Yuzawa highlights

I’ve seen snow thrice in my life.

Once in 2009, up in the mountains of Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan. Another time in 2011 while in Arashiyama, Kyoto. And then in 2012 when I arrived at Prague’s airport.

But twice it was just fallen snow that had turned grey and black with dirt, and once it was fresh falling snow that was so light that I had to stare really hard to see them tiny flakes.

This time, however, I was adamant to see fresh falling snow that would stick to my hair, face and shoulders like annoying dandruff, and sink my feet into thick fallen snow.

Yuzawa was my answer.

The small town in Niigata Prefecture, about 80 minutes by train from Tokyo, is loved by ski enthusiasts in winter and early spring. Awesome Husband worked a two day stay in Yuzawa into our eight-day itinerary, determined to Titus and I see and frolick in snow for the first time in our lives.

And we did exactly that.

We stayed at the beautiful Shosenkaku Kagetsu ryokan. The lady general manager extended her warm, attentive hospitality as soon as we booked months ago. I had written in the remark column that we’d be travelling with a 15-month-old and asked if the ryokan was baby-friendly. Some ryokans aren’t, to preserve invaluable peace within the property.

She wrote the same evening to say “Shosenkaku Kagetsu welcomes babies and young children”. She went on to tell me that the ryokan offers child meals for dinner, but opined that it would be too much for my toddler. She recommended a bowl of udon soup instead, explaining that the noodles are commonly fed to toddlers by Japanese mummies.

I think that is just wonderful of her to be concerned about Titus’ well-being and to ensure he isn’t left out during our mealtimes.

Shosenkaku Kagetsu is as welcoming as its chief. Just a 10 minute stroll from Echigo-Yuzawa train station, the ryokan has a beautiful entrance leading to its inner hall where guests are received. One steps into a warm environment scented with incense, and walks down a path with a pond with koi on one side and a scenic, man-made waterfall on the other.

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As you are being checked in, you get served a nice hot cup of creamy matcha and a small dish of pretty Japanese rice flour cakes.

I love how Shosenkaku Kagetsu makes it easy for guests to head right out to snow-play by providing rental of basic ski-wear (boots and outer shells) and having them delivered right to you. Guests can also rent snowboards and skis, and collect them at GALA Yuzawa ski resort without having to join the usual queue. For those who plan on playing for more than a day, they can bring their gear back to the ryokan and store them in a designated gear room. That saves guests from having to return their gear at the ski resort and going through queues and rental procedures again the next day.

Since we arrived past 3pm and the ski resorts close around 5pm, we had little time to really play. Still, we dressed up and brought baby to Yuzawa Kogen, the nearest ski resort. There is a play area for young children at the foot of the snow slopes. Although it closes at 5pm, and it was 4.30pm by the time we got there, the young chaps manning the area kindly allowed us to go in for a peep – and for free too!

Perhaps Titus was sleepy, or he was still unused to being bundled up in a snowsuit and chunky show boots, that he was uncharacteristically grouchy. He wailed when we put him down on the snow. He wailed when we put him on a sleigh with Awesome Husband. He wailed when we put snow on his hands.

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In short, he was miserable.

So we gave up after a few minutes and walked back to the warmth of our ryokan and prepared for dinner.

Ooh, dinner was such a delight at Shosenkaku Kagetsu.

We made dinner reservations long before our arrival, and it turned out to be an exquisite 10-course keiseki adventure that begun with a sweet plum wine and ended with a beautifully plated dessert of airy matcha cake, a single sweet strawberry and a mochi on a bed of red bean paste.

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I particularly loved the cute hand-drawn map that indicated where the ingredients used in our dinner had come from. My admiration was more than skin-deep; I love restaurants that source locally where possible. Shosenkaku Kagetsu smartly celebrated Niigata’s local bounty, bringing together some of the Prefecture’s best or most loved rice grains, miso, meat and vegetables.

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When dinner was done, we took a short stroll uphill and caught a lively fireworks display in celebration of Equinox. How lucky we were!

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The three of us slept well, with Titus getting his own futon on which he flipped and flopped all over the entire night. LOL.

Awesome Husband left us the next morning for snowboarding lessons. Titus and I stayed in to just rest and relax. Well, it was mostly me resting and relaxing. Titus found the sliding doors most intriguing and spent all morning walking up and down the Japanese-style room and opening and closing the sliding doors. He was so amusing to watch.

He returned just around lunch time, and came back with cheap but tasty rice sets from the local convenience store. We ate and then headed altogether to GALA Yuzawa for some proper playtime with Titus.

This time, the little man was in a much better mood, chuckling excitedly when we arrived at the bustling ski centre.

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He found such joy sitting in the snow and insisted on feeling the snow with his bare fingers. Because he was still a tiny thing, there was little much he could do at the snow facility besides playing in the outdoor playground. Still, it seemed good enough for him.

As a bonus, it started snowing heavily while we were there. It was fascinating to see large beads of snow falling and landing on our eyelashes.

Well, it was fascinating until it was time to head home because Titus was getting sleepy but the queue to the ropeway back to ground level was so frightfully long that we ended up  waiting out in the open with a sleeping toddler in our arms and snow falling onto his face.

We took turns to carry him, and whoever was not carrying him had to shield him from the whipping winds (with our body) and falling snow (with our hands).

We ended up waiting for a full hour.

That night we had a hearty dinner of hotpot (the beef and oyster sukiyaki was amazing), grilled treats and lovely Niigata sake at Yuzawa Kamakura, a popular restaurant opposite the ryokan. It was a wonderful way to refuel and warm our bodies.

The next day, we bid goodbye to the snowy wonderland, bound for Nagoya city.

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