

When to Climb

An estimated 30% of climbers are foreign; you are not alone in wanting to climb this national icon. The official season is from July 1st to August 31st; the trails are most crowded on weekends and during the peak climbing season of August 5th to 15th. Furthermore, rainy weather and high winds can shut down entire trails, so pick your day carefully.

Mount Fuji Summer Climb

Summertime greenery surrounds Mount Fuji.

What to Bring

Hiking boots
Gloves
Sunscreen, Sunglasses, and a hat
Shell jacket, rain poncho, and other layers
1-2 liters of water, food, and snacks
Headlamp or flashlight
Walking stick
Money for toilet paper, food, bus tickets, and beverages
Even during the hot and humid summer months, nightly temperatures at the top of Mt Fuji hover can hit below freezing.

Popular Routes

The most popular route for climbing Mt Fuji is the Yoshida Guchi trail, which stretches from the Kawaguchiko Gogome 5th station to the summit. This 15km trail takes about 6 hours to ascend and 3 hours to descend, with separate and clearly market ascending and descending trails. On weekends and national holidays, the Yoshida Guchi trail will be congested with travelers, making it difficult to climb at your own pace.

Most climbers use this route to watch the sunrise overt the summit. You can break the Yoshida Guchi trail into two sections, resting from the late afternoon to the early morning at one of the many mountain huts in the 7th or 8th station.

To get to the Kawaguchiko Gogome 5th station, take the Keio Express bus from Shinjuku. Busses depart from Shinjuku at 7:40am and 9:40am daily; busses depart from the 5th Station at 1:00pm and 3:00pm daily. To reserve a ticket, click here.

The route to the summit of Mount Fuji

“In the clouds” on the way to the summit of Mount Fuji.

Mountain Huts and Lodging Options

The mountain huts on the 7th and 8th stations of Mt Fuji provide the most basic lodgings, which is often just a shared space on the floor. The mountain huts are far from luxurious and run between 5500yen and 8000yen for a night. Nonetheless, novice climbers should stay a couple hours in a mountain hut, to help their bodies adjust to the new altitude. Spaces sell out quickly, so make sure to book in advance. To browse prices or make a reservation, click here.

Tips for Novice Climbers

Climbing Mt Fuji is not easy. Luckily there are services along the way that make the climb more bearable. Seeing the sunrise from the summit is magical, but not necessary. Climbing during the daytime is much safer, warmer, and less crowded. Accidents often happen at night, when exhausted climbers are ascending or descending Mt Fuji.

Novice climbers often suffer from hypothermia, breathing difficulties, and altitude sickness. Remember, Mt Fuji is a 3776 meter mountain. To allow your body to adjust to the attitude, spend a night in one of the mountain huts and drink plenty of water.

Travel companies can be a great resource for novices that wish to climb Mt Fuji. Travel companies will pick you up from Shinjuku station, taking care of round-trip bus tickets, mountain hut reservations, guides, meals, and a hot springs package at the base of the mountain.

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Day Tripping: Cool off at Tokyo Area Water Parks

If you find yourself in Tokyo during the summer months, chances are you will experience firsthand what it feels like to bake and drown simultaneously, thanks to the high heat and humidity. Fortunately, Tokyo offers a plethora of refreshingly cool getaways right in the heart of the city to help you keep your cool amidst the blistering heat. The weather is hot and water cool; why not take a dive?

Tokyo Summerland

Situated in western Tokyo, Summerland is a waterpark cum amusement park sprawling over an expansive 100 acres. A large portion of the park is located indoors, allowing visitors to escape the mugginess even on rainy days. Tokyo’s longest lazy river is located here, where you can float to your heart’s content over 2132 winding feet. The park is ideal for both families and adults, filled with attractions to delight children and chill out spots and thrilling waterslides for older crowds.

From Shinjuku, take the Keio line to Keio Hachioji Station. From there, take a bus out of the number 3 terminal. The trip takes about 60 minutes.

Spa LaQua

Spa LaQua sits in the heart of Tokyo. It is  conveniently located next to one of the largest amusement parks in Tokyo, Tokyo Dome City, making it the perfect place to soothe feet and psyche exhausted from walking through throngs of people all day. Offering a multitude of therapeutic hot baths and saunas, LaQua has a remedy for all types of fatigue, ensuring a truly relaxing experience. Be sure to check out the Doctor Fish, a unique ichthyotherapeutic experience. LaQua caters to young adults and older crowds, as it lacks any conventional waterpark type attractions, and instead, offers a deeply relaxing atmosphere.

Located minutes from anywhere in central Tokyo. Closest stations are Suidobashi (Chuo and Sobu lines) and Korakuen (Marunouchi and Nanboku lines) Stations. Open 11:00am to 9:00am daily (22 hours).

Toshimaen 

Toshimaen is an amusement park in northern Tokyo that boasts both a full scale theme park and waterpark. With 26 waterslides and 6 different pools, including a full Olympic sized lap pool, the waterpark in itself is a complete day trip. You can even take a dip with life-sized robotic dolphins in one of the pools. What’s more, a theme park sure to satisfy any adrenaline junkie, complete with three exhilarating roller coasters and two haunted houses, is located on the grounds. Families with children and adults alike are sure to have a blast at Toshimaen.

A 15 minute train ride from Ikebukuro. Take the Seibu Ikebukuro line and get off at Toshimaen Station.

Poolside (and seaside!) at Oiso Long Beach

Poolside (and seaside!) at Oiso Long Beach.

Oiso Long Beach

Located in Kanagawa away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, Oiso Long Beach is a waterpark located right on a beachfront. Visitors can indulge in breathtaking views of the horizon while simultaneously enjoying the thrills and conveniences of a waterpark. You can experience the adrenaline rush of leaping off an Olympic sized diving board or hurtling down a waterslide, then unwind with a drink in a spacious Jacuzzi. The park is ideal for families, as it features various children’s attractions, and for adults, there are plenty of lounging spaces available. A hotel sits on park grounds making overnight stays possible.

Take the Tokaido Honsen from Shinagawa to Oiso Station. Take the #13 bus bound for Nishikoen, and get off at Nakamaru. The park is a short walk from there. The entire trip takes 2 hours. Also, between July 6th and September 16th, a special shuttle bus will operate between Oiso Station and and Oiso Long Beach.

NOTICE: Attitudes towards tattoos vary in Japanese culture. Some establishments may ask you to leave if they spot a tattoo on you. It is highly advised to cover up if you have a tattoo.

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Kurokawa Onsen

Kurokawa Onsen is a quintessential hot-spring town in central Kyushu, approximately a 90-minute drive from Kumamoto Airport. Having traveled extensively throughout Japan, I can truly say that my visit to Kurokawa was one of my most memorable stays.

What makes Kurokawa Onsen unique is its traditional atmosphere and abundance of nice, traditional ryokan inns. During our visit, we stayed at Noshiyu, which is one of the best-value inns that I have had the pleasure of staying at in Japan. Beautiful architecture, wonderful service and excellent food make it one of my all-time favorites.

Unlike most Japanese onsen towns that are dominated by concrete structures, Kurokawa, with its beautiful wooden buildings and earthen walls, is reminiscent of a bygone era. Dressed in lightweight yukata kimono, we strolled through the town and along the river that runs through it, stopping at whichever inns struck our fancy to enjoy their soothing baths.

Kurokawa is known for its abundance of picturesque rotenburo outdoor baths, and I was not disappointed. Visitors are encouraged to enjoy the various inns’ bathing spots, and the process is made easy through the use of a pass, which allows bathers access to three inns of their choice.

Winter is an ideal time to visit Kurokawa Onsen, as the cool, crisp Kyushu air, together with a relaxing outdoor bath in a delightful environment, will make for an unforgettable trip.

Philip Rosenfeld