E had a school language trip to Japan in December, and we thought that the opportunity to meet her over there at its conclusion was too good to miss!

We met the group in Tokyo on the morning of their return to New Zealand, and spent the next 4 days exploring a wide mix of busy streets, temples/shrines, the Sumida River, towers, etc.

Couldn’t go all the way to Japan without travelling by shinkansen (bullet train)! Very efficient and very regular in Japan, much easier than flying, I love travelling by train. Next stop was 5 days in Kyoto which, while still a reasonable sized city, has a great selection of temples/shrines to check out. We based ourselves in a ryokan (Japanese-style hotel) in the historic Gion district. We booked a 3 hour cycle tour of Kyoto with Jonathan for an enjoyable Christmas Day activity, and the weather for Christmas Day was probably the best of any of our days in Japan. Kiyomizu-dera on the hill above Gion was probably the pick of the temples, particularly in the late afternoon sun on Christmas Day. Lots of people (usually couples) rent kimonos for the walk up through the historic streets to the temple. It’s very busy, but still possible to find some nice angles for photos.

More train travel took us to Nagano where we grabbed a hire car and drove for an hour to Shiga Kogen for our first four days of skiing. The slower train was particularly enjoyable for the full width glass frontage in the first carriage allowing a great view of the mountains to come.

Ski-in/ski-out from the hotel was great. Again, a traditional Japanese style room with tatami mats on the floor and futon mattresses to sleep on. We were lucky with our skiing in Japan as this year has turned out to be the worst ski season on record for Japan so far. While not waist deep blower pow, we had plenty of snow and plenty of fun. Trivia note: double chairlifts in Japan are known as “romance chairs” as the word “couple” seemed to acquire some extra connotation when it was first translated!

Couple of videos of the snow fun at Shiga Kogen. The first one includes a funny crash at about the 3:30 mark! 😀

We had a day off before we drove to the next ski village of Nozawa Onsen for another three days of skiing. On our off day, we headed down valley to visit the “snow monkeys”, wild Japanese macaques which have become habituated to enjoying a hot spring while mostly ignoring the hordes of tourists who come to observe. Well worth it actually.

Nozawa Onsen is a more traditional Japanese mountain village, and is renowned for its many public “onsen” or hot spring baths. We got a fair bit more snow here just prior to and on our first day here, and it was spectacular. The kids met some school-friends who showed us round, and we all found snow on the first day that we could really enjoy, both on and off-piste. The other interesting thing for me was the constant noise of running water in the village; I’m more used to European ski villages being sort of deadened noise-wise by snow, whereas the Japanese use the abundant hot spring water to run under/through the streets and keep them clear of snow!

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