No crowds, big powder and ancient traditions, this is Tohoku Japan

I’ve lived in Hokkaido Japan for 6 years and am ashamed to say I hadn’t (until now) enjoyed the big mountains of the main island of Honshu.

I’m not ashamed to say that now I have I will be back, a lot.

This season has been huge in terms of record snowfalls and the region of Tohoku was well on my radar as I had heard the tales of backcountry heaven in Hakkoda and the quaint and quirky resorts in the region from Appi Kogen to Tazawako.

Aomori City and beyond

My first stop was Snow Sports Park Aomori, a short 30 minute drive from the heart of Aomori City.

Here they have a range of activities for all members of the family including snow mobile tours, banana boat rides, fat bikes, snow tubes and more. It is a popular place to visit for all ages and helped me build an appetite for our next stop – the Furukawa Fish Market for some Nokke-don (rice bowl with toppings).

Simply purchase tickets and then wander the market exchanging them for servings of your favourite foods. Large prawns, salmon, tuna, squid and pretty much anything else you can imagine was on offer.

While we were still near the city we made a couple more stops. First to local artisan Masayuki Kimura’s store where we were taught how to make a Japanese lantern. Then to a nearby café to sample some ‘straight out of the oven’ hot apple pie. Aomori is famous for its luscious apples so this was a real treat.

Photo credit: Darren Teasdale

The last stop before heading into the northern mountains and our date with powder was to see the warehouse where they build the huge paper lanterns used in the Nebuta Festival. These lanterns can be upwards of 6m tall and are all individually decorated in the most elaborate designs.

Hakkoda, backcountry mecca

Hakkoda has a big reputation for big snow and big “snow monsters” (snow laden trees). It’s not for the feint hearted, you need to know how to ski or board powder and how to use appropriate safety gear.

We went on a backcountry tour with local guide legend, Chuhei. He has spent the last 27 years guiding at Hakkoda and was very much needed since when we arrived at the top of the cable car it was a complete whiteout. After a safety briefing and final equipment check we followed him into the clouds. He knew his stuff and we were soon gliding past large frozen trees in deep Japanese powder.

There’s no on mountain accommodation at Hakkoda, so we stayed in nearby Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryu right next to the Oriase river near Lake Towada. You can even take an after dark “night illumination” walk filled with lanterns and candles through the Lake Towada forest to the frozen waterfalls.

So far, so Tohoku Honshu good.

Appi Kogen goodness

We need to talk about Appi Resort, the purpose built ski resort of your dreams. For only ¥5,600 (AUD$67) you can enjoy over 850 acres of skiable terrain making Appi one of the largest ski resorts in Japan, including 21 runs, 10 lifts and 1 gondola.

It’s known for super light and dry powder and we weren’t complaining. The runs here are long and up to 5.5kms in length, so bring your ski legs to hit up the resorts perfect groomers, designated tree runs and powder terrain.

After a big day shredding the whole resort and some laps in the terrain park we headed indoors for dinner. The ski in ski out Appi Grand Hotel rises high at the base of the resort and has a variety of restaurants from Japanese to Western, Chinese, Yakiniku, French and buffet, so you can choose depending on your feelings of the day.

After dinner we went to one of the local onsens. It was only a short drive away on the free shuttle bus and was simply stunning with an array of outdoor baths all connected by covered walkways. It was a perfect way to end the day.

Traditional Tazawako

Tazawako Resort is a tiny little ski area (100 hectares or 250 acres) tucked away in the Akita region and overlooking Lake Tazawa, the deepest lake in Japan. This resort is known for super dry powder, great access to the backcountry and has super wide groomed runs.

With day passes at only ¥4100 Tazawako has so much to offer on the cheap. I should add that the pricing in the food hall was still set to 1995 prices with a large ramen for only ¥800.

We made the most of the good weather with stunning views of the nearby Lake Tazawa and spent the day ‘testing’ every run and lift. The resort was almost empty apart from some local families out for a slide and everyone was super friendly.

We spent the night at the very traditional Kyukamura Nyuto Onsen Hotel surrounded by a beech forest only a short drive from the resort. The food here is outstanding.

The hotel is not far from the historical Japanese town of Kakunodate  founded in 1620, where we were thrown back in time to a period when Samurai roamed the lands and cherry blossoms lined every street.

One thing you can’t miss when in Akita is the famous Akita Inaniwa Don, an udon noodle recipe that dates back to 1665. The noodles are very thin and can be cooked quickly while keeping the famed udon softness.

We dined on this delicacy at Sato Yasute in Akita City before flying out and suggest you make time in your itinerary to do the same. Well worth it.

Darren Teasdale was a guest of Tohoku Tourism Promotion Organization.

Hakkoda ski resort and beyond, the best of Aomori in Japan

Darren has worked as a Mountain Guide in Hokkaido for the last 10 years and has over 20 years experience as a professional photographer and filmer worldwide. His images have graced publications across the globe. Darren holds an AST 1 and 2, Operations Level 1, Wilderness 1st Responder and CPR/AED.