Our arrival at Yunishigawa-Onsen Station in Tochigi Prefecture is more than a little disconcerting.

The two-carriage train, which until now has been chugging determinedly through an increasingly snowy landscape, pulls to a halt in the middle of a tunnel. The doors slide open to reveal a dimly lit corridor leading down to a lone, forlorn-looking elevator — it feels as though we are entering a disused hideaway from a 1960s James Bond flick.

When the elevator doors open, we emerge at ground level looking out at a scene both reassuring and breathtaking. Almost 40 cm of snow has fallen, lying heavy on the ground. Passengers waiting for the local bus huddle in a waiting room near the train station's noodle stand, shivering every time the doors are opened and a chilly wind swirls snowflakes inside. I feel vindicated for having dragged my daughter's snowsuit all the way from our home in Kyushu.