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Another amazing place to visit is Sounkyu. There are many hotels with hot springs, some restaurants and gift shops. The surrounding scenery is beautiful with lots of hills and mountains. You can take the rope way up to see the Kurodake Mountain and vast expanse of scenery, it is a must- see at any time of the year. This place also has a tourist information center and a very informative display about the area, history and size of the collection of mountains. A very interesting place to visit is the photography museum which features a famous Japanese photographer who documented the area over a period of 10 years. The gallery displays his work and you can view the photographs according to the season. The photograph museum also has a gift-shop where you can purchase postcards of the pictures. The price of these postcards are the most reasonable in comparison to other gift-shops and you can buy certain season-themed booklets of postcards or select a set number of postcards from any season.
It is also possible to stay in a traditional Japanese hotel, the room had tatami mats and tea for us on arrival and very comfy beds! The hotel was decorated beautifully. There was a koi pond in the lobby and many detailed wooden carvings, it was very luxurious. The hotel also offers an amazing buffet with lots of choice from Western food to Japanese.
At this time of the year in Sounkyu there is a famous Ice festival with a huge ice castle that you can walk in. There are many detailed ice sculptures and food available to try. It was very cold weather (-10 degrees) but this was an amazing experience, you could take a picture with the temperature sign for free if you were willing to wait. There was a firework display which could be seen above the castle which contrasted beautifully to the many coloured lights that were projected onto the castle. The entrance fee was only 300 yen which is more than worth the price, you also get a free postcard. You could also go down an ice slide on a sled, the children seemed to enjoy it! Depending on the hotel you stay at there was also a free shuttle bus to and from the hotel to the festival which was extremely convenient and saved us from having to walk up a fairly steep hill. If you go to this place during winter please be prepared with a good winter coat and stay warm!