Often referred to as the quintessential Japanese ski town, Nozawa Onsen (野沢温泉村 Nozawa-Onsen-mura) is located in northern Nagano Prefecture about an hour drive or train ride from Nagano City.
This charming hot spring village is located at the foot of Mt. Kenashi and home to nearly 5,000 residents. Nozawa Onsen is the only place in Japan that has “onsen” in its official name. Legend has it the first hot spring was discovered by a hunter who was led there by an injured bear. It’s been a favorite hot spring destination since the Edo Period, but more recently has become even more famous as a world-class ski resort. In 1998 the village hosted the biathlon events for the Nagano Olympics and 16 villagers have represented Japan in the Olympics since 1955.
The Nozawa Onsen Ski Museum offers fascinating multi-lingual exhibits that explore the history of skiing in Japan, from the woven straw snow boots and wooden planks of the 19th century through the 1972 Sapporo and 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. Highly recommended to get a feel for the history and passion the village has for winter sports.
Be sure to spend some time strolling the streets of the village. Whether it’s your first time to Nozawa Onsen or you return every year, you are bound to discover a new street, shop or hot spring. There are 13 free hot springs dotted around the village as well as free footbaths. Many hotels and Ryokan allow visitors to pay to use their baths at certain times of the day.