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Second stop, Nozawa Onsen

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

Shimotakai-gun, Nagano-ken

Ph: +81 269 389 2502

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Itching to Ski / Snowboard

I have been thinking about skiing / snowboarding for a while now. As the weather gets warmer here in Hong Kong, the opposite is happening in Sydney and New Zealand. Around this time each year, I would be thinking about skiing, however, last year for some unknown reason, we did not go to the snows! Could be the fact that we went to the states in May and then I went back to Indonesia for 2 weeks for engagement and a wedding. It was the first year in 14 years in a row that I had not gone skiing! I remember one year, I was so obsessed with the snow that I went 6 times, which included one trip to Japan and 5 weekend trips to Perisher and Thredbo!

I first learnt how to ski when I was 17 / 18. It was my first trip to Perisher with friends and we were staying for the week! For most of us there, it was the first time we were skiing, and we all decided to get lessons! It was probably one of the best decisions we made that week. I didn’t fall in love with it at first, it was one of the hardest and most challenging things I have ever done! But seeing how graceful some skiers were I was determined to learn and pick up the sport. I remember the first day on the slope which was tough and challenging and I still remember the pain the day after. From memory, we were all in pain and decided NOT to ski that day, and thought we would go to the pub, shoot some pool and drink beer at 10am and continued until 10 pm – NOT the best decision we made that week! The next day, we all had the worse hung over but decided that we should continue pursuing our career in skiing and made it to the slopes by 8.30 am. Needlessly to say, some of us did have to stop and chunder – it was not a pretty sight.

I didn’t pick up skiing as easily as I have hoped. That year, I came back again for a weekend and felt a little more confident, and each year, I improved (you would hope!), and made the whole experience a lot more enjoyable! I was able to parallel turn, instead of just skiing straight down (which if you didn’t know picks up a lot of speed) and by the end of my 5th year of skiing, was comfortable with doing black runs and super steep slopes! I’m not one of those skiers who can do stunts, jumps, turns or twists, it’s not why I learnt! I learnt because I love the speed, the speed of skiing down the mountain, the wind blowing in your face, and being at the top of the mountain and seeing how steep the hill is!

Each year, I try to go at least 3 times (yes I know obsessive!) but that’s how much I loved it. I organized a trip with my friends to Japan and I have to say, it was the best trip I have ever been. Unfortunately, I don’t have the photos here, in fact I don’t have a lot of skiing photos – don’t know where it all went! We had a great time skiing, night skiing, goofing around and drinking a lot! Going with friends who are fantastic at skiing will push your limits and improve your ability to ski.

Below is a photo of me at Perisher, can’t remember which year it was but I have to admit – that was one daggy ski gear! I put up with it for about 5 years before I bought new gear, and spending an obscene amount on a jacket and pants – which I have worn and kept ever since!

After about 10 years of skiing, I wanted a new challenge – as much as I LOVED skiing, and still do, I turned into the dark side and decided to try snowboarding! Yes, yes, am too old for boarding right? Well that’s what I thought; I didn’t think I was going to pick it up. I had the BEST teacher though, our friend, A, he was a boarder, taught me how to board in a weekend! It was SO MUCH easier to pick up, the boots, OMG, it was so much more comfy, and the board was SO much easier to carry than skies! I turned from a ski bunny, to a boarder!! I know skiers hate boarders and vice versa, boarders like to cut skier and etc etc, but my gawd… I fell in love with boarding..  I wasn’t very good at it though, but I most certainly enjoyed it.

The worst thing about boarding is the falling! You either fall on your bum, your knee or in some cases, me, face plant down the slope! It’s not pleasant but so worth it! My fear to date are T-bars, they are my worst nightmare! I don’t think I have ever accomplished going up a mountain on a T-bar – usually fall mid way or close to the top! I really do need to get over my fear!

I’m itching to go this year, this would be the 2nd year in a row that I have missed out on the snow! Below is a photo of me night snowboarding one year at perisher.

I have to admit though, the last time I went to the snow, I switched back to skiing, and after 3 years of boarding that was tough! I am definitely a better skier but boarding is way cooler!

I have had some of the most amazing trips with friends skiing / snowboarding. The shenanigans, the laughters, the face planting, the falls, it has been incredible! I am itching to go again this year! I haven’t skied in a lot of places, mainly just Australia and Japan, however, this year I am secretly hoping to squeeze in New Zealand, when I am back next in Sydney. If not, Japan again next year! I’m definitely looking forward to the hot chocolates, the warm donuts, the fire place, the sauna and most of all… carving it on the slopes! Who’s in with me?

Categories: Snow, Thoughts Tags: ,