Picture this: pristine streets and something to look at every turn, orderly queues at train stations, and not a single step out of line when crossing the street.

Where in the world is our writer Karina Grift? Welcome to Tokyo!

Tokyo was our first stop on a two-week Japan experience where the family highlight would be eight days at the Nozawa Onsen ski resort. This was our first trip overseas with the kids, aged 12 and (almost) 10 and the first time to Japan for the whole family.

Before we left, I was apprehensive about how the kids would cope with culture shock, the bustle of one of the most-populous cities in the world and the language barrier. But minutes after arriving in Tokyo I realised these fears were unfounded. Tokyo felt safe, clean, surprisingly spacious (given the population) and extremely well organised (given the population). What a delight for the children’s first overseas experience.

The first few days we walked every inch of Shinjuku and Shibuya, exhausting ourselves but dazzled by the plethora of sights and new experiences to be had, the crepes, the ramen, the vending machines, the mind-blowing scale of retail, the screens and neon lights all screaming for our attention. And yet when we looked at a map of greater Tokyo we had only explored one tiny section, the city is so big.

But the time came for a change of pace and scenery and we were on our way – rather quickly on the Shinkansen fast train – to Nozawa Onsen ski resort, located northwest of Tokyo in Japan’s Nagano Prefecture. Nozawa is a delightful, traditional Japanese village well known for its onsens (hot springs) and excellent skiing. We were not disappointed.

During our week in Nozawa we got a taste of all weather conditions, skiing in bright sunshine to fresh, light snow and a Siberian blizzard in which inches of snow fell in the village in minutes. One thing Japan is not short of is snow and the stuff was everywhere – not just on the mountain but across the plains and rice paddies as far as the eye could see from the summit. It was a magical sight.

Australians flock to Japan to ski and we were shocked to realise just how many Australians were in Nozawa, so many that even the announcements over the loudspeaker at the ski resort were made by an Aussie. It’s a bit like having a Japanese experience without leaving home. We even bumped into an old neighbour on the ski slopes. But the cuisine, hot springs, architecture, attention to detail, the efficiency on the slopes and the courteousness of staff are all very much Japanese and an absolute pleasure at every turn.

There is so much to like about holidaying in Japan (although, I admit, the traditional Japanese breakfast was a challenge) that I have no hesitation in recommending it to any traveller at any time of year, and not just to ski. Yes, Japan is that good!

By Karina, Victoria

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