By Sandra Isaka
Fujiwara Ski Resort and the adjoining Hotel Sunbird are located in Minakami, in Gunma Prefecture. Getting there is an easy weekend trip from Tokyo. We picked this location because of its convenience - the hotel is located on the ski grounds, and offers shuttle bus pick-up and drop-off from Jomokogen and Minakami Stations.
The hotel offers a few types of rooms - traditional Japanese rooms (six, eight or 20 tatami size), special yuzuki rooms with an open air bath, and a mix of Japanese and Western suites. Pricing starts around ¥10,000/person for a basic six-tatami room, including breakfast and dinner. Children under two stay for free. Kids two to five years old with no meals pay ¥2,700/night and ¥5,400/night including meals. From six years and up, full adult rates apply.
Check-in is at 3 PM, check-out at 10 AM. For rooms with a private bath, check-in is at 2 PM and check-out is at 11 AM.
The area's major draw is the proximity of the ski slopes. When you walk out of the hotel, the lifts are right in front of you. There are 10 runs of varying difficulty, plus a kids' ski slope. There are three lifts, and there was generally very little wait. The runs are rather short, and difficulty level is easy to medium, making this a good destination for beginners or those with small children learning to ski. Group and private ski and snowboard lessons for kids and adults are offered in Japanese. It is possible to book private lessons in English, with advance notice. Snow quality was good.
The ski slopes are open from 8:30 AM to 4:45 PM. As a hotel guest, you get a discount on lift tickets. Some room plans already include lift tickets. Regular price one-day passes are ¥3,500 versus ¥2,160 reduced price for hotel guests. Half-day tickets are available (¥2,500) for either 8:30 AM-1:30 PM or 1:30 PM-4:45 PM.
All ski equipment is available for rent, with no need to reserve in advance. Items available are ski sets (skis + boots + poles) for ¥3,500, snowboard items, jackets, pants, sleds, helmets, goggles, gloves, and ski hats. A ¥1,000 deposit is required. Hotel guests also get discounts on ski and snowboard sets; for example, ¥2,500 for a ski set versus the regular ¥3,500. The skis were in good shape, but the shoes were a bit old. However, it was helpful to be able to rent everything on site. There is a drying room in the basement where you can leave your ski gear when you stop for lunch or a break.
For every night you stay at the hotel, you get a coupon for a 40-minute private hot spring bath. There are 11 baths available, open from 6 AM to 11:40 PM. You need to reserve at the front desk. When you walk out of the hotel, you take an immediate right along a raised walkway towards a building with the baths. Each bath has a shower area, sink, hair dryer and some bins for clothing and personal items. Baths are open air and lovely, giving you a view onto the snowy landscape. When it’s your time for the hot spring bath, take your coupon to the front desk and they’ll give you a key, which you’ll need to turn back in once you’ve finished.
A public hot spring is also available on the second floor. It’s rather basic, and quite hot. The space is relatively small and large windows look toward the snowy landscape, but are clouded over with humidity, so you can’t see much.
Most rooms include a breakfast buffet and a traditional multi-course kaiseki Japanese dinner. The breakfast buffet, from 7 AM to 9 AM has Japanese and Western options including miso soup, rice, fish, bread and pastries, yogurt, fruit, eggs, sausage, and fries. Evening meals were delicious, copious and well-presented; timing is at either 6 PM or 7 PM, depending on day of the week. All meals are served in the Fuji restaurant on the first floor, which is a no-frills cafeteria style room.
For lunch, you can eat in the Fuji restaurant, which offers dishes around ¥800 to ¥1,000 like soba or udon (Japanese noodles), or pasta. There is also a ramen restaurant in the rest station next to the parking lot.
A gift shop in the lobby sells snacks and souvenirs and vending machines can be found throughout the hotel.
The hotel is quite kid-friendly, offering high chairs during meals, bath toys for the private hot spring baths, and a playroom and kids activities off the lobby in the afternoons. There is a snow park just outside the hotel, which is open Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays. A two-hour entry costs ¥800 (¥500 for hotel guests) and a one-day pass costs ¥1,500. Adults accompanying kids enter free. The snow park is small, but has a sledding area, some caves and tunnels, an area for making snowmen and other snow toys for use such as shovels, buckets, and snowball makers.
Jomokogen Station and Minakami Station are both just over an hour train ride from Tokyo. However, arriving at Minakami Station generally means arriving first at Jomokogen and then taking a local bus to Minakami. Therefore arriving at Jomokogen and catching the hotel shuttle from there directly is the easiest option. There is also a bus from Shinjuku to Minakami Station.
The shuttle from Jomokogen Station to the hotel takes 45 minutes; from Minakami Station the shuttle takes 30 minutes. Shuttle pick-up is offered from Jomokogen Station at 9:30 AM and 1:50 PM, and from Minakami Station at 9:50 AM and 2:15 PM. Departures from the hotel are at 11:00 AM and 1 PM to both Jomokogen and Minakami Stations. You’ll need to reserve the shuttle service in advance. There are 20 seats per shuttle bus.
Driving from Tokyo to the Fujiwara Ski Resort takes around three hours. However, in winter, the areas around Minakami are quite snowy, so make sure you have snow tires!
Hotel Sunbird ホテルサンバード
Address: 4957 Fujiwara, Minakami, Tone-gun, Gunma 379-1721
Phone number: 0278-75-2321
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