Written by Jasmine (GREATERTOKYO_Explorer)
Great For Ski Beginners! Powder Snow And Onsen Day Trip In Minakami
Experience Japan's fine powder snow in Minakami this winter! Located in Gunma, Minakami is easily accessible from Tokyo via public transportation. Enjoy a day trip of skiing, snow amusement, and natural hot springs at a beginner-friendly resort near the metropolis.
A Day of Winter Sports and Play in Minakami
Minakami in Gunma Prefecture is an ideal day trip destination, boasting the great outdoors and easy access from Tokyo.
This high-elevation mountainside town is full of things that will please active travelers year-round. A region with some of the heaviest snowfall in Japan, Minakami receives significant white, powder snow great for skiing, snowboarding, and other outdoor activities.
This day trip includes fun in the snow at Fujiwara Ski Resort, a winter sports and amusement facility in Minakami, outdoor hot springs, and a restaurant serving homecooked-style meals. Read below to learn how to take advantage of winter in Japan in an exciting and relaxing way.
7:48 - 8:54 -- Depart from Tokyo Station via Shinkansen
Getting to Minakami from Tokyo requires around 2.5 hours total for a Shinkansen ride and using buses. You will first board the 7:48 departure Joetsu Shinkansen heading towards Niigata from JR Tokyo Station. A one-way ticket costs 5,820 yen. Get off at Jomo-Kogen Station after a little over an hour.
After you get off the Shinkansen, you will ride the bus. If you plan to enjoy two or three days in the area, purchase the Minakami Area Pass (2,100 yen) to save time and yen on bus rides. Get off the bullet train and exit through the ticket turnstile. There is a vendor selling this pass at the tourist information window right outside the turnstile.
9:05 - 9:28 -- Jomo-Kogen to Minakami Station via Bus
The next part of your journey is a bus ride from Jomo-Kogen Station to Minakami Station. With your Minakami Area Pass in hand, go out the east exit of the station. The bus stop leaves from right in front of the exit, at platform 1, at 9:05. Board from the back of the bus and ride for around 30 minutes until the last stop, which is Minakami Station. To get off, head to the driver's seat to show your pass and exit from the front door.
9:30 - 10:40 -- Browse Souvenirs and Enjoy Snacks in Minakami
One more bus is needed to reach the ski resort from Minakami Station. There is some time in between to relax around the station. There are a few souvenir shops across the street and a cafe where you can take a tea or coffee break.
I decided to enjoy a mid-morning snack of oyaki, a steamed dumpling, which is one of Minakami's specialties. Ours was filled with takana, or Japanese red mustard, which is a local specialty.
There are a few shops with sweets, like manju (red bean paste-filled dumplings), and Gunma souvenirs.
10:49 - 11:23 -- Ride the Bus to Fujiwara Ski Resort
The bus to Fujiwara Ski Resort leaves at 10:49 from platform 4. Board from the back and get off at Fujiwara Skijo Iriguchi (藤原スキー場入り口). The bus announcements are only in Japanese, so be sure to tell the driver where your stop is when you board.
When alighting, leave from the front door and show the driver your pass.
11:30 - 12:00 -- Prepare to Ski! Pick Your Course and Gear
Fujiwara Ski Resort is the ideal destination for ski and snowboard beginners, or those looking to enjoy winter sports leisurely.
None of the ski runs are longer than 600 meters (around 1,984 feet), making it easy to keep from getting tired. There are several courses geared towards beginner- and intermediate-level guests, and areas where children can play in the snow. The resort is also relatively lesser-known, so few people are on the slopes, especially on weekdays.
You can borrow everything you need at the rental shop (separate fee required), including skis, poles, and apparel. There is no need to bring extra gear or heavy clothing.
The ski resort is run by Hotel Sunbird, a long-standing lodging boasting eleven natural hot spring baths that you can rent out privately. Most of the baths are rotemburo, or outdoor baths, providing a gorgeous view of the snow outside. After a day on the slopes, feel free to warm up in one of the truly soothing onsen. If you'd like to stay for another day of skiing, this is an excellent choice of accommodation.
12:00 - 13:00 -- Enjoy a Warm Curry Lunch
For lunch, make your way to the ski resort restaurant, which serves many classic Japanese dishes, like ramen, rice bowls, and curry, to give skiers and snowboarders the energy needed for an active day. There is an English menu available so guests who do not speak Japanese can order easily. The restaurant is located on the second floor.
Pictured above is the dam curry (900 yen), a playful dish modeled after Yagisawa Dam in the Minakami area. It has a hearty, savory flavor and will leave you feeling energized for the rest of the day.
After lunch, rent your ski gear and change (please note apparel may be available in limited sizes). I recommend bringing warm leggings or tights to wear underneath the ski pants to protect yourself against the cold and snow.
13:30 - 15:30 -- Hit the Slopes with Your Coach! Ski Lessons
There are group lessons (3,500 yen for 2 hours) and individual lessons (17,000 yen for 2 hours) offered at the ski resort. Instructors who speak English are also available, so anyone can learn or brush up on their skills.
As I had not skied in several years, I was a little nervous about getting on the slopes again. However, my instructor was friendly and very helpful.
Beginners will start with the basics. First, learn how to balance and walk in skis, then, how to stop and how to fall. After you've mastered how to maneuver, it's time to ride up the ski lift! There are two beginner-friendly courses and a few beginner-intermediate courses on the slopes that provide the right amount of fun practice. None of the slopes I skied down were too steep.
There were few people when I visited on a weekday. I was able to practice easily and ski as much as I wanted. Of course, I fell a couple of times, but, luckily, was able to recover quickly.
You'll have a blast once you get used to skiing. Remember to take some photos, too. The view from the top of the slopes of the snow-capped Tanigawa mountains is breathtaking.
15:50 - Play in Kamakura Snow Huts or Pick up Souvenirs
During the snow season, visitors can see kamakura, or traditional igloo-like snow huts, depending on the amount of snowfall. You can also go inside them and even enjoy a meal, like traditional Japanese sukiyaki. Inquire at the front desk about this activity, ideal for groups of friends or families looking for another way to make the day memorable.
You can also head to the souvenir shop in the lobby after skiing. Look for this cute horse character, Gunma-chan, the mascot of Gunma Prefecture.
There are also food specialties, and body care items, like bouncy, homemade konyaku (potato starch) soap pictured above, available for purchase.
16:54 - 17:34 -- Leave the Ski Resort and Head Back to Tokyo
After a full day, it's time to head back. Return your gear and get on the 16:54 departure bus heading to Minakami Station. Board from the back and ride for around 20 minutes. Use your Minakami 3-Day Pass to board and leave the bus without paying any extra fares.
17:45 - 18:10 -- Bus from Minakami Station to Jomo-Kogen Station
After arriving at Minakami Station, take the 17:45 bus heading to Jomo-Kogen Station. You will arrive at the station at around 18:10. From here, I took the Shinkansen back to Tokyo. Please note that your legs, back, and arms may be sore and tired the next day, so relax on the ride back and get a good night's rest!
For those wanting to stay in Minakami, spending the night at Hotel Sunbird is a great option. In addition to the private rentable rotemburo and in-hotel onsen, Takaragawa Onsen is close by, known for having some of Japan's best outdoor hot springs. The hotel offers a free shuttle service to this hot spring resort area (guests interested should inquire at the front desk).
If you can't make it to Minakami during the winter, the green season in spring and summer is another ideal time to visit. The region transforms into a paradise for outdoor activities like rafting, canyoning, canoeing, and hiking.
For more information on places to visit and things to do in Minakami, please refer to the official Minakami Tourism Association website: http://enjoy-minakami.com/en.
JR Tokyo Station → JR Jomo-Kogen Station → JR Minakami Station → Fujiwara Ski Resort → JR Minakami Station→ JR Jomo-Kogen Station → JR Tokyo Station
Transportation: 11,840 yen for train, 2,100 yen for bus
Ski Lift, Gear, and Clothes: 6,500 yen for lift and ski set, 2,500 yen for clothing
Private Ski Lesson: 17,000 yen
Meal and Snacks: 1,500 yen
The writer visited these facilities on January 23, 2020.
Supported by Minakami Tourism Association