Especially popular for outdoor sports like skiing and hiking, this hot spring resort area is surrounded by mountains.
Yuzawa (湯沢) *  is in Niigata prefecture and the most convenient ski resort town in Japan.
- 国境の長いトンネルを抜けると、雪国であった。Kokkyō no nagai tonneru wo nukeru to, yukiguni de atta.
The sentence loses more than a little in the translation, but "the train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country" is among the best-known opening lines in Japan. Written in Yuzawa, which has one of the highest snowfall rates in the world — up to 5 meters per year — and was all but cut off from the rest of the country in winter, the novel tells the sad story of a hopeless love between a rich Tokyo playboy and a poor hot-spring geisha, a species quite apart from those in Kyoto and essentially a euphemism for prostitute.
The canonical backwoods hot spring and skiing resort, Nobel prize winner Yasunari Kawabata's classic novel Snow Country (雪国 Yukiguni, see box) takes place in Yuzawa. Or so the Yuzawans claim; to be quite strict, the novel never mentions the name of its setting, but Kawabata wrote the novel while staying in Yuzawa so perhaps it's not too big a leap to make.
Yuzawa is easily reached via the Echigo-Yuzawa (越後湯沢) station of the Joetsu Shinkansen line. Trains run 2-4 times per hour from Tokyo station, taking 75-90 minutes at a cost of ¥6490 (no cost with the Japan Rail Pass). Toki trains generally make fewer stops and continue on to Niigata, while Tanigawa trains terminate at Echigo-Yuzawa after stopping at all stations on the route.
In the wintertime, most Tanigawa trains continue on to the Gala Yuzawa ski resort (see Do).
Ski and Snowboard
- Gala Yuzawa (ガーラ湯沢), tel. 025-785-6543, . Gala Yuwaza is a ski resort with 15 runs and nine lifts, but Gala's main attraction is convenience. Gala Yuwaza is also a Shinkansen stop 1 hour 35 minutes from Tokyo. In the station, you can buy a lift ticket and rent ski equipment. From there, take a gondola ride up to the ski area. Gala Yuwaza has a respectable dining area and a spa (Onsen & unisex swimming pool, so take your bathing suit) for soaking after skiing. One-day lift ticket, ¥4300 adults/¥2100 children; one-day rental of skis, poles and boots, ¥4800 adults/¥1500 children.
JR East actively promotes Gala Yuzawa: The Gala One-Day Ticket includes a round-trip on the bullet train between Tokyo and Gala Yuzawa, round-trip lift ticket and a 20% discount off of ski equipment rentals. This ticket permits departure from/return to any JR station within the 23 wards of Tokyo, connecting to the bullet train enroute. Adults ¥11900/Child ¥6500 for ordinary class travel on weekdays; the price is higher on weekends and during the New Year's Holiday, and lower during the off-peak. Foreigners who purchase this ticket will receive gifts at the Gala Yuzawa resort as part of a tourism promotion campaign.
Holders of the JR East Rail Pass can purchase a special Snow Play Set Ticket for ¥1000, which includes a round-trip lift ticket, and rental of a cap, gloves, boots and a sled for one day. The trip on the bullet train is, of course, fully covered by the rail pass.
- Naeba Ski Resort (苗場スキー場), Mikuni Yuzawa-machi Minamiuonuma-gun Niigata, ☎ +81 (0)25-789-2211, .
- Ishiuchi is a ski resort area adjacent to Echigo-Yuzawa, easily accessible by Shinkansen (Bullet Train) from Tokyo.
- Sake Museum Ponshu-kan, (Inside Echigo-Yuzawa station). Ponshu-kan, enjoy different varieties of sake tasting. In the storeroom more than 100 varieties of sake are on display at a temperature of 15 degrees. You can also take a dip in a bath of sake next-door
- There is a great food court at the base station of the central ski resort. Lunch at Yuzawa Gogen is one of the good choice. Taking the Ropeway at Yen 1200.
Japan's only fully foreign owned and operated Austrian-style ski lodge, STI Ski Lodge in Isiuchi
- Yuzawa Town Tourist Association, Kandatsu 300,Yuzawa Town,Niigata,Japan, ☎ +81-25-785-5505 ([email protected], fax: +81-25-785-5833), .