Spring is just around the corner but snow bunnies can still find lots of fun up north in the Tohoku region of Japan. We recently had the chance to visit the beautiful prefecture of Fukushima on a tour hosted by Inawashiro Tourism Association and Listel Hotel Inawashiro. We sent one of our guides on an adventure, so you can follow along on Norma’s footsteps….
After following all the measures to prevent the transmission of COVID 19 through daily temperature checks and taking a home test I was all set and ready to go.
Since I’ve come to Japan, I never really had the chance to go up in the mountains during winter, so this was a golden opportunity. I come from a desert area in México, so I have barely ever seen snow in my life, nor been in the cold like that. As soon as I arrived at my destination at the Inawashiro Station, everything was covered in snow and it was still snowing! It actually never really stopped during the whole trip (no complaints about that). In fact, I was fascinated by it and our hosts were very good at keeping us busy and split the time a good amount between staying outside and inside, so we didn’t really have time to feel the cold or get uncomfortable.
Our adventure started by trying the electric snow bicycles, which was really fun but also tough. Since it never stopped snowing, the snow on the ground was still very soft and the wheels would easily get stuck in it. (It was a great workout though!) After that, we slid downhill on inflatable doughnuts, which was my favorite part. We then tried snow banana, which is similar to the one you can do on the beach, except it’s built specifically for the snow. Despite my group and I falling a couple of times, the snow padded our fall since it was so soft, so no one was injured during this super fun experience. Whenever I think about it, a smile still comes to my face even now. And finally, what I had most been waiting for: lunch. After all the fun activity we were taken to the beautiful “nowhere” cafe, where we were served their delicious staple curry made with local and organic ingredients. It was de-li-cious!
Another fun activity during our visit was making our own kokeshi doll, one of the most traditional crafts from Japan. We were welcomed to the atelier/house of Kakizaki Fumio sensei, one of the local artisans that are keeping this beautiful tradition alive. You could see his excitement to explain to us step by step all the processes for making the dolls, how they pick the wood, what they use to polish it after it has been shaped, and more. Then we had the chance to paint our own doll. We were taught step by step, but we also had space for creativity which was amazing. I could honestly say this was the highlight of the whole trip for me. You can learn more about this amazing craft on the Inawashiro dedicated website for these wonderful creators: https://www.nakanosawa-kokeshi.jp/
Throughout the trip, we were taken to see various accommodations, all of which had hot springs that are fed by the nutritious sulfuric waters from the nearby mountain springs, making them especially good for skin care. I will summarize them with my personal insights:
Bandai Lakeside Guesthouse –where we spent our first night, is a super cozy and fun space that hosts people from all over the world. In the common space, they have a small bar where you can try local craft beers and delicious home-cooked meals. They have two shower rooms that include a private onsen that can be used by 3-4 people at the same time but can also be used individually. This accommodation is good for all kinds of groups, families, and couples. They have tons of activities all year long. Recently they also have been hosting weddings, and although the number of guests is limited, there are other two guesthouses nearby that have also been teaming up for this kind of event.
Lakeside Hotel Minatoya –this was our second-night stay. I was amazed by the paintings on the stairwells, unique and beautiful paintings that portray the swans that spend their winters in this area. The rooms are a mix between the western style of beds and a small tatami space where you can have coffee or tea, but they also have full Japanese-style rooms. The inn is fully equipped with a conference room, restaurant, and gift shop. They also have a glamping area that is open from Spring to Autumn and a lakeside Finnish sauna area. I cannot recommend the sauna enough, especially during the wintertime–snow makes it so much better since the balance between being inside in the dry heat of the sauna and then going out to the snow for a couple of minutes is perfect. You can sit next to the lake and even jump into it if you are bold enough. This was absolutely one of the most unique experiences I’ve had in my life. It’s a family-friendly place to stay for sure, but they have special plans for travelers looking for a nice place to work remotely as well as activity seekers. I also must say that the food was amazing–they specialize in Chinese-style food that still makes my mouth melt when I remember it.
Numajiri Lodge –a beautiful inn that was founded 60 years ago by Junko Tabei, who was the first Japanese woman to reach the top of Mt. Everest and was born in Fukushima prefecture. They use water that comes directly from mountain hot springs known as nigori-yu, milky acidic water that comes out at 1230 meters over sea level. With a very unique hot spring source in Japan, the highest of its kind, coming straight from the crater of Mt. Adatara, this lodge is a great experience for a family trip or group of friends.
Manyoutei Nakanozawa Onsen –which features only wood architecture, including even its onsen facilities and tubs. The views from the rooms are stunning and the place has a small capacity so as to provide the customers a more private experience. This accommodation only accepts adults so it is good for honeymooners or couples, as well as small groups of friends.
Bandai Kogen Resort Inn Bonari –a luxury mountain ryokan with an amazing location, on its 6 floors they have a public onsen, a karaoke, a convention center, and even a club. Would totally pick this one for a family trip.
Hotelli Aalto –is a super stylish and fashionable all-inclusive lodge that has comfy and beautifully decorated rooms, all of which include private hot springs and working spaces that would be the perfect place to do a work-cation. Recommended for young couples, single travelers looking for a nice place to work remotely, and small groups of friends.
Daiwa Royal Hotel, Active Resorts Urbandai –another family-recommended place to stay with its wide areas, lots of activities organized throughout the day, comfortable rooms, and huge dining room–this is definitely a place to visit in big groups. They also have a convention room and a huge working space for companies that are looking to have a place where they can work remotely with the whole team.
Listel Hotel and Resort –the last place we visited is a high-class resort compound that also has Listel Ski Fantasia as part of its facilities. But don’t be mistaken, even though its main season is winter, they have tons of activities going on all year long, especially the flower viewing on the surrounding grounds which change from season to season. The rooms are mainly western style, and the resort also includes a huge indoor pool area that features a public onsen. Good for anyone and everyone to visit.
Second-day activities started very early in the morning after starting our day with a super delicious breakfast, we walked over the frozen Sohara Lake, which is right in front of Bandai Lakeside Guesthouse. They lent us special snow pallet shoes and walking sticks, then we walked over the lake to reach a small island close to the shore, where we then climbed uphill and then slid back down. I have to be honest, this is a full workout, especially climbing uphill, but it was still an incredibly fun experience. Seeing the view from the middle of the lake was something that took my breath away.
For our second lake walk, we were taken to Lake Hibara, which is huge in comparison to Sohara Lake. We came here to go ice fishing. Since the weather was very windy and snowy, we used a floating cabin where we fished through a hole in the lake ice with an electric fishing rod. Almost at the end of our experience, I got my fish, but I have to confess that I was freaking out when I had to unhook him, so one of the guides supported me and placed him on a bucket that the fisherman provided me. After this, we went to eat our fishing prizes at Gold House Meguro, where they prepared them tempura-style with another bunch of fish, so I’m not really sure I even ended up eating my own hehe… Gold House Meguro is a small hotel and restaurant, but they also provide activities related to the lake and support customers in cooking their catches.
We also visited the Kamemaru boat, where we had a beautiful sake-tasting experience and tried various fishcakes prepared with different ingredients. However, since the weather was not good we were not able to ride the boat through the lake, but I’m sure this would be an amazing experience for everyone. At this same location, we also did a short Yoga lesson for the third day which was followed by a super healthy breakfast that included freshly made apple juice.
For the last day’s activities, we visited the Inawashiroji Beer installations, where we tasted the original beer brand from the area. We could choose 3 of the 5 different flavors, all of which used special wheat and hop from Germany, and all of them delicious, of course. After that, we visited the World Glassware Hall Inawashiro, a beautiful shop-museum that specializes in high-end glassware products.
Inawashiro area has a lot to give to adventurous travelers for sure, but it is also perfect for travelers looking for a relaxing getaway, people looking for a good place to do a work-cation, and even people looking for a luxuriously relaxing weekend–there’s something for everyone. People in the area are very kind and friendly, which really makes me want to visit again in the future. It is a full experience due to the views, the food, the people, and activities, but also, getting the opportunity to see another side of Japan, something we don’t normally see was great. I never get tired of encouraging everyone to of course visit the mainstays of Japan: Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima, and Kyoto, but if you can give yourselves the opportunity to add a place like this to your itinerary, I’m sure you will be surprised by the wonders you will find.
Thank you for reading, and I’ll leave you with some beautiful views.
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