Japan prides itself, as it should, on having four distinct seasons. There’s something special about each of the spring, summer, autumn, and winter in most parts of Japan, and the scenery vastly changes every few months. Whichever season you decide to visit Japan, know that there are plenty of pretty things to see. The winter might not be high on some traveller’s preferred time to visit Japan, since it does get quite cold here. But if you do decide to visit in the winter, there are lots of snowy scenes that you can look forward to if you get out of the city. For example, the Japanese Alps in the winter are like a winter heaven, and in this post I hope I’ll be able to inspire you to visit Japan’s snowy mountains in the winter.
Photo inspiration to visit the Japanese Alps in the winter
The Japanese Alps are the mountains in the prefectures of Niigata, Toyama, Nagano, and Gifu. A lot of the mountains are untouched, though there are several cities and smaller towns throughout. Also a few ski resorts – Nagano is where the 1998 Winter Olympics were held, remember? The mountains are also home to several remote farm villages. The villages of Shirakawago and Gokayama area are UNESCO world heritage sites, and they are the cutest little towns to explore for a couple days.
The first time I went in to the Japanese Alps in the winter was with my husband for our two-year anniversary (awww!) We stayed in Gero in a fancy (and reeeeaaally expensive) Japanese ryokan with a private onsen. Our train ticket from Nagoya included a discounted rate for the Shinohotaka Ropeway, which is a double-decker Gondola up the side of the Hotake Mountain Range.
Sinhotaka Ropeway is about an hour bus ride from Gero. Since we were there at the end of March, there was thankfully no snow or ice on the roads. Still, there was plenty of snow on the sides of the roads, and even deeper the further we drove into the mountains. The roads are quite windy though, and I imagine I would feel scared driving on them in the winter. Luckily the weather was sunny, and the roads were clear. I even spotted some animals I had never seen before. They were dark grey and looked like a mix between a deer and a dog. I later found out it is called the Japanese Serow, which is endemic to Japan. Neato.
The Shinhotaka Ropeway up the Japanese Alps in the winter
At the Shinhotaka ropeway, there are two gondolas. A short one that takes you to a gift shop, small cafeteria, and a foot spa. And then the main, double-decker one that takes you to to the top of the mountain and the observation deck. The cost of the ropeway was included in the price the tourist ticket we bough from the train station. But normal price for a round-trip ride on both gondolas is 2,900 yen.
The ride up the mountain was breathtaking, with the silent snowy mountains all around us. At the top, we walked around the observation area outside. There is a path that has been cleared, and the snow reached over our heads. Although it was -6 degrees on the observation deck, walking through the snow maze did not feel so cold. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it warm, but it was definitely bearable. Snow is great insulator and wind blocker.
And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The pretty snowy pictures to inspire you to visit the Japanese Alps in the winter. The sights and experience are really something else, so if you are visiting Japan in the winter, do consider making this trip. I went at the end of March, and there was still this much snow left on the mountains. It was pretty for a Canadian girl like me, so if you are from a place with no snow, you might be even more impressed.
What do you think? Would you like to visit the Japanese Alps in the winter? Aren’t the mountains pretty?