The tourism folk in the different parts of Snow Country are working hard to put some tours and activities together that highlight the best of this area.
Tsunan Town has plenty of attractions – we have already mentioned the Naeba-Sanroku Geopark, Najomon, and the famous waters of Ryugakubo Pond. If you are looking for an interesting winter experience there is now the Jomon Hiking in the Snow Tour.
Tsunan can be accessed by bus from Echigo-Yuzawa Station, or if you are coming in your own car you can meet the guide at the Ishihara-bashi Bus Stop on the main road in Tsunan. A short walk from here and you get to the Mori-Craft Gallery and Cafe for a coffee and a pre-tour briefing. (Take advantage of the restrooms here as it is straight into the forest after this!)
The Mori-Craft Gallery is worth a visit in its own right. Mr Mori makes a delicious coffee but he’s even more talented when it comes to working with wood. His wall hangings and decorations are breathtaking. He makes little cabinets of different woods, each with its own natural colour. The spoons and plates that come with your coffee are hand-carved.
Once outside again it is time to strap on the snowshoes and head into the forest. It is really peaceful and you take a moment to lie in the soft snow and listen to the sounds of your breathing and nature around you.
One of the main points of the Jomon period is that it lasted for so long – over 10,000 years. As other civilisations tried to dominate and tame nature (and only survived 1,000 years in the process), the Jomon people lived in harmony with their surrounding environment. They were hunter gatherers, and although they lived in the same heavy snow as we experience today, it actually helped with the hunt, as the animal tracks were visible in the snow. We saw weasel, deer, and rabbit tracks as we made our way through the forest.
After countless stops for photos we emerged out into a clearing where some replica Jomon era dwellings have been constructed.
They are almost buried by the snow and you have to dig down to access them. They have been dug out of the earth so are warmer in winter and cooler in summer. A frame of thin tree trunks is covered by thatch, and a fire burns away in the hearth at the centre of the hut. It is lovely to warm up after the trek through the snow, and the smoke, and woody aroma add to the atmosphere.
Lunch was bread toasted over the fire, with cold meats, salad and cheese. A hearty local soup called kenchin provides extra warmth. Sitting around the fire we learn more about the Jomon period and the weather in Tsunan and its heavy winter snows.
After lunch we snowshoe over to Najomon to see some of the cooking pots from the period, and are lucky to be able to hold a 5,000 year old flame-style pot in our hands (gingerly!) sThe Jomon period was thousands of years of peace. There were lots of gods representing all things, not one god that demanded sole loyalty.
After the museum tour is finished there is some free time to wander around the gift shop and displays some more, and head out into the snow for some sledging and play. The guide deposits us back at the bus stop for the journey home after an interesting day and a beautiful snowshoeing experience.
For more information on the Jomon Hiking in the Snow Tour, please contact the Snow Country Tourism Office
The tour is available from January 16th until March 19th on a daily basis, except on Tuesdays. There is a minimum booking number of 2 people, and bookings should be made at least 3 days in advance. The tours meets at 1015 at the Ishihara-bashi Bus Stop in Tsunan town, which would mean a 0930 bus from Echigo-Yuzawa. The tours costs 8,000JPY per person which includes snowshoe rental, lunch, entry to Najomon, and insurance.
It is a great day out and highly recommended.