The next day, we caught the JR train to Nagoya Station and caught the local train to Nozawa Onsen. It took a while, from memory about three to four hours, and I have to admit, I did sleep most of the way. There is something soothing about catching the train and just letting your mind drift and then fall asleep!
Nozawa Onsen is a cute little town, which is tucked into a corner of the Eastern Japan Alps. It is the quintessential Japanese onsen and ski resort. You can walk to the ski slopes from pretty much anywhere you are staying. Although Nozawa is worth visiting anytime of the year, the main attraction is actually skiing.
We stayed at Kiriya Ryokan, a wonderful little place that has Japanese-style rooms. We slept on futons and wore a kimono to dinner and breakfast. I do remember staying at places like this the last time I was in Japan and enjoyed it.
We arrived around lunch time, and as per usual, I was starving! We went to restaurant which was a couple of houses down, Restaurant Billiken. It was snowing and the place was empty. I assumed everyone were skiing, and ‘The Mother’ and I planned on going after lunch.
On the menu, we noticed they had horse meat sashimi – don’t knock it until you have tried it! It was like beef tartare, only that it was a little chewy and rough. It tasted like beef but we both certainly enjoyed it.
‘The Mother’ opted for the vegetarian soba – which I thought was a little weird. No meat? The soup was hot, and full of flavour, the soba was soft and cooked to perfection. Mix with different types of vegetables, it was surprisingly good.
I on the other hand ordered the katsu don, another favourite of mine. Deep fried pork and topped with egg and sweet onions on a mountain of rice! The pork was tender, and batter light but a tad soggy after the egg. The egg and sweet onions were the perfect combination. I have always enjoyed this dish, it was good but I wouldn’t say it was the best I have ever had!
Scrumptiously full, we thought we would rest for a couple of minutes before heading to the slopes. Unfortunately, that couple of minutes turned into a couple of hours of nap and before we knew it, it was 4.30 pm and way too late to go skiing! Probably a good thing, as the weather was horrid, it was snowing and visibility was poor.
So we decided to do the next best thing, onsen. For those who have never been to an onsen, it can be slightly intimidating. Being totally naked in front of someone else can be rather uncomfortable. This is not the first time for me, I remember when I went to boarding school for three months, the shower was similar to that of an onsen. The more you try to cover up, the more others will look at you. There are separate male and female onsen, for obvious reasons which I am sure you know.
An onsen is a term for hot springs though the term is often used to describe bathing facilities and inns around the hot spring. There was an onsen in our hotel which was perfect. Below is a little instruction or etiquette on how one should behave in an onsen. I won’t go into the details, but from the picture below, you enter the bath house naked, wash yourself clean with soap and shampoo that’s provided. Make sure that all the suds are washed off before entering the hot bath. Now the hot bath is HOT! But once entering, it is actually quite soothing and relaxing. I certainly enjoyed it, and felt absolutely refreshed and clean once I got out.
We had dinner at the hotel, kaiseki which is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner. WOW! Kaiseki started with just a miso soup and three side dishes, however, it has evolved and includes an appetizer, sashimi, a simmered dish, a grilled dish and a steamed course – so much food! There were ALL that plus more!
The sashimi – a favourite of ours, fresh and delicious!
Grilled vegetables – which was nice but some were ‘interesting’ to say the least.
Agedahi tofu, another favourite of mine, which was served at room temperature and was wonderful.
Radish – vinegarish and refreshing, palate cleanser.
Steamed pork with radish, I wasn’t a fan of the radish this time but the pork, wonderful!
The steamed course, sukiyaki with beef – WOW! Beef was tender and succulent, soup deliciously sweet and wonderful. If only I had more beef.
Tempura – vegetables and a prawn which was excellent.
Steamed salmon with egg which I enjoyed, salmon was so tender and the egg a great complement.
Not to mention the grilled prawn sprinkled with salt.
Miso soup which was warm and divine.
And dessert, sweet poached apple which was the perfect way to end the meal.
We waddled back to our room, read and fell asleep! It was indeed a fantastic day.
Here is the view in the morning from our room, snowed under!
The next morning, we had a traditional Japanese style breakfast. Similar to that of dinner, there were a lot of food which consists of steamed rice, miso soup and various side dishes including broiled / grilled fish, tamagoyaki, onsen tamago, tsukemono pickles, seasoned nori, natto and many more.
Pickles and fried egg – the pickles I wasn’t a fan off, but the fried egg cooked to perfection and oozed with yolk!
Beans, mushroom and pickles – the beans I loved! It was sweet and tasty. And the grilled salmon that you see at the end which was fantastic!
The mix salad with corn and mayonnaise, again delicious.
The seasoned nori, it was served at room temperature but delightful.
The miso soup – you can never go wrong with miso soup!
Thankfully we only stayed for one night, imagine if we stayed the whole week – so much delicious food!
We weren’t leaving Nozawa until late afternoon so decided to go for a half day ski! Oh how I have missed skiing – it certainly has been a while!
Fresh powder every where! ‘The Mother’ fell and struggled to get out, but the view, was just magnifique – photos below.
Our half day pass only allowed us to ski till midday, so after that, we went back to the hotel, cleaned up (even managed to go for one last onsen!) and headed to the station to go back to Tokyo! It was a good half day of skiing – I kind of wished we were staying for another day but I was looking forward to the wonderful eateries and sigh seeing in Tokyo.
Till next time, Tokyo.
GA’s ratings on Restaurant Billiken: 7 / 10
Right next to Yoshimi Soba and down from Ogama
GA’s ratings on Kiriya Ryokan: 8 / 10
8714-2 Nozawa Onsen-mura
Ph: +81 269 389 2502