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Learn to Ski in Japan, or Just Play in the Snow, at Shiga Kogen

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Shiga Kogen Ski Resort in Nagano, Japan is a favorite among Japanese ski lovers, but you don’t need to be a pro to enjoy the fluffy Japan Powder snow and beautiful mountains!

The Charms of Skiing in Shiga Kogen Ski Resort (志賀高原スキー場), Inside a National Park

Topping out at elevations over 2,000 meters (over 7,000 ft), Shiga Kogen (also known as the Shiga Highlands) is a beautiful, mountainous region in the middle of Joshin'etsu-kogen National Park. Among the mountains known as the Japanese Alps, evergreen trees and magnificent blankets of white, fluffy snow mean the view is always fabulous in every direction, all year-round. But of course that snow isn't just beautiful. The high snow quality at Shiga Kogen is legendary, and the high altitude means heavy snowfall late into spring, making for a surprisingly long ski season. It's no wonder people call Shiga Kogen Ski Resort one of the best-kept secrets of Japan's ski lovers.



Not only is Shiga Kogen arguably home to Japan's highest official ski run (on Yokoteyama mountain), but it's also quite possibly the largest winter ski resort in Japan. The total area of 400 hectares includes 18 different ski areas, perfect for everyone from total novices to old pros. No matter their starting level, every skier is likely to find trails they love, and some good challenges. And to keep the large number of ski areas from getting inconvenient, Shiga Kogen has a free shuttle bus to get visitors from place to place, and ski lift passes that grant automatic access to every lift and cable car. Plus, take another bus just a short drive away from the ski area, and travelers will be delighted to find Jigokudani Monkey Park, home to Japan's famous onsen (温泉, hot spring) loving snow monkeys!



Also, did you know that Shiga Kogen was the location of some of the ski events during the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano! The ski resort has a long history of attracting winter-lovers, including both the best skiers in the world, and total beginners just excited to learn!

How to Get the Most Out of Shiga Kogen

① Ski Lessons & Beginner Skiing

Never seen a pair of skis in person before? No worries! We recommend you start your trip with a basic beginner ski lesson! At Shiga Kogen you'll find lessons of varying levels taught by profession teachers – everyone from little kids and families to skiers with experience can learn a thing or two. And the lessons are available in a variety of languages.



As a bunch of total rookies, the Japankuru ski team took a lesson in English, a 2-hour class for up to 9 people (5,700 yen in March 2020). None of us had any real experience skiing, and some of our team were putting on skis for the first time ever. Fortunately, though, we were all able to learn a little bit of basic technique, including how to slow down and (most importantly) stop! While the learning process included a few falls directly into the snow from those of us with less-than-perfect balance, the fresh new snowfall from the night before was unbelievably fluffy and soft, making the experience pretty pain-free! We were able to topple over without worrying too much. And once we had the basics down, our teacher took us up the mountain to coach us along an easier ski trail! By the end of the lesson, we all felt like we started to understand the joy of skiing.



② Snowshoes & Tea Time with a Mountaintop View

Skiing isn't the only way to have fun at Shiga Kogen! During the winter there are a variety of snowshoe hiking trips available throughout the many mountains of Shiga Kogen, and trips ranging from three to five hours. Sign up for a snow hike and you'll be provided with snowshoes and poles, a little like ski poles, and a professional guide who will take you up the mountain. Not only can the guide point out tons of beautiful easy-to-miss parts of the mountainside hikes, but they also bring hot tea to enjoy when you reach the peak of your trip. (Some hikes even include lunch, too.) If you're interested, you can check out what tours they offer and make reservations here.



The Japankuru team embarked on a trip up Mount Higashidate (東館山), looking up towards the Terakoya ski area, which started with a trip up a cable car they told us was almost 100 years old! Even before the hike began, we had an amazing view of the surrounding mountains, as the cable car speedily took us up to 2000 meters above sea level. If you follow our lead embarking on the same snowshow hike, and you want to see one of the ski trails actually used during the 1998 Nagano Olympics, you can get a good view from the terrace on the second floor of the cable car building.



Once we started the hike, not only did we get to easily climb through snow that otherwise would have come up to our thighs, but our guide told us tons of interesting things about the local wildlife, plants we could see along the path, and cool facts about the snow. At the high point of our snowshow walk we took a break, right there in the snow, sipping hot tea and nibbling on cookies before making snow angels – all while surrounded by majestic mountain views. 



③ Kids’ Parks, Where Snow Lovers of All Ages Can Play

These little areas dotted around the ski resort might be called kids' parks, but if you love to play in the snow, it doesn't matter how old you are – you should definitely stop by! They've got tools of all kinds to make playing in the snow just about as fun as it can be, and if you grew up in an area with snow days, you'll quickly be transported back to your childhood. Hop on a sled and slide down the hill, or try tubes and snow bikes! Start a little snowball fight! Skiing at Shiga Kogen is amazing, but there are lots of ways to enjoy the snow while you're there.



Each of the several kids' areas is a little bit different, but the Japankuru team visited one at Ichinose Diamond Ski Resort, where we could watch people skiing and snowboarding down the mountain, while we played to our hearts' content.



④ Onsen (Hot Springs) in the Snow

If your muscles are tired from a few days of skiing and climbing through huge piles of snow, then a visit to a local onsen (温泉, hot spring) is just the thing! Lots of travelers might adopt the Japanese tradition of bathing right before bed, but with this particular bath, you don't want to miss the daytime scenery!



Kumanoyu Onsen (熊の湯) has a history of 170 years, and is known for its distinct emerald-colored water, which is beautiful both indoors and out. But the ideal experience is to visit the outdoor bath, where snow piles on the rocks and boulders surrounding the steaming pool of greenish waters. Visitors who aren't quite used to the tradition of bathing naked with others will also be relieved – Kumanoyu offers little dress-style towels that you're free to wear into the water. Enjoy the spectacular bathtime view without a speck of anxiety.



Kumanoyu Onsen (熊の湯温泉)
Kumanoyu Hotel, 7148 Hirao, Yamanochi, Shimotakai District, Nagano​
Official Website (en)

What’s the Plan After Sundown?

Night Skiing

Of course, you don't have to stop skiing just because the sun goes down! Quite a few slopes stay open at night, well lit for safety, but dark enough for a touch of romance. It's a totally different atmosphere to ski at night, gliding through the snowy shadows.



Grab a Beer at Teppa Room

Drawing up a must-do checklist for when you visit Shiga Kogen? Don't forget to add Shiga Kogen Beer! (That's right, there's a local beer, too!) In the Ichinose area you'll find Teppa Room, a pub with just about every variety of Shiga Kogen beer on tap, giving brew lovers a few different options.



The Japankuru team also pigged out, and really enjoyed all the food we tried there! Deliciously crunchy fried Japanese karaage chicken, cucumbers and miso dip, salads, pasta, onion rings, smoked duck!? There were too many good options.

Teppa Room
1163 Hirao, Yamanouchi-machi, Shimotakai-gun
Official Website (jp)Official Facebook

Stargazing in the Mountains

So high up and close to the sky, surrounded by dark, quiet mountains, it's no surprise the night sky at Shiga Kogen is full of beautiful stars. The photo below shows only a fraction of the brilliance we saw with our eyes, as we stood picking out our favorite constellations, and some new ones.



Let’s Get Practical – Planning a Trip to Shiga Kogen

Gear – Renting Skis & Everything Else You Need

Unless you're bringing your own gear with you, you'll need to outfit yourself with everything you need before you ever hop on a ski lift! Fortunately this is pretty easy in Shiga Kogen, with everywhere from hotels, to ski schools, and of course ski rental stores offering equipment in all sizes. Some places even let you rent cameras like GoPros along with your more practical gear!



The Japankuru team picked up everything we needed from a store called SNOWCAN in the Ichinose area. We rented ski boots and skis, snowboard boots and snowboards, poles, snow pants, heavy jackets, goggles, even hats!



SNOWCAN Ichinose Diamond Shop
Hirao, Yamanochi, Shimotakai District, Nagano
Official Website (jp)

Food – Brick Oven Pizza & High-End Hotel Food

While we already mentioned the great pub cuisine of Teppa Room, we've got some other suggestions for lunch! One of those is the brick oven pizza baked up at Shiga Riverside Hotel, which include both classics like margherita pizza, and Nagano specialties like a dessert pizza complete with local Nagano apples.



Shiga Riverside Hotel
Shiga Kogen Kumanoyu Hotaru Onsen, Hirao, Yamanochi, Shimotakai District, Nagano
Official Website (jp) / Pizza

For a more upscale lunch, in an elegant Alpine resort-style hotel, we recommend one of the restaurants in the Grand Phenix Hotel. The beef tongue stew and steak with black pepper sauce are particular favorites, and a look out the window while you eat will grant you a view of the mountains.



Hotel Grand Phenix
Okushiga-Kogen, Yamanouchi-machi, Shimotakai, Nagano
Official Website (en)

Accommodations – 16 Different Hotel Options

Alongside 18 different ski areas, the size of the Shiga Kogen Ski Resort area means there's enough room for 16 hotels, giving travelers lots of options! And there are lots of deciding factors for where you might want to stay. Some hotels are particularly famous for their amazing onsen, like the Kumanoyu Hotel where we found Kumanoyu Onsen, drawing hot springs lovers. Location can also be a deciding factor; stay in the Ichinose area and you can drink long past sunset at the Teppa Room without having to worry about the last shuttle bus. Grand Phenix Hotel is known for lovely European-style architecture and delicious European food, but hotels like Shiga Sunvalley Hotel have Japanese-style suites with tatami floors, and traditional multi-course meals of Japanese cuisine.



Hotel Shiga Sunvalley
7148 Hirao, Yamanochi, Shimotakai District, Nagano
Official Website (jp)

Transportation – Shuttle Buses & Ski Passes

While you could certainly rent a car to get to Shiga Kogen and move around the area, you'll find that it's totally unnecessary when you get there, so why risk driving yourself in heavy snow? You might not expect it in the middle of the mountains, but Shiga Kogen has a functional shuttle bus system, which is free to use between 8:30 and 17:00 every day. Then, with just one ski pass card, you can touch it to a reader on any of the cable cars or ski lifts, and waltz on through! You'll be getting from your hotel to the mountaintop in no time.



Access – Getting to Shiga Kogen in the First Place

Thanks to a direct bus from Nagano station, access to Shiga Kogen is pretty simple.
 

Tokyo Station

Hokuriku Shinkansen (Bullet Train)

Nagano Station

⇒  Direct Bus (West Exit Bus Stop #23)

Shiga Kogen Ski Resort!

 

Travelers starting in Tokyo, Nagoya, or Kanazawa have the easiest time getting to Shiga Kogen. One bullet train ride, one bus, and you're there. Travelers coming from places farther west don't have it too bad, though. From Osaka or Kyoto Stations, it just takes one extra trip on the Tokaido Shinkansen, transferring from either Nagoya Station or Tokyo. 



Before Heading Home, Visit the Onsen Monkeys Nearby

Jigokudani Yaen-Koen Monkey Park

Whether you've been doing some research on Shiga Kogen, or you just happened to notice one of the other major stops on the bus route to the ski resort, you've probably seen something or other about hot spring monkeys. That's right, there are monkeys living around Shiga Kogen, and they love natural hot spring baths! Just a short bus ride away is the Jigokudani Yaen-Koen Monkey Park, where the snow monkeys live, and a lovely hike through the woods will bring you to the steaming spring water pools where they soak away and groom their fur. Don't miss the babies!

Jigokudani Yaen-Koen Monkey Park (地獄谷野猿公苑)
6845 Yamanouchi-machi, Shimotakai-gun, Nagano
Official Website (en)



So, What Does Your Shiga Kogen Itinerary Look Like?

Which part of Shiga Kogen are you most excited about? The spectacular mountain views and snow-covered evergreens of Joshin'etsu-kogen National Park? The fluffy, dry Japan Powder snow that's so soft you'll want to dive right in? The 18 different ski areas and 16 different hotels? Let us know what you're looking forward to and what your plans look like, or shoot us a question if you have any, on the Japankuru twitter, instagram, and facebook!



Details

NAME:Shiga Kogen Ski Resort (志賀高原スキー場)

MAP

ACCESS:From Nagano Station, take the express bus to Shiga Kogen.

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    • TOCHIGI

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      Tochigi Prefecture's capital is Utsunomiya, known for famous gyoza, and just an hour from Tokyo. The prefecture is full of nature-related sightseeing opportunities year-round, from the blooming of spring flowers to color fall foliage. Tochigi also has plenty of extremely well-known sightseeing destinations, like World Heritage Site Nikko Toshogu Shrine, Lake Chuzenji, and Ashikaga Flower Park―famous for expansive wisteria trellises. In recent years the mountain resort town of Nasu has also become a popular excursion, thanks in part to the local imperial villa. Tochigi is a beautiful place to enjoy the world around you.

    • Tokyo (東京) is Japan's busy capital, and the most populous metropolitan area in the world. While the city as a whole is quite modern, crowded with skyscrapers and bustling crowds, Tokyo also holds onto its traditional side in places like the Imperial Palace and Asakusa neighborhood. It's one of the world's top cities when it comes to culture, the arts, fashion, games, high-tech industries, transportation, and more.

    • The Chubu Region (中部地方) is located right in the center of Japan's main island, and consists of 9 prefectures: Aichi, Fukui, Gifu, Ishikawa, Nagano, Niigata, Shizuoka, Toyama, and Yamanashi. It's primarily famous for its mountains, as the region contains both Mt. Fuji and the Japanese Alps. The ski resorts in Niigata and Nagano also draw visitors from around the world, making it a popular winter destination.

    • Nagano Prefecture's popularity starts with a wealth of historic treasures, like Matsumoto Castle, Zenkoji Temple, and Togakushi Shrine, but the highlight might just be the prefecture's natural vistas surrounded by the "Japanese Alps." Nagano's fruit is famous, and there are plenty of places to pick it fresh, and the area is full of hot springs, including Jigokudani Monkey Park―where monkeys take baths as well! Thanks to the construction of the Hokuriku shinkansen line, Nagano is easily reachable from the Tokyo area, adding it to plenty of travel itineraries. And after the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, ski resorts like Hakuba and Shiga Kogen are known around the world.

    • Aichi Prefecture sits in the center of the Japanese islands, and its capital city, Nagoya, is a center of politics, commerce, and culture. While Aichi is home to major industry, and is even the birthplace of Toyota cars, it's proximity to the sea and the mountains means it's also a place with beautiful natural scenery, like Saku Island, Koijigahama Beach, Mt. Horaiji. Often used a stage for major battles in Japanese history, Sengoku era commanders like Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu left their own footprints on Aichi, and historic buildings like Nagoya Castle, Inuyama Castle, and those in Meiji Mura are still around to tell the tale.

    • NIIGATA

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      Niigata is a prefecture on Japan's main island of Honshu, situated right on the coast of the Sea of Japan, and abundant with the gifts of nature. It's known for popular ski resorts such as Echigo-Yuzawa, Japanese national parks, and natural hot spring baths, plus local products like fresh seafood, rice, and sake. Visitors often spend time in the prefectural capital, Niigata City, or venture across the water to Sado Island.

    • SHIZUOKA

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      Shizuoka Prefecture is sandwiched between eastern and western Japan, giving the prefecture easy access to both Tokyo and Osaka. Not only is it known for beautiful natural attractions, with everything from Mount Fuji to Suruga Bay, Lake Hamanako, and Sumata Pass―Shizuoka's Izu Peninsula is known as a go-to spot for hot springs lovers, with famous onsen like Atami, Ito, Shimoda, Shuzenji, and Dogashima. Shizuoka attracts all kinds of travelers thanks to historic connections with the Tokugawa clan, the Oigawa Railway, fresh eel cuisine, Hamamatsu gyoza, and famously high-quality green tea.

    • Kansai (関西) is a region that includes Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, and Shiga Prefectures. Kansai contained Japan's ancient capital for hundreds of years, and it's making a comeback as one of the most popular parts of Japan. Kyoto's temples and shrines, Osaka Castle, and the deer of Nara are all considered must-sees. Plus, the people of Kansai are especially friendly, making it a fun place to hang out.

    • Kyoto flourished as the capital of Japan between the years 794 and 1100, becoming a center for poilitics and culture, and to this day it's a great place for close encounters with Japanese history. The cobbled streets of Gion, the atmospheric road to Kiyomizudera Temple, Kinkakuji's golden walls and countless historic attractions, even Arashiyama's Togetsukyo Bridge―Kyoto is a place of many attractions. With new charms to experience throughout the seasons, travelers can't stop themselves from returning again and again.

    • Nara Prefecture's important history reaches back to 710, a time now called the Nara era, when it was once capital of Japan. Called "Heijo-kyo" during its time as a capital, it's said that nara was once the end of the silk road, leading it to flourish as a uniquely international region and produce important cultural properties of all kinds. To make the most of each season, travelers head to Nara Park, where the Nara deer who wander freely, or climb Mount Yoshino, a famous cherry blossom spot.

    • Osaka is known for friendly (and funny) people, but its history is nothing to laugh at, playing a major part in Toyotomi Hideyoshi's 16th century unification of Japan. Thanks to long years of economic activity, it's one of Japan's biggest cities, and Osaka's popular food culture earned it the nickname "The Kitchen of the Nation." To this day Osaka is the model of western Japan, and alongside historic structures like Osaka Castle, it also has major shopping malls like Umeda's Grand Front Osaka and Tennoji's Abeno Harukas. Osaka is a place to eat, eat, eat, with local specialties like takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and kushi-katsu, and for extra fun, it's home to Universal Studios Japan.

    • CHUGOKU

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      The Chugoku Region (中国地方) consists of five prefectures: Hiroshima, Okayama, Shimane, Tottori, and Yamaguchi. In Chugoku you’ll find the sand dunes of Tottori, and Hiroshima’s atomic bomb site, plus centers of ancient history like Grand Shrine of Izumo.

    • HIROSHIMA

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      Hiroshima Prefecture has everything, from world heritage sites to beautiful nature and delicious local cuisine, and it's either an hour and a half from Tokyo by plane, or four hours by train. Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island and the Atomic Bomb Dome, two Hiroshima UNESCO sites, are famous around the world, but in Japan it's also famous for food. Seafood from the Seto Inland Sea, especially oysters, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, and Setouchi lemons are all popular, and the natural scenery alone is worth seeing.

    • SHIKOKU

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      On the other side of the Seto Inland Sea opposite Japan’s main island, Shikoku (四国) is a region made up of four prefectures: Ehime, Kagawa, Kochi, and Tokushima. The area is famous for its udon (in Kagawa), and the beautiful Dogo Onsen hot springs (in Ehime).

    • Kagawa Prefecture is on the northern part of the island of Shikoku, facing Japan's main island and the Seto Inland Sea. It's known for being the smallest prefecture in Japan, by area, but at the same time Kagawa is called the "Udon Prefecture" thanks to its famous sanuki udon. Aside from Kotohiragu Shrine and Ritsurin Garden, the prefecture's small islands are popular, and Kagawa is full of unique destinations, like Angel Road. They say that if you lay eyes on Zenigata Sunae, a huge Kagawa sand painting, you'll never have money troubles ever again.

    • Located in the most southwestern part of Japan, Kyushu (九州) is an island of 7 prefectures: Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima. The island's unique culture has been influenced by Chinese and Dutch trade, along with missionaries coming in through Nagasaki's port. Modern-day travelers love the lush natural scenery and fresh food, plus the natural hot springs found all throughout the area (thanks to volcanic activity)!

    • FUKUOKA

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      Fukuoka Prefecture has the highest population on the southern island of Kyushu, with two major cities: Fukuoka and Kitakyushu. Thanks to growing transportation networks, Fukuoka is more accessible than ever, and so are the many local attractions. On top of historical spots like Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, travelers shouldn't miss Fukuoka's food scene, with motsu nabe (offal hotpot), mentaiko (spicy cod roe), and famous Hakata ramen―best eaten from a food stall in the Nakasu area of Hakata. Plus, it's full of all sorts of destinations for travelers, like trendy shopping centers, and the beautiful nature of Itoshima and Yanagawa.

    • KAGOSHIMA

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      Kagoshima Prefecture played a major role in Japan's modernization as a backdrop for famous historical figures like samurais Saigo Takamori and Okubo Toshimichi, who pushed Japan out of the Edo era and into the Meiji. Because of that, Sengan-en Garden is just one of many historical destinations, and when it comes to attractions Kagoshima has plenty: the active volcano of Sakurajima, popular hot springs Ibusuki Onsen and Kirishima Onsen, World Heritage Site Yakushima Island, even what Japan calls the "island closest to heaven," Amami Oshima. Kagoshima might be found on the very southernmost tip of the southern island of Kyushu, but there's plenty to see.

    • OKINAWA

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      The island chain of Okinawa (沖縄) makes up the southernmost tip of Japan, which is why it's also the most tropical area in the country. Thanks to a history of independence and totally distinct political and cultural events, Okinawa has a unique culture, and remnants of the Ryukyu Kingdom are still visible all over the islands. Food, language, traditional dress, it's all a little different! It's also said to be the birthplace of karate.

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