Are there any ski slopes commutable from Tokyo?

Yes, Saku Ski Garden Parada (Nagano) is a parking area ski resort. The ski resort is an actual expressway service and rest area stop. It has two opposite facing slopes on the same mountain. The south end is the expressway parking area.

Saku Ski Parada Nagano (5)

Parking area ski resort – Recently, we went skiing in Nagano. I use the term “skiing” as a general term for being in the snow, seen as very little skiing was actually accomplished. Plus, the snow was fake as at the time we were having a particulary warm winter. Regardless of the lack of real snow, or perhaps thanks to it, the kids had a blast. This is a good place to introduce young children to snow and/or skiing for the first time.

Parking area ski resort

We went to Saku Ski Garden Parada which is a day resort; there is no night skiing and there is no hotel attached to it. We stayed in Karuizawa on one of our visits and commuted from Saitama in less than 2 hours on our next visit.

Parada kids park south slopes
You can play at the resort in summer too when it is transformed into an amusement park

The resort says about 70% of their business is from families and that is the overall impression I got on our visits. There were kids of all ages enjoying the snow and plenty of younger kids in the designated snow play areas.

Parking area ski resort

A round up of what I like about Saku Ski Parada;

  •  The resort has two parts – North and South. The South area is a Parking Area on the Joshin-etsu expressway meaning that, apart from being convenient, it is quite safe to travel to the South slopes even in the height of season. (In Japan the highways are well maintained and serviced even in the snow. However, I would recommend snow tyres even for commuting to the South slopes, which are right on the highway. For the North slopes snow tyres are essential. Please note, if there has been a heavy fall, there is a possibility that the highway will be closed.)
  •  You can move between without restriction between the South and North slopes once you have paid into one. While the South slopes and amenities are literally right on the highway, the North, which has the better snow, is about 5 kilometres off the highway, through windy mountaineous roads.
  • Due to the spread of the areas the place is a good size and there aren’t a huge amount of lifts or courses; 7 of each.
  • On our first trip we went to the South, and our more recent visit was to the North. Thanks to the division of the resort, the North can be less populated as it is harder to get to. On the day we went, I thought it was busy, but my husband told me that was only a tenth of how busy it gets.
  •  We didn’t need to bring very much with us in terms of changes of clothes and we could hire boots and equipment there. We brought our own apparel and sleds. Clark’s winter lined boots sufficed for our 3 year old and 1 year old, as they were just playing in the snow, and we rented proper ski boots for 4 year old and 6 year old.
  • Food is quite reasonable for the type of place that it is. The pizzas are good value and are actually quite nice. They are made up fresh, so expect to wait about 20 to 30 minutes for a pizza order to be ready. The fast food counter is just that – fast! They also have a self service restaurant.
  • It is a very family friendly resort. They have rest areas and facilities for babies. We didn’t avail of it this time, but I like that there is a creche, where you can leave children while you ski. They take children from as young as 6 months old.
  • Both North and South areas have a great kids play area. They can use sleds and tubing or just play in the snow. They also have bouncing castles. They have a mascot, which is a giant beetle, which comes around to meet the kids.
  • They have a snow escalutor in the kids play area.
  • They have lessons for kids from as young as 3 years old.
  • It is part of the family ski group; you could apply for a free lesson for a primary school aged child at the resort, but the closing date is gone for this year.
  • Overall I thought it was good value, even for a family of six. I did have discounts for lift passes and for the play area, but asides from that the costs are fairly standard for that area.

Parking area ski resort Parada Information

Address:  2681 Shimohirao, Saku, Nagano 385-0003

TEL: North Parada – 0267-68-5116, South Parada – 0267-67-8100

For people coming by train it is also quite convenient as there is a free shuttle bus that takes 10 minutes from Sakudaira Station, which is less than an hour from Omiya by bullet train. It makes Parada a popular spot for those on a day ski trip from Tokyo or Saitama. From Tokyo its only 90 minutes by train and bus.

You can get up-to-date information on costs, snow, weather and more on the well maintained English webpage for the resort.

For things to do in Winter in Saitama, click here.

Accurate and up to date to the best of my knowledge at the time of publishing in 2016. Last update in 2019.

Driving in Japan

Planning a trip to Japan from overseas? Living in Tokyo and thinking of renting a car for a trip or drive? Here are some things to consider and useful information for driving in Japan.

Driver’s License / Driving Permit

Whether you are travelling to or living in Japan you will need a valid drivers license to rent a car and / or drive in Japan. For visitors from overseas you will need to have a valid driver’s license. For people living in Japan, if you didn’t get your license in Japan, you will need to convert your current license to a Japanese license.

Plaza Homes has excellent information for both long term residents in Japan and short term visitors. Everything you need to know about driver licenses / permits to legally drive in Japan here.

Rules of the Road

The rules of the road are very comprehensive and for the most part similar to many other countries. But there are some noticeable and important differences. For one, when you turning a corner on a green light more often than not pedestrians also have a green light to cross. And they have right of way.

You can buy an English copy of the rules of the road from JAF (Japan Automobile Federation). They also have several other languages available. They have digital and printed formats available. Link to the JAF Rules of the Road handbooks here. A very basic guideline is also available on the Plaza Homes website here.

Nexco Expressway (Highway / Motorway)

The expressway (highway / motorway / freeway in Japan are managed by NEXCO. NEXCO has many sub branches, some of which have their own English pages. Nexco Central tends to have the most generic information covering everything from safety, congestion, rest areas and even trip guides. But for more detailed information on rest areas, also known as parking or service areas, the drive plaza suite is useful too.

The most important thing to note about the expressway in Japan – other than safety! – is the ETC system for the toll booths. You can pay in cash at the vast majority of toll booths, but please note that there are a few “smart” toll booths that can only be used if you have a valid ETC card. Information on the ETC card system in Japan here.

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