Last Christmas, four of us (my girlfriend was in Australia; fellow foreigners not being around for Christmas is kind of part of the lifestyle) went to a really nice place in Gifu with outdoor natural onsens in rock pools. We were literally sitting in a hot bath, naked, and being snowed on. Fuelled by hot sake and kaiseki (basically “fancy Japanese food”), we went on to make snow angels. Nothing like gleefully displaying your rapidly-shrinking tackle to your mates to create a bond. It was a brilliant weekend, and I also tried snowboarding for the first time. I got hooked on the sport eventually, and went a few more times that season.
The trip was so good (and I enjoyed snowboarding so much) that we decided to do something similar for this past Christmas. We went up to Nagano (where the Winter Olympics were held, with good reason – the powder and snow depth was amazing), and on the first day we went and visited the wild macaque monkeys who spend their summers in the natural hot spring water. Seriously, you would not believe how much hot water is under the ground up there – the streets of Nozawa Onsen village are literally steamy in winter. There’s a really nice system wherein all people who stay in the area pay a tax towards keeping the onsens in the village in good condition, and more importantly, free to the public.