Originating from Japanese Buddhism, the five elements of Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Void – with Earth being the most powerful and Void being the least – are very important. When a person has all five elements in balance, they will feel stable and lucky; however, if they lack poise, then they feel unhinged and hard done by.
Set on the main island of Honshu, Nagano Prefecture in Japan is the ideal destination to find all five elements, especially on an exciting trip with Ski Safari.
Fly like the Wind on the bullet train, which reaches speeds of 200 mph (320 km/h); come back down to Earth with a (soft) bump on a snow monkey and historic tour; travel in January 2018 to see the famous Nozawa Onsen Dsojin FireFestival; sink into the hot spring ryokans, making the most of the warm Water. And to fill the Void? With more than 600 km of slopes to explore, reaching heights of 2,307 metres, skiing should definitely do the trick!
Here’s how to achieve a perfect equilibrium, with Ski Safari…
Wind: travel to the ski resorts by bullet train
The Shinkansen, known in England as the bullet train, is a network of high-speed railway lines in Japan that link most major cities on the islands of Honshu and Kyushu and, recently completed, there is now a link to Hakodate on the northern island of Hokkaido. Incredibly smooth and silent for its high velocity, it allows passengers to travel like the wind to their preferred destination. Nagano saw the first bullet train from Tokyo arrive in 1977, just in time for the Winter Olympics the following year. Nagano is served by the Hokuriku Shinkansen, which can be broken down into three train types: Kagayaki, Hakutata and Asama. Kagayaki trains are the fastest Shinkansen to Nagano from Tokyo, with a journey time of just 80 minutes. Skiers looking to travel beyond the ski resorts in Japan should purchase the Japan Rail Pass: a joint offering of the six companies comprising the Japan Railways Group (JR Group) and the most economical means of travel. Zoom to Kyoto and stay in a traditional ryokan, or whizz to Tokyo for a sleek five star experience. Plus, it looks like trains are going to increase speed to 223 mph (360 km/h) by 2020; the wind is picking up!
Ski Safari offers an eight-night holiday from £1595 pp based on 2 sharing, including four nights B&B at the 3* Hotel Goryukan in Hakuba, two nights room only at the 4* Hotel Granvia in Kyoto and two nights room only at the 3* Shiba Park Hotel in Tokyo. Price includes return flights with British Airways and a seven day Japan Rail Pass. Ski Safari (01273 224067, www.skisafari.com)
Earth: snow monkey tour, Hakuba
Most people will have seen the red-faced Japanese macaque (snow monkey) on Joanna Lumley’s BBC documentary but nothing beats seeing these cheeky animals first hand. Considered to be the only place in the world to see snow monkeys bathing in the wild, the world renowned Jigokudani wild monkey park, which opened in 1964, is home to approximately 200 macaques, who spend their days soaking in the natural hot springs to ward off the cold from the harsh winter. After arriving at the park, hike to the hot springs (about 30 minutes each way) and meet the characterful creatures. As lunch beckons, head to the historic town of Obuse, home to the famous Japanese artist Hokusai. Visit the Masuichi Sake Brewery, and tuck into a delicious set course traditional meal, which includes a glass of sake. Afterwards, head to Nagano City, home to Zenkoji Temple: a designated national treasure with a history that spans 1,400 years. The streets surrounding the temple are lined with lantern-lit shops, tiered-roofed stalls, souvenir shops and galleries. (Snow monkey tours depart daily from 16 December 2017 to 28 February 2018 and every Monday/Wednesday/Friday and Saturday during March 2018.)
Ski Safari offers a seven-night stay at 3*+ Hotel Goryukan in Hakuba from £1575 pp (two sharing) including breakfast, return British Airways flights and rail transfers. A snow monkey day tour with lunch costs £85 and tours depart daily. Price based on 24 February 2018 departure. Ski Safari (01273 224067, www.skisafari.com )
Fire: attend the Nozawa Onsen Dosojin Fire Festival
Known as one of the three great fire festivals in Japan, this free traditional event, based on superstition, proves that snow and fire really do go hand-in-hand. In Japan, the ages of 25 and 42 are considered unlucky for men, so men of those ages from Nozawa Onsen group together and construct a huge wooden shrine in the centre of the village – think air-traffic control tower made of sticks – every year on 15 January. As the sun sets, the 42-year-olds climb to the top, where they stand singing and chanting, the 25-year olds form a perimeter to guard the structure, and all the other men attempt to storm the construction and burn it to the ground. Combining crowds, flames, ice, darkness, sake and good cheer amidst lots of snow, it’s a date not to be missed.
Ski Safari offers a seven-night stay in Nozawa Onsen to coincide with the fire festival, at the 3* Kawaichiya Ryokan, a guest house in Nosawa Onsen from £1875 pp (two sharing) including breakfast, return British Airways flights and rail transfers. Price based on 13 January 2018 departure. Ski Safari (01273 224 067 www.skisafari.com )
Water: sink into the hot spring ryokans at KAI Alps in Hakuba
A leading luxury boutique hotel brand, famous for its hot spring ryokans, has recently added KAI Alps to its first-class portfolio, to open in December this year. Situated in Omachi town in northern Nagano, three hours by train from Tokyo and 30 minutes by car from Hakuba Goryu Resort (one of the largest ski resorts in the Hakuba Valley) the opulent ryokan is designed to immerse guests into the lavish world of Japanese regional craftsmanship. Relax in the outdoor hot spring baths, which offer views of larch forests and mountains along with an ambient warmth that is balanced with the crisp mountain air. In the winter, seasonal apples are placed in the water to provide additional physical benefits.
Ski Safari offers a three-night add-on at Kai Alps, including a complimentary shuttle to Hakuba Goryu Resort, on Half Board from £475 pp based on 2 sharing. Price based on a March 2018 stay.
Ski Safari (01273 224067, www.skisafari.com )
Void: time to ski, on the Nagano Ski Safari
Combine powder and piste skiing, with authentic Japanese culture and a night out in Tokyo, on the Nagano Ski Safari. Travel between the resorts by train, exploring the huge variety of skiing in Hakuba Valley and the incredible powder of Myoko. Take a short break from the slopes and visit the hot springs, meet the macaque monkeys and party the night away in the capital of Japan. Hakuba is Honshu’s largest skiing area, with ski areas such as Happo-One, Tsugaike, Hakuba47 and Goryu ideal for day trips. In contrast, Myoko has the best powder record on Honshu island, and offers skiers an off-piste paradise with sensational tree-skiing. Nip into one of the traditional Japanese bars for a spot of sake to stay warm. Finish the tour with a few nights in Tokyo, staying at a central hotel to experience the vibrant city. Take the time to explore the mega malls, visit the temples and eat as much sushi, yakitori and katsu curry as possible.
Ski Safari offers a 14-night Nagano Ski Safari, from £1,995 pp (two sharing) including B&B accommodation, direct flights, internal flights and transfers. Stay seven nights at the 3* Hotel Goryukan in Hakuba, four nights at the 4* Hotel Alp in Myoko, three nights at the 3* Shiba Park Hotel in Tokyo (two sharing) including breakfast, return British Airways flights and train passes/ transfers. Price based on 25 February 2018 departure. Ski Safari (01273 224067,www.skisafari.com )
For more information about a trip to Japan with Ski Safari, please call 01273 224067 or visit www.skisafari.com