Yup, Zao Onsen, along with being a famous onsen resort town, is famous for it’s skiing. The infrastructure to support skiing is vast, and looks like a skiers paradise. To Nicole’s chagrin, who actually knew about the skiing when we selected Zao Onsen as a stop on this trip, we were too early for the ski season. Looking through the information on various websites, I too ended up being disappointed. It would have been a fun, albeit stressful (Nicole has never skied before), experience and memory. But it wasn’t to be for this trip, we would have to come up with another idea for the day.
Episode 17.1: https://youtu.be/2RIlprJj_2Y
This experience at Zao Onsen highlights our view on trip preparation and planning. It’s a spectrum, on one end is a complete minute by minute itinerary, on the other end, a go in blind and see what we find approach. We generally fall somewhere in between, closer to the planned itinerary end of the spectrum. We have on occasion had detailed daily plans. But we tend to have lose ideas about a place, things we want to do and eat, and then decide on actual itinerary once we get there. Zao Onsen was much closer to the go and see what we find end of the spectrum. That usually happens because of time constraints leading up to the trip, it’s never our ideal situation. It definitely can lead to a rocky start to the visit, but we generally find something to do and have a good experience.
Zao Onsen was no different. We had a bit of a rocky start, as you witnessed in episode 16. But we did some research, and had some ideas for our only full day in this little town.
We started off the day with a soak in the onsen and a filling Japanese breakfast. This was our last ryokan on the trip, and we wanted to make the most of it. We didn’t rush out, we lingered, soaking in the relaxing atmosphere of this old establishment.
When we did eventually venture out, we were headed for some hiking. There appeared to be some hiking trails which started close to our ryokan and along the way we would make a stop at a shrine. This was Sukawa Onsen Shrine, made up of one large shrine building, with a few smaller ones on it’s perimeter.
Right beside our ryokan was a set of stairs leading up to the shrine, under an elaborate orange torii type gate. This gate was featured prominently on many websites about Zao Onsen, and it was right beside our ryokan.
The main shrine building looked almost brand-new, made of maybe concrete. But the couple smaller shrines looked older and were characteristic wooden structures.
After a short wander through the complex we headed in the direction where we thought we would find the hiking trails. It was a little confusing, the map we had was not very detailed. We ended up in an open space, surrounded by various chairlifts and ropeways. Nicole found a paved path heading up the mountain and started to make the ascent.
I have to be honest, I wasn’t onboard with this idea at first. This didn’t seem like the hiking trail we were looking for, and I wondered if we were supposed to be doing what we were about to do. I begrudgingly followed.
As we continued our hike up it became apparent that what we were hiking up was essentially a ski run. We passed several chairlift stations which all seemed closed for business. We started to see snow making equipment, basically large pipes along the edge of the ski runs. We were likely hiking up a service road for the sky resort.
We continued up, by this point I was glad we were doing what we were doing. I was glad I followed Nicole. We were doing something that seemed unique and interesting. My confidence was also bolstered by the fact that a few vehicles had passed us and none of them stopped or seemed concerned that we were there.
We eventually made it to a large ropeway station, and it was open. There was a little sitting area with vending machines and a view into the machine room. We were having a lot of fun by now. We made good use of those vending machines, enjoying some beverages and even a hot cup of instant ramen.
Part 1 leaves us exploring this ropeway station, trying to decide whether to continue hiking up, or whether we should turn back as the weather seemed to be getting a little worse.
There were several locations featured in this episode
- Sukawa Onsen Shrine – A small shrine complex with a large shrine surrounded by a few smaller shrines.
- Uenodai Station – The start of our hike up. This is the ropeway station which sends cars up to the station we eventually explore and enjoy instant ramen from a vending machine.
- Statue – A statue near to top of our climb at a fork in the ski run.
- Central Kogen Station – The ropeway station with vending machines and a warm place to rest for a bit.
Thanks for watching/reading!