You know who I’m talking about… Yes, you! Now, how many of you have won something off Facebook eh? *crickets chirping* Yeah, I thought so….
I am a bit of a twitter addict. I tweet a few times a day, and I read my feed far more often than that. So, when Lauren and I were in Hakone, of course I was checking my feed on my iPhone. And I saw tweet from @jtbjapanican with details of a competition to win a trip to the snow. This competition was a first-in-wins kinda deal, so Lauren and I were quick smart to get down the hotel’s computer room to apply. And the next day, well, we were some of the happy winners!
The prize included bullet train tickets from Tokyo to Echigo Yuzawa, and one night’s accommodation at the Takahan Ryokan (Japanese Style Inn) including dinner and breakfast. Now I have been to Yuzawa before, and it really is a great place for Tokyoites to take a quick trip to the snow. It’s about 60 minutes from Tokyo by bullet train, but, the only problem I had was finding tour packages in English. It makes me really happy that JTB seems to be looking towards offering tour packages in English.
So, on a Sunday morning, we dragged our sleepy (and slightly hung-over) heads out of bed to catch the train. We arrived in Yuzawa shortly after 11am, and rang up Takahan to have their shuttle bus pick us up. Takahan, like most places in Yuzawa, was only about a 5 minute drive from the Station. Yuzawa Town is really easy to get around. It’s quite small, but well geared for skiers and boarders, with a free shuttle bus taking you to hotels and ski fields.
Since we were far to early to check in, we caught the free shuttle to Yuzawa Kogen to play in the snow. Unfortunately neither of us ski or board, but as we come from a place with no snow, it’s a bit of a novelty to play in it. We bought a pass that allowed us to ride the ropeway to the summit, and enter the play zones to do a bit of tubing and tobogganing. At the summit there is an Italian restaurant and food hall, along with all the ski slopes. We had a lovely lunch at the Italian place, before building a snow-kangaroo. After playing about a little more, it was time to head back to the ryokan.
Takahan Ryokan is actually a little famous, as it has a history of about 800 years, and a famous novel ‘Snow Country‘ was written there. There is also a natural hot spring and a small museum about the novel’s author in the building. Staying in a ryokan is quite an experience unto itself. After signing the register you are given a quick tour of the public areas before being taken to your room. Once you have settled in a little, an attendant comes and serves you tea before confirming what you are having for dinner. We were asked whether we liked natto, if we wanted our fish fried or salted, and if we prefered sake or beer.
After that we were able to relax for a little before heading down to the restaurant for dinner. A lot of ryokans will serve your dinner in your room, however as Takahan is quite large, dinner was served in private rooms in the restaurant. And dinner was quite lavish, with a selection of regional and seasonal foods. Here’s what we had-
Raw salmon with fresh asparagus, devils tongue, and wasabi
Tofu and mountain vegetable
Green tea tofu with fresh mountain vegetables and dipping sauce
Not quite sure if this was cold chicken or raw fatty tuna, served with greens
Sticky rice pudding with seafood
Crab nabe (steamboat or one pot)
Salted freshwater fish
There was also a small bowl of zarusoba (cold buckwheat noodles), pickles, warm sake, and a digestive drink which I haven’t shown. Overall, a really yummy dinner, of which the crab was my favourite. A small dessert with tea was also included, but it wasn’t anything special.
After dinner, once you return to your room the futons should be laid out. We sat and watched TV for a while, before I decided to see what the hot spring was like. Takahan’s hot spring is a clear sulphur type, which dries your skin out a little, but also makes you feel very very soft. In the lady’s bath there was a rotenburo (outside bath) that looked down at the Gala Yuzawa station. So I spent some time admiring the lights and watching the snow fall. Nothing beats sitting in a piping hot bath outside in the snow!
The next morning it was down to the dining hall for breakfast. Breakfast was a far more casual affair, with everyone dining together. It was also a very big! We had rice, miso soup, grilled salmon, natto, mushrooms, tofu, tea and orange juice. After that, it was time to check out. Unfortunately the weather had taken a turn for the worse, and it was snowing pretty heavily. So, we decided to go to a strawberry picking farm, which is open in all weather. I’m not a huge fan of strawberries, but these were really sweet and tasty.
It was still morning, and the weather had improved, so we decided to check out Gala Yuzawa, a ski resort where the bullet train stops right at the base. Gala is actually very foreigner friendly, and if I have the chance to learn to ski next season, this is where I’ll do it! We caught a gondola up, and up, and up to the summit where we had lunch looking down on Echigo Yuzawa. It was freezing cold, so we opted to stay inside and watch other crazy people skiing and boarding.
And then finally, it was time to head back to the station, buy a few souvenirs, and catch the train back to Tokyo.
I would like to send a big thanks to JAPANiCAN for such a great trip. Although nothing truly is for free, and we had to fill out a short survey, who wouldn’t mind that when you get train tickets and hotel accommodation at no cost. I would be glad to be a guinea pig for JTB any day!
And again, Lauren made a video, and you can check out her YouTube channel here!