When the snow piles up and towers overhead, it’s time to break out the snowshoes and surfboards in Minamiaizu!
Aizu’s history, filled with samurai, castles, and political intrigue, is a defining part of the region’s reputation around Japan. But this part of Fukushima is no slouch when it comes to making the most of its rich natural landscapes, which not only provide the resources for tasty local cuisine and internationally popular sake breweries, but also make up gorgeous backdrops for any travelers inclined to get outside and enjoy Japan’s fresh island air. So the Japankuru team returned to the Aizu region this time for a wintertime getaway in three partsーAizuwakamatsu, Shimogo, and Minamiaizuーto spend time with the locals, go a little crazy in the deep, deep snow, and learn a thing or two about crafting while we were there.
Every year, Minamiaizu’s prodigious snowfall means that the flakes pile up high enough to tower above head-height, which is why it’s a popular place for skiing and winter sports in Japan. Within the city limits of Minamiaizu alone, there are four different ski resorts, and the surrounding towns have their own slopes as well. The thick blankets of snow in every direction make Minamiaizu a true winter wonderland, and Japan’s powder snow is known to be fluffy and soft, perfect for leaping right into.
Ready to jump right into that perfect untouched snow? Well, snowshoeing might just be the best way to get started! Guides in Minamiaizu can take you on trails through the snow, a little different for each group of hikers, personalized depending on how long you’re hoping to stay out in the snow, and how intense you want the experience to be. The handy snowshoes keep hikers from sinking too deep into the snow, piled deep below as you trek through the drifts into the beautiful scenery of Minamiaizu’s mountainside forests, and spot animal tracks as you go.
From the moment you arrive at the trail to strap on the snowshoes, all bundled up in borrowed coats and waterproof pants, the snow-laced trees on the mountainside already make a spectacular backdrop for a day outside!
Part of the fun of snowshoeing in Minamiaizu is leaping into deep drifts of snow along the path. Even on shorter hikes, there are a number of places where brave participants can jump down from high ledges along the trail, feeling the rush of cold air for just a moment before landing in the soft cushion of Japanese powder snow!
At the farthest point in the hike, everyone takes a little break in the middle of the forest. Sometimes there’s an igloo to huddle inside, but sometimes the group just makes the most of the borrowed waterproof snow pants and everyone plops down in the soft snow to enjoy hot coffee and tea, with perhaps a snack or two. There’s really nothing like the joy of a hot drink while surrounded by friendly faces and a beautiful Japanese forest painted winter white, before heading back home through the snow.
Feeling ready for a slightly wilder ride through the snow? Travelers to Minamiaizu aren’t limited to hiking―you can surf across the snow, too! This isn’t your standard snowboarding, although it is a similar concept. The sport of snow surfing was actually developed in Japan in the ’80s, and in recent years Minamiaizu locals have been crafting their own “snow surfboards” and surfing the slopes.
Unlike a snowboard, you don’t strap your feet onto a snow surfboard, meaning it’s a challenging sport. You’re not likely to slide smoothly down the mountain like a natural on your first try! But with Minamiaizu’s fluffy piles of snow, falling over is just as much fun.
After a few topples, you might just find yourself gliding down the slope! …Before the board slips out again from under your feet, and you land in a puff of white flakes. It’s a fun way to venture down the mountain, and one that will leave you feeling exhausted but content.
There are even workshops in Minamiaizu where you can dedicate a couple of days to making your own snow surfboard from scratch, and then testing it out on the slopes! Choose the perfect board shape for slicing through the snow, saw it out of wood, and finish it with a shineーthen break in your handiwork with a dash through the Minamiaizu snow!
Snowshoeing & Snow Surfing
*Specific location/scenery varies.
Miyanoshita-1110 Haryu, Minamiaizu, Minamiaizu District, Fukushima
Hoshippa-no-Ya Official Website (jp)
Daikura Ski Resort (だいくらスキー場)
Hirutakiyama-857-150 Haryu, Minamiaizu, Minamiaizu District, Fukushima
Daikura Ski Resort Official Website (jp)
All that woodworking caught your eye? Minamiaizu is also a great place to experience woodturning and even craft your own plate or bowl, all using Japan’s only water-powered lathe! The area is populated with artisan woodworkers, and it’s said that they’ve been practicing the craft of creating “kiji” (木地, wooden vessels) in this part of Japan for 300 years.
Workshop participants can learn from the masters while shaping a custom handmade dish―a perfect memento of a trip to Aizu!
In the winter you can even stick around to try a taste of local cooking with homemade suiton soup (すいとん) or shingoro rice balls (しんごろう), which sounds like a pretty good way to end a workshop to us!
Water-Powered Woodturning Workshop
856 Takenoko, Toaka, Shimogo, Minamiaizu, Fukushima
Aizu Info Page (jp)
Feep piles of fluffy snow, woodworking, and a history of artisan crafts: Minamiaizu offers a unique blend of experiences found nowhere else! If you’re looking to make the most out of a winter trip to Japan, don’t miss out on the snow-covered hikes, Japanese soup that will warm you from the inside out, and some unforgettable souvenirs. Head up to Minamiaizu! To read more on Japankuru’s trip through Aizu, check out how we spent our time in Aizuwakamatsu and Shimogo!
▶︎ Interested in making a reservation for one of these experiences? Look for them coming soon on Beauty of Japan.