Iiyama, located in Nagano Prefecture on the main Japanese island of Honshu, is one of the country's best winter destinations. Iiyama winter activities include spellbinding snow sports, atmospheric stays in local pensions, and kicking back in bubbling hot springs. Luckily, most of the options provide roaring fun for all ages. Here are 4 family-friendly winter activities to do in Iiyama.
Iiyama is known as “Little Kyoto of Snow Country”, and it’s true that most travellers come for the excellent winter sports. Low-key ski resorts like Madarao are among Iiyama’s kid-friendly choices, where children’s ski lessons and dedicated play areas make travelling as a family a breeze. Many of the area’s homely pensions, meanwhile, provide atmospheric lodgings with plenty of room for everyone.
Iiyama City is easily accessible by Hokuriku Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo. Journey time is just 1.5hrs. While taxis and buses service all the main sights in the area, renting a family-size car will give you additional flexibility, especially if you’ve got kids in tow. The Iiyama Station Tourist Information Center can help you sort out accommodation, tours and equipment rental: they stock snow and hiking gear, bicycles for rent and a good range of camping equipment.
Of all the Iiyama winter activities on offer, hitting the ski slopes is a must. Madarao Mountain Ski Resort is the best choice for families, nestled in the mountains of northwest Nagano. It’s a relaxed place, with family facilities including childcare, children’s ski lessons and children’s play areas. There are beginner slopes where little ones can learn the sport, while more advanced skiers are well catered for with a series of off-piste options.
Families should bed down at the Madarao Kogen, which is an exceptionally convenient ski-in-and-out hotel located near the nursery slopes. There are Western-style rooms available should the children crave their home comforts, while private ski lessons can be arranged with English-speaking instructors. Indoor and outdoor hot springs (onsen) round off the experience.
A Japanese pension is a form of family-run accommodation offering all the personal charms of a homestay. Large private bedrooms usually fit 2–4 guests, while bathroom facilities are often shared. Breakfast and dinner are home-cooked delights, taken in a shared dining room. There are several pensions in the Madarao area, with easy access to the ski slopes. Good options include Elm Pension, an 8-roomed house where the husband speaks excellent English; Pension Pure, with gorgeous views out over the Nagano Valley; and Pension Maroudo, with a large and airy common room and dining area.
If you’re skiing at Togari Onsen Ski Resort, book a room at Refre Inn, a lovely pension that’s been run by the Fukuzawa family for sixty years. With fourteen rooms of various sizes (including 6-person rooms), there’s space for the whole family. Rooms are basic and Japanese-style, so will suit families with older children. The homemade cuisine makes use of local ingredients and produce from the family farm.
Every year, Iiyama labourers build Kamakura Village, a magical snow village near the mountains. Kamakura literally means “igloo”; the village features around two dozen ice houses, which serve up steaming pots of nabe (a warming pork and veg dish), washed down with local sake. While clear starry skies and firework displays provide electric night-time draws, there’s plenty of daytime entertainment for the little ones, too. With two sledding runs, a 6m-high snow mountain, an igloo to play in and even an inflatable kayak, Kamakura Village is a safe bet when it comes to Iiyama kid-friendly activities.
Togari Onsen Motoyashiki is much more than just a place to stay. Though the nineteen Japanese-style rooms – decked out with tatami mats and futons – are charming, it’s the food and the onsen (hot springs) that are among the stand-out features here. The hot spring is a real work of art, made from rock and channeling natural mineral-rich waters. There are two further public onsen just a short walk away, so there’s plenty of choice when it comes to relaxing after a day’s exertion on the slopes. The food is all super healthy, so you can relax in the knowledge that the children are getting their five a day!
When it comes to Iiyama winter activities, the options are endless. From kid-friendly ski runs to atmospheric accommodation and even a whimsical snow village, this is the place to come for a family holiday to remember. Dust off those passports and start dreaming.
Top image: Kamakura Village igloos © Shinshu-Iiyama Tourism Bureau
This article was created in partnership with the Shinshu-Iiyama Tourism Bureau.