Exploring the Winter Wonders of the Mountains of Tango


Kyoto by the Sea

The Tango region of northern Kyoto prefecture is a picturesque and mostly rural area of stunning coastal vistas, old-fashioned villages and rolling mountain landscapes. It is a very different place to the bustling and temple-filled city of Kyoto most tourists are familiar with – in these remote northern regions (about 2 hours drive from Kyoto City) of forests, farmsteads and hills the climate is quite different too, and winter time often sees large dumps of snow as cold weather systems roll into the Sea of Japan, transforming the landscape into a white winter wonderland. So come with us, as we explore Kansai’s beautiful ‘yukiguni’ (snow country).

Snow-shoe Adventures in the Snowy Highlands

The mountains of the Tango region are stunningly beautiful at any time of year, but this is especially so when they are blanketed in a soft powdery layer of snow. When the heavy winter snows arrive – usually between December and March – you can venture up into the Seya Highlands or discover the many peaks of Mt. Oe and join a snow-shoeing tour to explore Kyoto’s wild and little-visited backcountry, to see these amazing winter landscapes with your own eyes.

Tours primarily take place around the slopes of Seya Highland, an upland region of about 500m altitude featuring an abundance of pristine nature. On this occasion however, we headed to Mt. Oe, another popular snow-shoeing location and one of northern Kyoto’s most famous peaks, known for its rich mining history and as a place where oni (demons) are said to lurk. Tours are led by the experienced local outdoors guide Mao Nishiki who was brought up in the area, and he offers many kinds of outdoor activities throughout the year, including hiking tours and SUP boarding. Always amiable and full of genki (energetic!) passion, Nishiki-san has been guiding for many years and speaks English, so you know you are in safe and knowledgeable hands.

We head off into the hills in the morning, after an evening of fresh snowfall and the whole world is glistening a brilliant white. After a quick demonstration on how to wear and walk-in snow-shoes we have a little practice stroll, before embarking on a mini-adventure into the heart of Kyoto snow country. The course begins at the bottom of a small disused ski resort, and although the wind is cold, we are treated to moments of blue sky as the sun occasionally beams down from between the clouds. The snow is soft and powdery deep, and the plod up the gentle slope is a pleasant morning workout, the views widening and opening out with every step.

At the top of the hill we stop to admire the views which stretch deep into Kyoto’s interior, tracing the undulations of the Oeyama mountain range and the seemingly endless rows of icing-sugar peaks and mysterious snow-filled valleys. To the north, there are glimpses of the ocean and the famous sandbar of Amanohashidate. After taking in the views it is a leisurely stomp back down the hill, with time for coffee and sledging for even more snowy fun. There can be few better ways to spend a winter morning.

Snow-shoeing tours are held only from December to March (snow permitting), and last for around 2 hours. The fee is 7000 yen for adults and 6000 yen for junior high school students (15 years old) and younger – the price includes guiding fee and snow-shoe rental. Visitors should bring their own waterproof clothing (jacket and pants), winter footwear suitable for hiking, hat, gloves and sunglasses.

Tours can be booked by email through the Kyoto by the Sea DMO Tour Center at

Warm Yourself Up at a Rustic Sauna Retreat

Nestled in a secluded mountain valley about 30 mins drive west of Amanohashidate is one of the Tango region’s best kept secrets. Musu Goka Sauna is a Finnish-style sauna inside a renovated Japanese kominka (traditional homestead), and during the bitterly cold winter season it is the best place to come to warm your bones and reinvigorate your body and soul. The wonderfully preserved farmhouse retains all of its original features, with one room converted into a fantastic steam-filled sauna, heated with a wood-burning stove.

The young sauna manager, Kiri Adachi, speaks fluent English and spent time studying the art and craft of sauna in Nagano and then in Finland, and began operations here a few years ago, yet it remains a relatively off-the-beaten track attraction. For sauna connoisseurs however it is something of a must-visit spot, and the perfect place to rejuvenate yourself after a morning of sightseeing or snow-shoeing.

The cosy sauna is for private groups only (of up to six people), and is heated to sweat-inducing temperatures, leaving your skin clear and your mind relaxed and refreshed. Best of all, if there is snow on the ground then you can dash outside and dive into the snow to cool yourself off, or take a plunge in the icy river which flows directly in front of the property. Then head back into the sauna to repeat the warm yourself up again and repeat the process, like a true sauna pro.

If you don’t want to cool down in such extreme fashion then there are chairs outside for lounging in, and an old-fashioned fire-shed with a sunken hearth where you can roast Finish sausages (called Makkara) and heat yourself up too. As the facility is reservation only, you can really unwind and relax in this beautifully rustic setting, with the helpful staff on hand to keep the sauna always piping hot. There are changing rooms, showers and other facilities, plus swimwear and towels available if you don’t have your own.

While hot springs (onsen) have been a big part of Japan’s traditional culture (and the Tango region is home to many excellent facilities), Japan has been going through something of a sauna boom in recent years, encompassed by the word ‘totonou’, which means to feel settled and find balance, which you can experience in a sauna as both your mind and body enter a state of relaxation. The health benefits of ‘contrast bathing’ (going from hot to cold) are also part of this invigorating and rejuvenating balance.

If Musu Goka Sauna makes you want to delve deeper into Japan’s sauna culture, then also pay a visit to nearby sister site Nuka to Yuge, which has been named one of the ten best saunas in Japan and is worth checking out!

Musu Goka Sauna
Address: 1648 Masudome, Mineyama-cho, Kyotango City, Kyoto
Musu is a private sauna by reservation only.
Fee: 16,000 yen for four persons on Monday, Thursday and Friday. 18,000 yen for four persons on Saturday, Sunday and national holiday. Additional person charge is 3,000 yen (up to six persons)
Duration: 2.5 hours
Closed on Tuesday and Wednesday
For reservations and further details, please see the official website. (Japanese only)

Musu Goka Sauna

Musu Goka Sauna

Musu Goka Sauna is an outdoor sauna facility refurbished from a traditional thatched roof house that is over 100 years old. This comfortable sauna heated by a wood stove is in the Goka district of Ky …

Savour the Terroir of Tango

After a long day of outdoor winter activities, the secluded mountain retreat of Kaya Yamanoie makes for a wonderful place to spend the night. Located high on the hillside of Mt. Oe, this large mountain house was once used as a camping lodge, but has been beautifully renovated as a restaurant and accommodation facility deep in the heart of nature, offering camping above the ricefields, epic starry skies and the chance to witness an early-morning unkai (sea of clouds).


The manager and head chef, Hiroshi Aoki, was born and grew up very close by, and is trained in nouvelle Chinese and French bistro and is also a certified sommelier. Having traveled in Asia and Europe as a backpacker, Aoki-san’s cooking incorporates his experiences. Now however, he seeks a quieter life in the countryside, and here he creates exquisite dishes using locally produced rice, meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, including wild game caught by local hunters and himself. The unique one-of-a-kind dishes served at Kaya Yama-no-ie reflect the path Hiroshi has taken.

The restaurant is open for lunch, but staying guests can enjoy an outstanding multi-course dinner which for our stay included sansai (mountain vegetable) tempura, wild boar prosciutto, venison cutlets, fresh sashimi and freshly baked lemon cake, all washed down with locally-brewed beer and sake. Guest rooms are in the traditional style, with tatami mats, futons and extensive mountain views, while the communal areas feature enormous wooden beams, antiques donated by locals, and Aoki has a sophisticated and relaxing record collection to add to the dreamy ambiance. The only problem with coming to stay is that you’ll never want to leave!

Kaya Yamanoie is just outside the small town of Yosano, about a 25min drive from Amanohashidate, or 2 hours from Kyoto.


Kaya Yamanoie
Address: 1401 Atsue, Yosano-cho, Yosa-gun, Kyoto
Prices (elementary school children and younger in parentheses) range from 5,500 yen (4,400 yen) for boarding with no meals, 6,600 yen (5,500 yen) with breakfast included, or 11,000 yen (7,700 yen) with dinner and breakfast.
Booking information and more can be found at

Kaya Yamanoie

We are located in Tango in northern Kyoto, surrounded by the Oeyama mountain range. Our inn is nestled in the middle of the mountains. It is a pristine rural setting, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The air is clear and you can sometimes see a sea of ​​clouds in the early morning. Lend your ears to the sound of the wind and the songs of the birds and insects, and experience the nostalgic way of life of Atsue. Using rice from the terraced fields below, seasonal produce, and game meat from our own butcher shop, we serve dishes that are good for both the body and soul.