Skiing Minakami's NORN

Photo: Takatoshi Kimura

Skiing Minakami's NORN

Tony Everitt

Leave Tokyo after breakfast and be skiing at 10 am. Perhaps the only place in Japan where this is possible is Minakami.

Situated in the northern part of Gunma prefecture, Minakami gets more snow than any other part of Kanto, the large plain which includes Tokyo city. Take the Niigata bound bullet train (Joetsu Line) from either Tokyo or Ueno stations. About 60 minutes ride brings you to Jomo Kogen station, in Minakami. Not all the Niigata bound bullet trains stop at Minakami, so check carefully before you board. There is a train (called MAX Toki) leaving Tokyo station daily around 8 am (check Japan Rail schedule for exact departure time prior to your trip) which is ideal for an early start on the slopes. The return bullet train trip costs about 10,000 yen (about US$90 at JPY/USD of 112 at the time of writing) for free seating (the train is seldom full, except in peak Japanese holidays). Some of the bullet trains are double-deckers. Get a seat on the top level left side (leaving Tokyo) and you can catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji in the distance on a clear day.

MAX Toki

View of Mt. Fuji.

Minakami has several good skifields. NORN is perhaps the most accessible. There is a free shuttle bus to NORN from Jomo Kogen station, although be sure to book a seat in advance on the skifield’s website. If you catch the approx. 8 am departure MAX Toki from Tokyo (check JR schedule for exact departure time) you can connect to a complimentary shuttle departing Jomo Kogen station at 9.40 which will have you on the slopes at about 10 am. Shuttles will return you to Jomo Kogen station leaving NORN around 4.30~5.30 pm. NORN offers full ski rental. About half of the runs are intermediate level, 20% advanced and 30% beginner. Terrain is relatively sheltered from the wind, allowing stable chairlift operation. NORN is fitted with 50 snow guns, so in seasons where the natural stuff is late, skiing can still get underway. Night skiing is available on Fridays and Saturdays. Other ski fields at Minakami include Tenjin, Okutane, O-Ana, and Minakami Kogen.

Skiing course.

Snow park for kids.

Minakami is also Japan’s adventure tourism capital. Take a day’s break from skiing and check out the bungy jump, canyoning, rafting, etc.

Let Canyons slide you down this waterfall.

Minakami offers a host of quaint Japanese-style inns (ryokans), most with their own natural hot spring (onsen) – perfect thing for relaxing the weary bones after a day on the slopes. Ryokan bedrooms are usually quite traditional and you sleep on a futon on a tatami mat floor. Very good for the back, and after a sumptuous traditional Japanese dinner (included in the ryokan rate), a little draft beer, and a soak in the onsen, a great night’s sleep awaits you, dreaming of even faster runs tomorrow.

To highlight just a few of the ryokans in Minakami, Tatsumikan is conveniently located on the banks of the Tone River, about 15 minutes ride by public bus from Jomo Kogen station (although there are only a limited number of buses per day), or the ryokan offers a transfer. If sleeping in a futon on the floor is not your thing, they also have some traditional Japanese tatami rooms but with western-style super-king beds which are very comfortable. Hoshi Onsen is a little farther away, but is a classic Meiji Period (latter 19th century) building with plenty of character and beautiful surrounding forest. Takaragawa Spa is 50 minutes from Jomo Kogen station by shuttles departing daily at 1 pm and 3 pm.

View of Tone River from Tatsumikan room.

For more information you can click, here. So come on, snow’s up, let’s get up to Minakami and head down those slopes!