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ENJOYING THE MOUNTAINS IN WINTER OF JAPAN WITHOUT SKIING OR SNOWBOARDING

When you think about spending times in the mountains of Japan a few things typically come to mind most typically skiing/snowboarding. Fans of these winter sports can enjoy deep powder for days across the mountains of Honshu and Hokkaido but there are so many more things to enjoy while traveling through the higher elevations of this beautiful country.


This past weekend I was able to do just that, a ski accident over the New Years Holiday forced me to sideline this past weekend from doing anything to physical.

So what to do? Take the entire family up for a fun weekend in the mountains of Gunma near Niigata of course. Due to a very fortunate scenario we were able to rent a place with right near Tamagawa-dake and within walking distance of numerious hot springs.


The train station we arrived at was so rural there was no one working there and we were the only people on the platform.

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Hot Springs or “onsens” in fact are a huge draw to the mountains for many in japan. And the more rural you get the better they seem to be. Not only because the onsens are often better but also because they much quieter and in some cases much more natural.

This one was a beautiful one next to a river side that my son and I enjoyed as it snowed and the wind blew right over our heads.


If you like just playing in the snow there is always that too, good news is the deep powder lets you build plenty of snow sculptures or even igloos. Or in our case an attempt at an igloo that failed well short.

In Akita Prefecture you can actually stay inside a “kamakura” a Japanese type igloo. They are pretty interesting.


I know this is a weather blog and I really like to concentrate on the snow and the geothermal goodness of the mountains but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the food in small town Japan.

Often in rural areas small town restaurants make the food from scratch with typically fresh ingredients. A small restaurant at the base of a tiny family resort “ooana” was one of these I tried on Sunday. For starters when ordering coffee and you hear the beans being crunched in the kitchen moments later you know its a good restaurant.


Did I mention that from time to time in rural Japan you can come across not only vending machines but also beer vending machines! What’s to stop kids from strolling up to these? Nothing really…


Lastly going for a stroll or a nice “Sampo” in the mountains of Japan is always a good time. For the average photographer small towns are full of fantastic photo opportunities. From river views to Shinto shrines one can waste away a day.

 

The photo above is one of my more favorite spots, a little Shinto Shrine set aside a hill covered in show. We had to wade through a good 40cm of snow to get to it to see the trackless mountain shrine sitting tranquil in the winter setting.

Every now and then in the most rural of areas you can spot some primates wondering around.  Just be careful as they have a tendacy to go through your things in search of food if you leave it outside for any period of time.

Below are some tracks of the little guys taken from our back yard.

With all that said I think any one who enjoys traveling and especially who enjoys traveling in Japan I highly recommended getting out of the city and checking out some more rural areas away from the major tourist hubs.

The place I stayed at was in Minakami Japan, a small town in the mountains about a 2 -3 hour train ride outside of Tokyo.

Do you like this travel type of VLOG? If so let me know and I will add more of my ventures in to the website updates. ~Robert

HEAVY RAINS HAVE TRIGGERED DEADLY FLOODING ACROSS THAILAND

At least 19 have been killed in Thailand this past week following unseasonably heavy rains which have ravaged the country.

The Interior Ministry says the disaster, triggered by a downpour that has hammered the region since New Year’s day, has affected more than 330,000 households.

 

An airport in the main southern city of Nakhon Si Thammarat was closed for 4 days due to the heavy rains. Authorities also suspended train services across much of the region.

This of course has also impacted resort destinations such as Phuket and Krabi which normally is crowded with foreign tourists in January thanks to the dry season and pleasant weather. But many people have reportedly changed or canceled their plans.

 

A Thai research institute estimates damage to the tourism and farming industries will top 2.3 billion dollars.

 

This recent heavy rainfall is really thanks to the north east monsoon but also a tropical low developing west of Thailand enhancing moisture flow over the country.  Just in the past 24hrs PRACHUAP KHIRIKHAN, Thailand south of Bangkok received 267mm of rainfall certainly contributing to the floods.

 

The heavy rains should continue to Wednesday before tapering off as the tropical low in the Bay of Bengal lifts north and towards Burma.

Coming of Age Day Japan Weekend Winter Weather Outlook

We are now getting in to mid-winter across Japan and its the time of year where snow lovers really start to put their happy hats and snow haters shut the blinds and wait for spring. Just on Thursday in to Friday parts of Gunma and Niigata seen well over 40cm of snowfall.

This coming weekend there will be a few opportunities for mother nature to add to the already heavy snow pack across Japan.  In fact much of Hokkaido is already seeing well above average snow totals thus far this winter as shown in the graphic below.

The rest of Honshu is seeing either average or slightly below average snow totals, not the best news but much better than what we were seeing a year ago this time.

The first opportunity for snow will be tonight through Friday morning, the classic winter weather pattern we see this time of year has set up with persistent north west winds dominating the forecast.

The second and more tricky to predict shot is going to coming in on Sunday night in to Monday morning.  As a winter sports lover I would be excited about Monday mornings conditions this coming weekend if the forecast plays out right.  (Monday is a National Holiday in Japan)

There is a storm system developing out of South East China and will track along the pacific coastline of Japan. Depending on  how far or close it tracks along the coast will determine how much snow falls in the mountains. Right now many numerical models are split but I will personally go with the JMA which is predicting a high snow total. Sites like Snowforecast.com are showing lower numbers but every model run this updates and becomes more accurate, so I would keep checking it if you are in the mountains.

One other thing to keep in mind is due to re-freeze and new snowfall on top of that the avalanche threat will remain in place for the time being. Parts of Hokkaido are being considered a “high” avalanche risk including the Niseko area. Something to keep in mind if heading out.

If you are heading to Nagano as well this weekend do check out the snow monkeys. Below is a video and some fun facts about them.