As worthy as Hokkaido is of its fame, Niigata Prefecture's Echigo-Yuzawa deserves its share of the winter destination limelight.
Located literally a stone's throw away from Tokyo (well, 80 minutes by bullet train), the town was the setting for Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata's novel 'Snow Country'. And if you do visit in winter, the words 'snow country' will resonate. It's very hard to dissociate the town from that novel.
Located as it is among the Japanese Alps, Echigo-Yuzawa is blessed with a marvelous sense of nature and pristine honesty. The town is popular with skiers, with good quality snow and a long season. The town also likes to let you know of its hot springs. With 900 years of history behind them, you can easily appreciate the justification.
For families looking for a place to stay in Echigo-Yuzawa, you could do a lot worse than Hotel Angel Grandia. Located in the Nakazato Snow Wood, regular shuttle buses carry guests back and forth from Echigo-Yuzawa Station to the hotel throughout the day. These shuttle buses are great for their 10-15 minute trips into Echigo-Yuzawa proper if you are after an urban fix.
The hotel offers rooms akin to apartments, with wall-to-wall windows overlooking the snow fields, making it easy to enjoy the view. Their breakfast and dinner buffet service obviously has its fans, and the kids will love the Winter Festa running from mid-December to early April. Featuring a snow park right outside the hotel with tubing and sledding activities, it's a great place for the kids to play and burn off some energy. Parents too...
Take the Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo or Ueno stations to Echigo-Yuzawa Station. The trip is about 80 minutes and is covered by the JR Pass, JR East Nagano Niigata Area Pass or the JR Tokyo Wide Pass.
Once at Echigo-Yuzawa Station, the shuttle bus to the hotel is about 100 metres from the West Exit.