Check out this exhaustive list of amazing café options in Nozawa onsen! Guest article by Peter Douglas, president and representative director, kk Nozawa Hospitality
Nozawa Onsen is the ultimate all-round resort: you don’t have to ski to have a great winter holiday here! But did you know that it’s not just the myriad onsens, picturesque temples and other photo-ops, that the village offers, but an extraordinary café culture too?
There are 30 cafés in the village, all within walking distance of each other. For those days when you don’t feel like being on the mountain, when you just can’t face one more hot bath, or when you just want a read-a-book day, you have an almost endless choice of places to relax with a great coffee or a hot tea, just soaking up the vibe. Just walking from one end of the 100m-long O-yu Dori main street, you’ll pass Jonnobi, Tanuki, St. Anton, and Sol Green, while a few more steps will bring you to the Shizen Collective in one direction and Napa Café in the other.
Most of Nozawa Onsen’s cafes are very happy for you to linger over a lazy coffee, just watching the snow fall outside. Many will do takeaway as well, though a couple (like the village’s only chain outlet, Blue Bottle) are takeaway-only.
Trying to categorise these is hard, and many if not most are downright idiosyncratic reflections on the owner’s tastes (Melia’s skateboard benches, and Sol Green’s resident dog, being great examples). Some are long-standing village favourites, open all year, and as much a place for the owner’s friends to hang out, as commercial ventures. Carté is a classic example, with exquisitely prepared coffee, an expansive collection of quixotic chopstick rests, and an oasis of old-school peace in the centre of the village.
Many, like Coffee Mok, are focussed on delivering urban-barista-quality coffee (more than half of the village cafes have Italian-style espresso machines and will serve your latte with the requisite decorative swirl). Whether from a high-tech espresso machine or an old-fashioned percolator, good coffee is a given.
Some are chameleons that morph from cafés to lunch spots to beer bars as the day progresses. The Craft Room opens as a meeting spot to grab a kick-start coffee opposite the main gondola, gradually developing into a happening snowboarders’ haunt as the day winds down.
But why so many cafes in one little community? First of all, Nozawa Onsen is a compact village of small buildings and there are few venues big enough to support a restaurant business, but plenty of holes-in-the-wall that can accommodate a few tables and chairs in a cosy spot.
Secondly, this is a living village of 3,400 residents, and a small café is an ideal lifestyle business, alongside some summer farming, and other winter activities, whether for a local family or one of the many newer permanent residents of the village. Tomii-san, of the Sousakuya Koubo, said “I’m working at home anyway [she is a seamstress] so if friends and guests come by, why not make them a coffee or share whatever I’m making for lunch?” While Rowie of Shizen Collective commented that the reason she started her café was to host her yoga clients and friends and make sure they had a place with homecooked vegan food and treats.
We asked some of our staff what their favourites were:
- John Vermaak, manager of Kawamotoya, picked Hardings, the onsite café, for its almond croissants (and everything else)
- Taisei Kikuta, manager, picked St Anton for its great steamed buns and range of drinks
- Kaori Machida, manager of Address Nozawa, plumped for Akari Swiss Bakery, “it’s so cute!”
- Lena Leong, reservations manager, loves Napa Café for its “friendly owners and lovely desserts”
There’s a full list below. Note that many of these are small businesses with irregular opening hours; if one is closed, just walk on to the next. Most will serve you a beer and other drinks as well as coffees. And almost all will also offer light food if not hot meals.
|Run by a local yoga instructor, go there for organic and vegan snacks, and good energy.
|Akari House Swiss Bakery
|A cosy welcome, off the beaten track with European-style bakery products.
|There is no English sign. This tiny café is locally run with delicately percolated coffee and light lunches.
|The Dojo Climbing Gym
|A climbing gym, sourdough breads, very popular with locals. Let the kids clamber while you take a load off…
|Locally run offering interesting snacks and good coffee (tho’ mostly takeaway)
|Haus St Anton
|Handmade gelato, tasty lunches and “oyaki”, Nozawa Onsen’s famous steamed buns. It also sells its own jams.
|Locally run chic coffee bar with home bakeries and a terrace for sunny days.
|A corner of Sydney in Japan, a chic place to people-watch, with artisanal coffees
|A classic “kissa” coffee shop with percolated coffee, it’s a tucked-away haven.
|World class patisserie in a lovely setting, and Australian-style light lunches.
|A modern café with fresh sandwiches, close to the bus terminal.
|Takano Tatsuki Memorial Museum
|You don’t have to visit the museum to enjoy the café. Simple offerings while you contemplate the lovely garden.
|Run by a local couple, a cute and very Japanese hangout.
|A chain shop, takeaway only, for the couple of months of peak season. Instagrammable!
|Mt Dock Café
|Micro-outlet and a perfect meeting place by the main gondola.
|On the roof of Sports Thanx rental, cute and cozy with a sunny roof terrace.
|Stylish location close to the gondola, with light food.
|The Craft Room
|The ideal spot to meet friends for a pre-gondola coffee and a quick bite.
|Nagasaka Gondola café
|Inside the Nagasaka Gondola base station, steps away from your ride up the mountain.
|Locally run and a good place to thaw out on a cold day.
|A favourite with local snowboarders, between the Nagasaka and Karasawa home slopes (with great crêpes).
|A tiny hole-in-the-wall below Karasawa offering “organic roasting and snowboarding”
|Homemade muffins, burritos, coffee, and a sleepy dog to keep you company.
|A modern hangout on the old “ryokan street” in the village, with its own footbath.
|Locally run, a tiny shop with homemade cupcakes and skateboarding memorabilia
|A locally run hangout, for a comforting cocoa while you wait for your bus or taxi.
|Inside Winterland, Café Mok has some of the best coffee in the village and home-cooked bakeries.
|This is a retro (ok, old-style!) locally-run Japanese café.
|Brian’s Café and Diner has a quirky environment and a changing vibe through the day.
|Aunt Mary’s Crêpes
|It’s not really a café and only opens in the evenings… but the handmade crêpes with almost any filling you can think of, deserve at least an honourable mention.