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Northern Tohoku Road Trip

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Myoko Kogen Powder Packages
Northern Tohoku Road Trip

SELF-GUIDED ROAD TRIP | NORTHERN TOHOKU
Recommend 7 - 14 Days

Location: Amihari Onsen/Ani/Aomori City/AOMORI Prefecture/Aomori Spring/Appi /Geto Kogen /Hachimantai Panorama/Hachimantai Shimokura/Iwate Kogen/IWATE Prefecture/Morioka City/Okunakayama Kogen/Shizukuishi/Tazawako , Honshu , Japan
Change the way you do ski & snowboard trips forever by doing a road-trip in Northern Tohoku on the main island of Japan. Once you have taste for this style of snow holiday you will find it hard to go back to hanging out at a ski resort. Join a tour or DIY for the adventure of a lifetime!

Northern Tohoku Road Trip

Skiing & snowboarding at Japan's bigger ski resorts like Nozawa Onsen, Hakuba and Myoko has its benefits such as infrastructure, lifts, western-style accommodation options, western-style restaurants, bars, and other services such as ski & snowboard lessons & rentals.

However with this all comes higher prices, bigger crowds and powder snow trashed by 9am.

Skiing and boarding at some of the many small ski areas in Japan is the exact opposite to above; cheap, powder all day, low crowds (particularly off-piste), sometimes below average lift infrastructure, mostly Japanese-style accommodation, mostly Japanese food, and not a lot of night life unless staying in small cities.

So if you want to see a totally different side to skiing & boarding in Japan it's time to get away from the big resorts and check out some of these amazing gems.

The Road Trip

Because these ski areas tend to be small, the best way to visit them is on a road trip. This can be done in one of two ways:

1. An organised, hosted & guided trip - this is definitely the best way to see these areas as your host/guides will show you the best skiing/riding at all of the ski areas and know which ones to go to each day based on weather and conditions. And in the afternoons/evenings they know the best onsen, restaurants & bars to visit...oh and they do all of the navigation and driving so you can even partake in an ale or two on the drive each day after a day on the slopes. You can see guided & hosted tours in this area here >>

2. A self-guided road trip - if you like to be more independent and want to have the freedom to do your own thing, are happy to navigate and drive on snowy roads, and have mountain route-finding skills, a self-guided road trip is a great way to do it.

We have created a google map on the itinerary page showing the locations of ski areas, options for accommodation, onsen to visit, and other things to do and see along the way in the Northern Tohoku region.

All of these locations have their own unique pros and cons. We have visited nearly all of them and have tried to weed out those that are not worth visiting (but that is not to say we haven't missed a few gems).

The Northern Tohoku Area

This region is particularly conducive to a road trip as there are over a dozen great little gems all within easy reach of a day-trip from small cities like Morioka and Aomori.

Whilst these ski areas are starting to see a few foreigners, you are unlikely to bump into many of them. And if you do, there is plenty of powder to go around.

The area is rich in culture and the seafood & Japanese sake is some of the best you will find in Japan.

Remember this is Japan so in many places you might find little to no English spoken....this is an adventure!

Places to Stay

Near the Ski Areas

Most of the ski areas have some sort of accommodation near or at the base of the ski resort, so this may be an option if you want to spend more than a day there or if your next destination is nearby or in the general direction of where you are heading next.

In a Small Centrally Located City

Another option (which might be in conjunction with staying at the ski areas) is to stay at a central city location like Morioka and/or Aomori. The benefit of staying in these cities and venturing out each day is that you can leave your non-ski gear in one place without the need to pack every day or two. Accommodation is usually exceptionally good value in these cities at this time of year as it is their off-season. And these cities have a good variety of restaurants & bars and have a reasonable nightlife compared to staying at ski area accommodation. The only downside is you may have to travel a little further each day to your destination.

Transportation

Getting There

You can either start this trip in Aomori and then work your way back down south or start south at Morioka and head north for Aomori.

There are 3 options for getting to Morioka or Aomori:

  1. Take the shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo. For train costs and timetables visit Hyperdia.
  2. Fly to Aomori or Hanamaki. Search for flights here.
  3. Rent a car in Tokyo & drive (7 hours to Morioka / 9 hours to Aomori). See car rental options here.

Getting Around

Whilst it is possible to use trains, buses & taxis to get to some of the ski areas, it is very time consuming and if you are there to chase the powder this won't work unless you are heading to each ski area for more than a day.

Driving around Japan is so easy these days. The English GPS is incredible accurate; all you do is enter the phone number of your destination, choose from fastest to slowest route and follow the arrows and voice prompts.

You can either rent a vehicle in Morioka or Aomori depending on where you decide to start and end your trip. See the itinerary page for options>>

Trip Planner

Use the map below to help plan your trip...click on the icons to reveal information about each point....click the square to the top right of the map to open it in a full page...click the square to the left of the map to hide any element on the map that you are not interested in.


Whilst there is no set itinerary for this trip, we would recommend at least 7 - 10 days to see as much as you can in this area.

Where to Start and End Your Trip?

This really depends on what you are doing before & after the trip.

For example:

  1. If you are going to head up to Hokkaido after this trip then start in Morioka and end in Aomori then take the train to Sapporo or fly from Aomori to Sapporo.
  2. If you are just coming to Japan to do this trip than you can either get the Shinkansen (bullet train) up to Morioka or Aomori or fly to Aomori.
Car rental companies generally (but not always) charge a "one-way fee" (which can be between 5,000 yen and 20,000 yen just between these 2 locations). So if you can get a rental without a one-way fee or you can start & finish in the same place, you will be better off financially.

A third option would be to rent your vehicle in Tokyo and drive all the way. It is about 7 hours drive to Morioka or 9 hours drive to Aomori.

What Should You Pre-book?

Once you have decided on where you are going to start & finish your trip, you only need to pre-book a couple of things:

  1. Your car rental
  2. Maybe the first night or 2 of accommodation so you can get settled & plan your assault based on the weather & snow conditions.
Apart from this you don't really need to book anything else in advance (maybe a JR East pass if you are going to take the train to Aomori or Morioka). Lifts tickets are super cheap at these ski areas so just buy as you go (sometimes you will find certain days they offer things like free lunch & onsen with your lift pass). Accommodation is easy to find at the last minute, however if you do want to book prior you can always do so via our links and most hotels have a cancellation policy where you can cancel at the last minute.

Planning Your Trip Before Leaving to Make Life Easier on the Road

We have created a web app where you can "save" your favourite places to a list. So for example you could create a list called "Northern Tohoku Road Trip 2021". You can then save ski areas, accommodations that are of interest, tours and more.

As you add these details you can share the list and items with family / friends who might also be interested in the trip and you can all communicate to refine the list.

So once you are in Japan you can easily log in and refer to your list and book accommodation & tours etc from those links.

Finding the Best Snow Whilst You Are There

We generally use a few different snow forecasting tools however the best one to see temperatures, wind and if there is a storm on the way is Snow Forecast. The amount of snow is not always accurate but it give you a general idea if there is a lot, little or no snow on the way. Download their app and save all of the resorts in the area and set alerts for each one and you can then check this daily to work out where to head for your next day or two.

Then all you have to do is decide where to stay and book it via Powderhounds (please!!) from your list and off you go on your next adventure!!

Drive Times

The following table shows distance & time to each location from the respective cities. These are based on Google maps times which are generally pretty conservative however it really depends on the weather on the day.

 MORIOKA  km  hrs:min
 Shizukuishi  17  0:25
 Shizukuishi Cat Ski  17  0:25
 Iwate Kogen  29  0:40
 Amihari Onsen  32  0:45
 Hachimantai Panorama  41  0:48
 Hachimantai Shimokura  47  0:49
 Hachimantai Cat Ski  50  0:50
 Appi Kogen  49  0:49
 OkunaKayama  51  1:10
 Tazawako  60  1:15
 Geto Kogen  70   1:10
 Ani  115  2:30
 AOMORI  km  hrs:min
 Hakkoda  26  0:38
 Owani Onsen  49  0:51
 Aomori Spring  54  1:10
  • Ani & Geto Kogen are quite a long drive from Morioka so an option might be to stay at each respective ski area if you think the drive is excessive. Both of these ski areas are well worth a visit if the snow is on (particularly Geto Kogen).