Transportation - Get In
The Tokyo Narita Airport is the main gateway airport for Nozawa Onsen, or some people fly into Haneda Airport (although transfer options are not as readily available at Haneda compared to Narita).
Unless you want to catch a taxi to Nozawa or overnight in a hotel near the Tokyo train station or a Narita hotel, you’ll need to consider your flight times. Arrivals into Narita should ideally be before 7pm, whilst for return flights you’ll ideally want an afternoon flight out of Tokyo or if you want to catch the shuttle bus to the airport, you’ll need a late afternoon or evening flight out.
Getting to Nozawa OnsenThere are broadly two options for getting to Nozawa Onsen from the Tokyo Narita Airport (or Haneda Airport).
Option A is road transport (ie bus or taxi) which takes about 5-6 hours and provides the convenience of not having to drag your luggage between trains and buses.
Option B consists of catching a train to Tokyo (or Ueno) and then Shinkansen (bullet train) to Iiyama (12km from Nozawa). Depending on connections it takes about 4 hours to get from Narita to travel to Nozawa Onsen via train and bus. Another advantage of taking the trains as a way of getting to Nozawa Onsen is that it’s a great cultural experience.
Option A: Shuttle or Private Road Transport to Nozawa Onsen
There are private charter operators that provide transport from Narita Airport (or Haneda Airport) to Nozawa Onsen, or shared taxi services.
A cheaper option than a taxi or the trains is to catch a bus from (Haneda Airport or) Tokyo Narita Airport to Nozawa Onsen which can be booked with Nagano Snow Shuttle. This option will work well for flights that arrive into Narita late in the day because one of the scheduled buses departs in the evening. For the evening shuttles, you have the option to get dropped off at your accommodation in Nozawa Onsen on arrival.
The Haneda Airport to Nozawa Onsen bus leaves early in the morning, which may necessitate an overnight stay in a Haneda Airport hotel.
Option B: Trains then Bus to Nozawa Onsen
Part 1: Trains from Narita Airport to Iiyama
Catching the train is a common mode of transport to Nagano and then onto Iiyama. From Narita Airport (the Tokyo international airport), catch the Narita Express (NEX) train to Tokyo Station (1 hour). There are frequent departures from the airport railway terminal.
Upon arrival at Tokyo Station follow the signs to the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Iiyama. Check Hyperdia for schedules, although unless you’re travelling early or late in the day, there are frequent departures so you can probably just go with the flow. The bullet train from Tokyo to Iiyama takes about 100 minutes.
The other option is to catch the Keiser Skyliner from Narita Airport to Ueno, and then the bullet train from Ueno to Iiyama. This is generally a little faster, but check Hyperdia for the best route for your travel time.
For train travel to Iiyama from Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto or other parts of Japan, see Hyperdia for routes, schedules and fares.
Part 2: Bus (or taxi) from Iiyama to Nozawa Onsen
From the Iiyama train station, you can catch the Nozawa Onsen Liner bus that take 20 minutes to travel to Nozawa Onsen. The schedules for the Nozawa bus match up with train arrivals at Iiyama, except for trains that arrive after 8pm, then you’ll need to catch a taxi to the resort. Taxis are generally small sedans that don’t necessarily have roof racks, so you may need to take your skis or board out of the bag to fit into the taxi.
Transportation - Get around
The town of Nozawa Onsen sits below the ski resort, and considering there are three main base areas (Hikage, Nagasaka, and Karasawa), most lodgings are within walking distance of a lift. Access to and from the Hikage gondola is facilitated by Yû-road, a 300 metre undercover uphill moving escalator (minus the steps). Sometimes getting up and down to Yû-road can be a little treacherous in ski boots (but it makes for an interesting spectator sport!). If you’re renting skis and boots, you may want to store them overnight at one of the Hikage gondola shops.
There is snowmobile trailer transport between the 2 gondolas, which is ideal for kids (and their parents) to get between the Nagasaka gondola and ski school or day care at the Hikage gondola. This makes the accommodation near the Nagasaka gondola rather attractive for families who need these services. This snowmobile shuttle is also available for people who don’t have skis or a snowboard.
There is a town shuttle bus that travels up to the Nagasaka gondola, but most people don’t tend to use it unless they’re staying in the lower reaches of town.
The town is rather hilly and even though the narrow roads are heated with onsen water, it can be a little slippery so wear sturdy footwear. Take care (even if you haven’t been drinking!) because there are many ditches and drains off the side of the walkways, some with six foot plus drops. And if you’re driving around town, be really careful of these big dikes!