The Snow Country Tourism Zone, or Snow Country Region is an area on the main island of Japan to the north west of Tokyo. It is made up of several towns and villages across several prefectures that share the same heavy snowfall each winter. This snowfall has played a large part in shaping the history, traditions and culture of the region.
The towns that make up the Snow Country Tourism Zone are Echigo-Yuzawa, Minami Uonuma, Uonuma, Tokamachi and Tsunan in Niigata prefecture, Minakami in Gunma prefecture, and Sakae Village in Nagano prefecture. There are also many other districts and hamlets which fall within the jurisdiction of these townships. It is a large area with plenty to discover, and offers a fascinating look at life in the rural, mountainous Japan.
Each area has an active Tourist Information department that can offer information on their own specialties. They are also cooperating to promote the region as a whole and the central source of information for the region is the snow-country.jp website.
Snow plays a huge part in life in the region even in the present day. Historically is has shaped so much from cuisine, architecture, lifestyles and traditions. Japan gets a great deal of snowfall each winter. The cold winds from Europe blow across the Sea of Japan and pick up moisture. This falls as snow when it comes across the mountains of Snow Country. Back in the day this snow would cut off this area from the Kanto Plains as the mountains passes became unusable. Even today with the aid of heavy machinery and years of snow-clearing practice, roads and railroads can be brought to a standstill by the amount of snow.
Spring has always been a time of celebration. Green appears in the world of white as nature emerges from its half year burial in snow. Summer is warm and humid with the height of the mountains offering some respite from the heat. Autumn sees an amazing display of colors. The area is almost 75% forest even today, and the sheer number of variety of trees in such concentration makes for an amazing show. Come late November the snow usually falls again.
Although spring meant a return to greenery and another winter survived, it was not all rest and relaxation. Growing, harvesting and preparing stores for the next winter was always a priority. The skills and techniques for making local cuisine and especially the preserving of food to last through winter have been passed down through the generations. Nature provided much bounty with mountain vegetables and shoots much prized in spring and delicious mushrooms gathered in autumn. These delicacies appear on menus all over Snow Country today. Local and seasonal ingredients are the norm.
Agriculture is also important to life in Snow Country. The valleys are under snow for much of the year but that same snow provides pure water in spring and also acts as an air filter, making for fantastic growing conditions for the rest of the year. The rice and vegetables grown in this area are highly prized.