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Snow Country Trek

Duration

7 Days, 6 Nights

Physical Level

Start / Finish

Tokyo / Nagano

Technical Level

A snowshoe tour through Japan’s famed Snow Country.

Guided snowshoeing in Japan’s central Alps regionwhere pristine, powder snow is metres deep and the vistas vast; ethereal, secluded shrines; hardy and friendly locals; accommodation in homely inns, with top-class local cuisine and onsen hot spring baths.

January, February & March.

The Snow Country Trek tour is a fully guided snowshoeing tour suitable for anyone who is a reasonably strong, regular walker. In general, the route is gently undulating but also includes some steeper climbs. Please read more on Tour Levels here.

 

A 7 day, 6 night tour starting in Tokyo and finishing in Nagano. Tour accommodation is in hotels, Japanese inns and mountain cottages. The maximum group size for this tour is 12 persons. We have no minimum size. If we accept a booking we guarantee to run the tour.

 

The Snow Country Trek tour is a fully guided, snowshoeing tour in Japan’s snow country, a region that records each year some of the heaviest snow falls found anywhere on Earth. This tour provides an intimate experience of life in a winter wonderland that can only be accessed using snowshoes: we visit a spectacular shinto shrine complex; stay in charming farming villages located in deep valleys; and cross spectacular, remote winter landscapes where the only other footprints we see will almost certainly be left by the local wildlife. A highlight is a night walk through a beech forest.

 

North-westerly winds bring snow in abundance to the Sea of Japan coast. The 3,000 metre (9,842ft) plus range of high mountains, which form the Central Alps, generate the greatest winter precipitation on their northerly slopes and valleys: the Snow Country. Snow falls so deeply that the underlying natural landscape is completely transformed; forests take on an ethereal appearance; and houses literally disappear under the white blanket.

 

Mountains and the snow are the motifs for this region, where the locals have developed a unique way of life dictated by their environment. The scale of the mountains and the volume of snow are both sources of hard toil and munificence; both the mountains and the snow are barriers of immense scale but also sources of food, lumber and bountiful water that spills through the rice paddies from spring through to the autumn. The locals are a hardy people with a generosity and warmth of spirit that inspires. We find warm welcomes wherever we go and sumptuous meals with ingredients sourced from the surrounding region. Among the locals we meet on our travels includes a bear hunter. We find him in one of the remotest villages in Japan, where we join him for an intimate insight into a traditional way of life that has all but disappeared in Japan.

 

Our accommodation includes shinto pilgrims’ lodgings, wooden cottages buried in deep snow and Japanese inns. On most nights we have the added delight of onsen thermal hot spring baths.

 

Our walks each day are between 1 hour to 5 hours and are generally on the flat. Although tour participants do not need to be experienced winter walkers, snowshoeing does require a reasonably good level of fitness. Please note that how far we can walk and how much energy we expend depends greatly on snow conditions; fresh softer snow is more energy intensive to walk on than compacted, older snow.

 

Price: From JPY332,000 (JPY = Japanese Yen) per person. Single accommodation is available on a limited basis at JPY24,000. Please contact us for further details. Please use the currency converter on the right-hand side of this page to find the current rate in your local currency. See Booking Conditions.

 

What is included and not included? A fully guided tour including local travel from tour meeting point in Tokyo to finishing point in Nagano; accommodation for 6 nights; 6 breakfasts, 6 lunches and 6 evening meals; snowshoe rental; baggage transfers and entrance fees. Not included are flights and drinks with meals.

 
The itinerary for the Snow Country Trek tour is ground only, beginning in Tokyo and ending in Nagano. After receiving the booking and deposit we provide detailed instructions for travelling to the meeting point in Tokyo from Tokyo's Narita (NRT) and Haneda (HND) Airports and Osaka's Kansai (KIX) Airport. Onward travel at the end of the tour from Nagano to other areas of Japan can be made easily by train and bus.

 

Day 1 Tokyo - Nagano - Togakushi


The Walk Japan Tour Leader meets the tour group at 10:15am in Tokyo Station. From here we transfer by the super-fast Shinkansen Bullet train to Nagano. Our mid day meal is a bento lunch box, which we eat on the train. At Nagano a more sedate form of transport, a vehicle, takes us to our next destination, Togakushi. Togakushi is an ancient Shinto complex of five major shrines set on a 1,200m (3,937ft)-high mountain plateau. After arrival we start our first trek, a short warm-up and an introduction to snowshoeing techniques, that circuits through the grounds of the shrine.

 

Our accommodation tonight and for the following night is in a Nationally Registered Cultural Property, an impressive, thatched-roof building and one of the shrine’s pilgrim’s lodgings. The building is typical of the region’s traditional architecture, providing us with interesting and rustic but comfortable quarters. Everyone meets at 6:00pm in the lobby for a briefing and equipment check before enjoying the first of many a sumptuous meal, a fusion of local and modern Japanese cuisine, during the tour.

 

Accommodation: Pilgrims’ lodgings
Meals: Lunch & dinner provided.
Total walking: 1.5km (0.9 miles)

 

Day 2 Togakushi


After breakfast we set off again for a longer trek through the surrounding shrine complex. Most likely we will be the only people out on the pristine snow. The shrine has for centuries been a centre for esoteric Buddhism and yamabushi, mountain ascetics. Our trail takes us through impressive torii shrine gates, past giant cedar trees and through snow-silent forests to Lake Kagami-ike. The lake, though, is hidden under deep snow. Clear weather provides us with spectacular views to the Togakushi mountain range, which is worshipped by the locals as the source of life sustaining water. Lunch is a delightful local soba buckwheat restaurant run by a friendly husband and wife team.

 

We return via a major shrine building to our accommodation. We relax in a nearby onsen before enjoying dinner together.

 

Accommodation: Pilgrims’ lodging
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.
Total walking: 4.5km (2.8 miles)

 

Day 3 Togakushi - Nabekura


After breakfast we depart for Nabekura, where, after arrival, we set off on an exploratory trek of this hamlet in the company of a local resident, who describes the traditional way of life in the snow country. On this walk we use the traditional kanjiki snow shoes made from bamboo. Lunch en route is enjoyed around a fireplace in a 150-year old thatched roof house.

 

After saying farewell to our local guide and checking into our accommodation, we visit the nearby onsen. We also enjoy dinner here. Before turning in for the night, however, we set out for a short night hike. Whether moonlit or not the snow provides us with enough visibility to make our way through an almost ethereal landscape. The Walk Japan tour leader will provide some hot wine and drinking chocolate to fortify us. Our accommodation tonight is mountain cottages. Access paths hemmed by towering walls of snow lead to the cottages which themselves almost disappear into the white landscape.

 

Accommodation: Mountain cottages.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.
Total walking: 3km (1.9 miles)

 

Day 4 Nabekura – Nozawa Onsen


Breakfast in our accommodation before starting our trek up to Mt. Hanatate-yama (1,069m/3,507ft). Today is the only significant climb of the tour: depending on the snow conditions, a 2 to 3 hour ascent. On a clear day, our journey to the peak rewards us with spectacular 360-degree views across the winter scenery of the surrounding Nagano and Niigata Prefectures to the Sea of Japan coast and Sado Island.

 

We each take with us a traditional bamboo leaf bento box for lunch. Our picnic spot provides us with tremendous views below us down on the valley, from where we started our trek. Our return journey takes us through expansive fields; lush in summer with soba buckwheat, a staple of the area, but in winter a seemingly untouched, pristine snowy expanse.

 

A short taxi journey brings us to Nozawa Onsen, where we stay the night. Nozawa Onsen has been famous since the Edo Period (1603-1868) for the medicinal qualities of its onsen thermal hot springs. It is also famous for the quality of its powder snow and was one of the first places in Japan to introduce skiing. Many Japanese Winter Olympians including Gold Medal winners hail from Nozawa Onsen.

 

We spend some time exploring this delightful small onsen and ski resort village; walking quaint winding narrow streets surrounded by steam billowing from the many onsen thermal springs, some of the hottest found in Japan. Our accommodation for the night is one of the many delightful Japanese inns in the town.

 

Accommodation: Japanese inn.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.
Total walking: 5km (3.1 miles). Total ascent approx. 550m (1,804/ft).

 

Day 5 Nozawa Onsen – Akiyamago


Today we travel deeper into the snow country. After a relaxing morning we catch one of only a handful of local trains that run each day along the line that follows the course of the Chikuma river. A 7.85m (25ft 9in) pole in front of Morimiya-no-hara Station, where we finish our 45-minute train journey, marks the spot where the deepest snow ever in Japan was recorded. From here we travel through a long, narrow and deep valley dotted with hamlets to Koakasawa, a charming hamlet and one of the remoter settlements in the whole of Japan. Heavy snows of winter would frequently isolate Koakasawa, and if persistent enough, famines would set in amongst the inhabitants. Until the advent of modern rice growing techniques, the locals could only grow soba buckwheat and millet as staple crops using simple slash and burn farming methods.

 

We visit the house of one of the local characters of the hamlet, a bear hunter. While enjoying lunch at his home he describes to us the challenges of life in the area and hunting. After lunch, we join him on a snowshoe trek up to the partially frozen Oze-taki waterfalls. On the way, our companion describes the wildlife of the area, and how to track and hunt in the traditional fashion.

 

Our nearby accommodation for the night is a Japanese inn with onsen. Dinner includes homemade dishes made from local ingredients from the surrounding fields, mountains and rivers.

 

Accommodation: Japanese inn
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.
Total walking: 2km (1.2 miles)

 

Day 6 Akiyamago - Nagano


On a clear day, Mt. Torikabuto-yama (2,037m/6,683ft) provides a dramatic backdrop to our morning walk. Once again we are most likely to be the only trekkers in the area. There is, though, a good probability that we will see the tracks of the elusive kamoshika, Japanese native deer, and with luck, perhaps spy one or more of them. The duration and destination of our walk will depend on snow conditions and the weather.

 

Lunch and a dip in the onsen at our accommodation before leaving Akiyamago to catch a train back to Nagano and our hotel, which is adjacent to the station. Our final dinner together is at a lively izakaya restaurant, a popular destination for many Japanese. The large and varied menu is sure to cater to everyone's tastes.

 

Accommodation: Hotel.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.
Total walking: 3-4km (1.9-2.5 miles) distance according to snow and weather conditions.

 

Day 7 Nagano


After breakfast, we shed our snowshoes for a walk through town to Zenko-ji temple, which dates back to 7th Century making it one of the oldest in Japan. It is also one of the most popular and has been a major site of pilgrimage for since its founding. After our visit, we return to Nagano Station, where the tour finishes at approximately 11am. The Walk Japan tour leader will assist you in purchasing your train ticket, which are not included in the tour, to your next destination.

 

Accommodation: N/A.
Meals: Breakfast provided.
Total walking: 4km (2.5 miles)

 

Itinerary subject to change.

 

Please see Tour Dates for scheduled tours and their availability.

Please contact Walk Japan for more information and to book this tour.

Please visit the Custom Tours page to find out about arranging Walk Japan tours tailored to your specific requirements

Map image
The itinerary for the Snow Country Trek is ground only beginning in Tokyo and ending in Nagano.
The nearest airport to the meeting point of Tokyo Station is Tokyo’s Haneda or Narita International Airports, with access easily achievable from Nagoya’s Central Japan Airport, and Osaka’s Kansai International Airport.
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FROM TOKYO’S NARITA AIRPORT (NRT)
From Tokyo’s Narita International Airport Narita Express trains depart to Tokyo Station. The journey costs about JPY2,940 per person and takes approximately 50 minutes.
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FROM NAGOYA’S CENTRAL JAPAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (NGO)
From Nagoya’s Central Japan International Airport Meitetsu Line trains depart to Nagoya, where Shinkansen bullet trains then depart for Tokyo Station. The journey costs about JPY12,100 per person and takes approximately 2 hours 20 minutes.
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FROM OSAKA’S KANSAI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (KIX)
From Osaka’s Kansai International Airport Haruka Express trains depart to Kyoto Station, where Shinkansen bullet trains connect to Tokyo. The journey costs about JPY15,970 per person and takes approximately 3 hours 30 minutes.
Tour participants are advised not to book themselves out on an early morning flight at the end of the tour, as the journey from Nagano to the nearest international airport is approximately 2 hours.
After receiving the booking and deposit we will provide detailed instructions for travelling to the meeting point.
Please note that Walk Japan is unable to reserve train tickets, with these being easily purchased on the day or in advance after arrival in Japan.

Please contact us if you require further advice.

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