Skiing and snowboarding in Tohoku
|Tohoku region of north Japan
Tohoku is the northern part of the main island of Honshu and has a number of resort regions that offer great snow conditions. Tohoku basically stretches from Fukushima prefecture and yamagata prefecture all the way up to the northern tip of aomori prefecture. The main snow regions here include Hakkoda in aomori; resorts close to Morioka City, including Shizukuishi, Appi Kogen and Hachimantai; the area around Zao Onsen in yamagata; and the Bandai town and Inawashiro town regions of Fukushima.
Although the Tohoku area is often maybe too often thought of as being too far from Tokyo to be convenient, the Shinkansen trains and expressways make it a good alternative, especially for those interested in better snow conditions and less crowds. There are some excellent places to see in Tohoku and the region is worth exploring.
The ski lifts at Zao Onsen have been running since the 1920’s, making it one of Japan’s oldest resort areas. Unlike some of the built-up newer ski areas around the country, Zao is refreshingly devoid of the modern hotels and has a much warmer old-style feel to it not unlike Nozawa Onsen in Nagano prefecture. Home to the famous ‘Ice Monsters’ (created from frost and snow built-up on the sturdy evergreens around the mountain), Zao has a good variety of courses to choose from – it can get extremely cold in mid season. The village has some great onsen, but don’t go expecting much nightlife.
For those really looking to get away from the crowds, Tazawako in Akita prefecture is a good place to check out. Hardly ever crowded, this picturesque ski resort area is located above the deepest lake in Japan.
Appi Kogen in Iwate prefecture a testament to the lavish spending of the bubble era. It is one of the newer resorts in Japan and has modern facilities, few lift lines and a lot of territory to ski or snowboard.
Of the less well known areas in Tohoku, two are standouts. Onikoube in Miyagi prefecture is another product of the bubble era. Purpose built by Mitsubishi, the main hotel is ski-in ski-out. The lower slopes are extensive and well serviced by lifts. The upper slopes comprise a ridge and powder bowl, the two being connected by an ungroomed steep section, with extensive tree runs. Kurobushi Kogen Snow Park Jangle Jungle in Yamagata prefecture is geared towards boarders, and draws from all over Tohoku. The terrain is not particularly challenging, but if you want jumps, humps, bumps, rails and a half pipe, it is worth a visit.
Fukushima prefecture, at the southern end of Tohoku, has a large cluster of resorts in and around the town of Inawashiro, including the oldest operating ski area in Japan, Numajiri. Several ski areas face Lake Inawashiro, including Inawashiro, Grand Sunpia Inawashiro Resort, and Alts Bandai, all on the flanks of Mt. Bandai. Resorts to the north of Mt. Bandai typically have better snow conditions and have much longer seasons than those facing the lake, with Urabandai Nekoma and Grandeco Snow Resort usually operating until Golden Week in early May. There is also a scattering of resorts in the southern part of the prefecture.
Of course, the Tohoku region of northern Japan is still recovering from the unfortunate events of 11th March 2011 - and of course we wish them well. More on that here.