13 things to do in Nozawa Onsen for people who do not ski

Nozawa Onsen is one of the best ski resorts in Japan for a non-skier, with an array of activities for everyone to enjoy. One of the highlights of Nozawa Onsen is that it draws many non-skiers (both Japanese and foreign visitors), the main reason being for its many hot springs dotted around the village. This gives the town a relaxing feel; the majority of people come here to ski, relax and eat good food. A great combination. 

1. Bath in natural hot springs

There are 13 natural public hot springs to visit. We recommend starting at the onsen closest to your accommodation. All 13 springs are located within 10-15 minutes walk from each other. You could try the historic Kumanoteara onsen; Nozawa Onsen village was founded by a hunter who tracked a wounded bear and found it bathing in this beautiful spring. The SPARENA has mixed gender onsen which is great for families. It is the only onsen where you can wear swimwear and has facilities such as showers, massage chairs and restaurant. 

2. Cook eggs in a hot spring or take a cooking class

Slow cook eggs in a mini hot spring which creates soft silk egg whites and custard-like yolk. Purchase eggs locally, the hot spring is free to use. "Egg onsens" are mini sized hot spring that look like a box and are located just next to the entrance of a regular bathhouse (onsen). The following bathhouse have an egg cooking onsen: Kamitera-yu, Kumanotearayu, Matsuba-no-yu, Jyuodo-no-yu. Timing depends on which onsen you choose, so follow what the sign says. If eggs are not your thing, consider cooking classes of Oyaki (steam buns) with a local family. You will be picked up from your accommodation, as the cooking classes are located at the far side of the village. ¥4,000 for the class. Contact obatake1103@gmail.com  

3. Ride the gondolas

2020 marks the year of the brand new gondola opening in Nozawa Onsen. Ride the gondola for views and the restaurant at the top.

You can also ride the other gondola at the Hikage area for different views, a better chance to see wildlife (Kamoshika) and more restaurant options at the top. 

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4. Snow Scoot

If you prefer to try something different, rent a sled or snow scoot from Nozawa Sports Thanx for ¥2,500. Please note that if you would like to ride a snow scoot or sled, you will be required to buy a full price ski resort ticket which allows use of all chairlifts as well as gondolas.

5. Drink

We recommend the high quality espresso coffee from Napa Cafe (78 cafe). The cake sets and the lunch menu are very good (before 2pm).  Check out the collection of antiques and historic photographs of Nozawa Onsen. Try the local Mizuo sake which uses spring water and rice from Nozawa Onsen. Local sake is available at all restaurants and bars (eg. Izakaya Kuan as pictured). Try a variety of local beer which is brewed at Libushi in the village centre. 

6. Eat

Lunch time (12-2pm) is a great time to explore the village. With the majority of people up the mountain skiing, you can feel as though you have the village to yourself. It is also the perfect time to try a restaurant which may have been booked out, or may not take reservations at night. How about trying a local favourite - Atarashiya. We recommend the Yakatori-don, grilled chicken rice bowl cooked in Unagi no Tare (a kind of sweetened, thicker soy sauce). 

7. Nozawa Onsen village walking tour

Walk your way around the streets of Nozawa Onsen and see its beauty through the eyes of a local. Night Tours 7:30pm Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Tours are donation based. Click here for more information. 

8. Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort Sightseeing Tour

Image from Nozawa Onsen Tourism Association 

Take the Snow groomer (on-snow vehicle) tour to get some fantastic views from parts of the mountain which are usually unaccessible due to snow cover. Departure schedule: 9:45, 10:30, 11:15, 13:00, 13:45, 14:30. Price: 500 yen (with one drink). To organise the tour, call the Uenotaira Ski Center on +81 269-85-2506. The tour departs from the top of the Hikage gondola (round trip ticket ¥1,500 adults, ¥900 children). 

9. Snow Shoe

Explore the beauty of Nozawa Onsen and the surrounding area on a snowshoe tour. Learn about the history of the area, and the local flora and fauna of this traditional Japanese winter wonderland. You might walk through 200 year-old beech forests, over a frozen lake, up an ancient path lined with Japanese cedar, or enjoy panoramic views of the Nagano Alps. Each tour is unique. More information here.

10. Zipline

Image from Nozawa Onsen Tourism Association 

The Zip-Skyride has a max speed of 70km/h, a length of 652 metres with a vertical drop of 122 metres. Opened in 2017, it is one of the longest of its kind in Japan, allows fun and great views.
Opening hours: 9:30, 10:30, 11:30, 13:30, 14:30, 15:30
Adults: 2,000yen, Children (under 15yrs old): 1,200yen
You can book here.

11. Visit Kenmei-ji Temple and Ogama

Climbing the steep stone stairs leading to the temple grounds is a true highlight in Nozawa Onsen. Surrounded by ancient Cedar trees and shrines covered in snow, this area is a must-see. Just around the corner, the equally impressive Ogama hot spring (93°C) should not be missed. You may be lucky and see locals cooking vegetables here. Continue past Ogama down Nozawa Onsens most beautiful cobbled street. 

12. Two Museums

Ride the free chairlift ("Shinyu Double chairlift") from the Nozawa Onsen village up to the Japanese ski museum. Worth a visit, some good history of the Nagano Olympics and how skiing developed in Japan. Also the relationship between St Anton in Austria and Nozawa Onsen. There is some english however it is mostly displayed in Japanese, install google translate on your smartphone (your phone camera will automatically translate Japanese text to english). 

Oborozukiyo no Yakata Museum in the village centre (as pictured in summer time above). A couple of floors of Japanese art and photography. A great video presentation about the Fire Festival with many personal interviews of the participants where you could see their enthusiasm. The main theme of this museum is about a Japanese Song Writer (poet). The poems are translated into English. None of the other exhibits have english. For 300 yen, it is an interesting way to spend the time learning about the area. Great views from the top floor.

13. Stamp Trail

Image from nozawaski.com 

The Nozawa Onsen stamp trail highlights many of the famous places and historic sites in Nozawa. There are 27 stamps or commemorative plaques placed around the village; try to find them all. Pick up a stamp book from the Tourist information centre and start your adventure around the village with your book in hand. Take a rubbing from the plaques using the small wooden pestle attached to the stands. If you find more than 10 you will receive a Nozawa Onsen “yu” towel- with the famous “yu” design by Artist Taro Okamoto. Take it home as a souvenir from Nozawa Onsen.