“One kind word can warm three winter months” ~ Japanese proverb.
While there are a few things no one tells you about visiting Japan in winter, I recently learnt you don’t need to be an avid skier or snowboarder to have one of the most memorable experiences during the cooler months – a snowy day trip to Gala Yuzawa from Tokyo is so simple!
Perhaps you’re from a country that doesn’t experience snow, and are hoping to see a winter wonderland. As an Australian, having never grown up with snow makes it quite the novelty for me to see it when travelling overseas, and my winter Japan trip was going to be no exception!
Considering I wasn’t up to skiing or snowboarding, I wondered where I could go to witness snow-capped panoramic vistas, hear that crunch beneath my boots as I walked, and feel that crisp alpine air brushing my face. I was delighted to learn Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort ticks all these boxes and more.
Catering to snowboarders, skiers and non-skiers alike, Gala Yuzawa is located in Niigata Prefecture and just 75 minutes from Japan’s capital by bullet train, making it one of the best day trips from Tokyo during winter. I love sharing spots lesser-known with foreign visitors here on my travel blog for Japan.
If you’re wondering how to get to Gala Yuzawa from Tokyo, what’s available once you’re there, things to see and do, and even how to visit nearby Echigo Yuzawa for a wall of vending machines dispensing nihonshu (sake) afterwards to warm up, read on for more!
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About Gala Yuzawa Ski Resort & Echigo Yuzawa
Japan is known to have some of the world’s driest powder snow (nicknamed “JAPOW”). Both Gala & Echigo Yuzawa snow fields attract 6 million visitors annually to their 18 courses, spread over three mountain slopes.
However, while I had heard of the more popular ski resorts such as Hakuba, Iiyama and Niseko where my fellow Aussies flock to in winter, I only discovered Gala & Echigo Yuzawa a few weeks before my visit. I couldn’t find much written info from visitors, so thought I’d put this together this Gala Yuzawa day trip guide for you.
During my time there after speaking with the only two other Aussies I saw that entire day, I got the impression the Yuzawa area is not very well known amongst foreign tourists just yet. Perfect for being an invisible tourist and escaping the crowds who flock elsewhere!
How to get to Gala Yuzawa from Tokyo
Tokyo to Yuzawa Ski Resort takes between 75 minutes and 2 hours on the JR Jōetsu shinkansen (bullet train). This Gala Yuzawa shinkansen is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
Within greater Tokyo, the Jōetsu shinkansen can be caught from JR Tokyo Station, JR Ueno Station or JR Omiya Station, before limited stops to JR Echigo Yuzawa then JR Gala Yuzawa.
Tokyo to Gala Yuzawa shinkansen price
Your ticket may say “Tokyo (Ward Area) to Gala Yuzawa,” which means you can use any JR train within Tokyo plus the shinkansen to get there. Cost: JPY 7,250 one way if not using the Japan Rail Pass.
TIP: As I always like to recommend, please don’t just blindly purchase the JR Pass thinking all tourists need it. Use this JR Pass Calculator to input your rail journeys and it will say whether the cost of the pass will pay off for your visit – this is different for everyone.
How to get from Tokyo to Yuzawa? If your closest station is not JR Tokyo Station or JR Ueno Station, you’ll either need to take a JR line or Tokyo Metro line to get to either and transfer Xprior to boarding the shinkansen.
- From Ueno Station or Tokyo Station: Head to the JR shinkansen tracks, follow signs for Jōetsu line and look for the platform for Gala Yuzawa.
- From Shibuya/Shinjuku: Catch the Tokyo Metro (Ginza Line) to Ueno or Tokyo Stations and transfer to the JR area for shinkansen tracks and Jōetsu line, or use local JR lines to head to JR Omiya Station and transfer to the Jōetsu shinkansen there.
TIP: It’s a good idea to purchase bullet train tickets a day or so in advance to avoid rushing around the morning of your journey. Purchase bullet train tickets from any JR Station or in advance here. Most staff can speak basic English, but it’s always nice to use some Japanese for tourists with my free cheat sheet to help you out.
NOTE: If not travelling with the JR Pass, I suggest purchasing a one-way ticket to Gala Yuzawa if you plan to visit Echigo Yuzawa afterwards, as it’s likely you won’t know the exact time you’ll be catching a train back in the afternoon.
TIP: When booking your ticket, ask for a seat on the left side for a possible view of Mt Fuji as you head north away from Tokyo.
Arriving at Gala Yuzawa Station
I’d booked the 6:44am Jōetsu shinkansen from Tokyo Station, so my train was the first to arrive in Gala Yuzawa by 7:58am. The earlier trains only take 75 minutes as there are fewer stops, whereas trains later in the morning can take 2 – 2.5 hours from Tokyo.
Some young passengers jumped off the train and ran up the escalators to beat the crowd, and I soon realised why. At the top of the escalators are ticket counters to purchase lift passes, so they wanted to be first to hit the slopes.
Types of Gala Yuzawa tickets
The following prices allow snowboarders, skiers and non-skiers unlimited use of the chair lifts and gondola. If travelling with children, these prices are half. I believe prices change each April so check here for the lates rates.
- 1 day Gala Yuzawa ticket: Adults JPY 6,500
- 2 days Gala Yuzawa ticket: Adults JPY 10,000
- Gala Morning OR Afternoon ticket: Adults JPY 5,000 – Morning session until 13:00, Afternoon session from 11:30 – 16:30.
- Gondola 1 Day Pass: JPY 3,000 – Use of Gondola A-Line only (see note below)
- Barouche Roundtrip Ticket: JPY 1,000 – For Bell of Love Observation Deck
I purchased both the Gondola 1-Day Pass and the Barouche Roundtrip Ticket to visit the places I share down the page of this Gala Yuzawa day trip itinerary.
NOTE: The first gondola for non-skiers doesn’t open until 10:00am, which I didn’t realise until I was there. I didn’t mind waiting around by watching the skiers, eating breakfast, taking photos and such, but keep this in mind.
Amenities at Gala Yuzawa
For our skiing and snowboarding friends, after purchasing tickets for the day we walk through a huge open space that leads to hundreds of lockers, change rooms, toilets and a few eateries.
If you’d like to purchase any warm gear such as jackets, beanies, gloves or souvenirs, there is a store for these things too.
Around the corner is also Salomon Station, a section to rent all your ski gear for the day, so you don’t have to bring anything from Tokyo along. So convenient!
Activities & Things to do at Gala Yuzawa
Head up the Diligence Gondola (A)
First things first at Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort, inside the Ski Centre (nicknamed “Cowabunga” lol), make your way over to the Diligence Gondola (A) to reach the first stop on the mountain. Each gondola, chairlift and ropeway have different names and are assigned a letter to help tell them apart.
These gondolas fit 4 people but as it wasn’t busy they assigned me one all to myself. The views going up were fantastic, as you’ll see in my photos below!
Snowboarders are able to bring their boards inside the gondola, but as a precaution will need to cover its end with a soft pink cloth to mask any sharp edges.
Take a break at Cheers Rest House
The Diligence Gondola (A) stops off at Cheers Rest House. Look out for the icicles suspended from the roof. Inside are two levels of eateries, toilets, information, vending machines and first aid.
I had a delicious lunch here later with a great view, which I’ll share down the page.
Cheers Rest House also marks the start of the chairlift and ropeway system that stretches across the mountainside. The highest point that can be reached is 1181 metres, on the Coach (F) chairlift. It can only be accessed by skiers and snowboarders.
Watch the skiers and snowboarders glide down the mountain
If you arrive too early before the chairlift opens to non-skiers at 10:00am as I did, you’re able to spectate from the sidelines at least!
Have a go sledding down the slopes at the Snow Enjoyment Park
Want to get involved yourself? If you’ve paid for the Baroche (B) chairlift in your ticket, you’re able to use a sled and slide down one of the smaller slopes at the Snow Enjoyment Park.
This area is sectioned off from the ski slopes and it includes an undercover snow escalator, so young children (and adults alike!) can enjoy playing freely in the snow.
Ride the Barouche (B) chairlift up the mountain
Chairlifts always make me feel a little uneasy (what if I drop something!) but fortune favours the bold, right?
The Barouche (B) chairlift is what I paid the extra 1,000 yen to be able to access as I wasn’t skiing or snowboarding, but the views along the way to the top here are absolutely worth it!
I can never get over just how quiet the air is at these heights. There’s something just so beautiful and tranquil about floating above the snow-covered treetops.
TIP: Sit to the edge of the seat if you don’t want to get dripped on by snowmelt from the overhead cables. I learnt this the hard way!
Enjoy panoramic vistas from the Bell of Love Observation Deck
Once jumping off the chairlift at the top, there is a pathway to the left for non-skiers only that leads to the famed Bell of Love Observation Deck.
Before heading up the staircase to the observation deck’s platform, make sure to take in the views from this level. Just breathtaking!
After you’re satisfied taking in the views from here, climb the metal stairs to the Bell of Love. As the name suggests, there is a bell suspended from the roof here that visitors ring in the hopes of finding their true love!
I spend about an hour here alone just soaking in the incredible beauty of Mother Nature and being in the moment.
TIP: Beware of the constant snow melt dripping down from the rooftop here in the sun, sometimes large chunks of snow can also drop down unexpectedly.
Have lunch with a view at Cheers Rest House
After your time at the Bell of Love Observation Deck, make your way back down the Barouche (B) chairlift to the Cheers Rest House for lunch at Pal Pal Food Court.
There are many different kinds of dishes to select from on their menu, all made fresh to order: Japanese curry, noodles, rice dishes, mini pizzas, french fries, Okinawan ice cream and more.
Place your bag or coat on a table to mind your place (yes, it’s completely safe to do this in Japan, their signage suggests you do so!) then use the ticket machine to order a meal of your choice and pay.
Take your printed ticket to the station where your food will be served and pick up your order in a brief moment.
I enjoyed warming up with my hot Japanese curry by the window, watching the ski-goers outside.
Ride the gondola back down to the Cowabunga Ski Centre
After lunch, head back down the mountain in the Diligence Gondola (A) to the Cowabunga Ski Centre where you arrived. And this will conclude your time in Gala Yuzawa!
From here, you can opt to head back to Tokyo by bullet train or continue on to neighbouring Echigo Yuzawa. Be sure to read my notes about the train timetable below before you decide.
More things to do at Gala Yuzawa for non-skiers
Now all travel restrictions have been lifted for the 2024 season, there are more things to do at Gala Yuzawa resort to fill your day!
- Snow Mobile Sleigh Tours
- Moon Biking
- Snow Shoeing
- Bathe in an onsen (hot springs) or open air jacuzzi
- Learn how to ski with lessons
- More info on these activities here.
BONUS: Visiting Echigo Yuzawa on the way back to Tokyo
By early afternoon, I’d done all the non-skiers activities I wanted and was ready to move on. Until I was at Gala Yuzawa, another thing I didn’t realise was that the trains aren’t in service between 11:30 – 14:30. The wait for the free shuttle bus was 45 minutes.
In that time, I figured I could walk the 30 minutes to Echigo Yuzawa Station and enjoy the winter views as I strolled. The 2.1 kilometre walk is flat and along a mostly straight road, so it was quite easy on my sunny winter’s day.
There are a few things to do on arrival at Echigo Yuzawa Station. The first is a free outdoor hot spring for your cold feet at the station’s entrance!
Ponshukan Marketplace, aka Echigo Yuzawa Station Sake
Sake (pronounced sa-keh) is one of the many things Japan is famous for, so perhaps you may know this store as the “wall of sake vending machines.” But, they don’t just sell nihonshu (sake).
Working with local suppliers, Ponshukan sells all kinds of local goodies made from rice as well as seasonings for cooking and Niigata-style sweets.
On entry to Ponshukan’s famed Sake Tasting Room, pay 500 yen to exchange for 5 token coins, which you will use to dispense the sake of your choice from over 100 local kinds. This includes a reusable sake cup which you need to leave behind at the end.
I LOVE sake and couldn’t wait to get started! As with Takayama, Niigata is known for its pure sake thanks to the alpine snowmelt used to create this beverage.
To help you determine which ones to sample, each sake is graded by dryness and richness out of 5 stars. I personally prefer sweet sake, so I made my selections based on 1 or 2 stars for dryness and this worked a treat.
The best one in my opinion was definitely the umeshu (plum wine), worth the two token coins!
Food Hall and souvenir shopping
After sampling as much sake as you like, the food halls inside Echigo Yuzawa station are packed with plenty of local specialties from Niigata, as well as a few eateries.
This is a great place to pick up confectionery, small homewares and other local souvenirs. I especially loved the handicrafts.
Once you’ve had a browse and picked up a few things, it’s time to head back to Tokyo!
Take the bullet train back to Tokyo
It’s important to note for this Gala Yuzawa one day trip that the Jōetsu shinkansen doesn’t run as often as other bullet trains like the Tokyo to Kyoto route. Sometimes there is a 20-30 minute wait between services (or longer depending on the time of day).
Be sure to use Google Maps or transit planner apps like Jorudan to see the train schedule back to Tokyo and work around it accordingly.
I discovered the hard way I needed 2 tickets to get back to Tokyo from Echigo Yuzawa Station (base fare plus shinkansen fee, I think?) The gate wouldn’t let me pass with just one ticket I purchased from the ticket machine and I couldn’t understand why.
After wasting time trying to figure out what I needed from the ticket machine again, it just wasn’t much help in English so I needed to ask the staff at the ticket window who sorted it out. Cost: 6,600 JPY from Echigo Yuzawa to Tokyo for both these tickets.
TIP: Two ways to save yourself the trouble: Purchase tickets from staff at the ticket window and ask for a seat on the right side heading back into Tokyo for a chance to see Mt Fuji in the distance! Or you can purchase your return ticket from Echigo Yuzawa in advance here.
Concluding this day trip to Gala & Echigo Yuzawa from Tokyo
This wraps up a wonderful day trip to Gala Yuzawa from Tokyo! I believe you don’t need to purchase a special Gala Yuzawa day trip package to enjoy your time there when it’s simple enough to do on your own.
Now you know how to go to Gala Yuzawa from Tokyo with and without the JR Pass, things to see, do and eat once you’re there, and my insider tips I learnt the hard way so you don’t have to. As a bonus, if you love sake you absolutely can’t miss Echigo Yuzawa on your way back to Tokyo!
What do you think of this winter day trip to Gala Yuzawa Japan? Would you like to visit someday? Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.
While you’re here, be sure to read my more of my Japan travel tips including my ultimate guide to planning a trip to Japan to cover all your bases, know the essentials for what to pack for Japan, or learn some Japanese phrases for tourists with my FREE cheat sheet so you’re set the moment you arrive.
Until next time,
This guide to a day trip to Gala Yuzawa from Tokyo contains some affiliate links. I may earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase and if you do, thanks for your support! This helps with the costs of running my blog so I can keep my content free for you. As always, I only recommend a product or service that I genuinely love and use myself!