Why You Need To Travel To Japan - MountainWatch Travel

Hakuba | Nozawa Onsen | Japan | Myoko

Why You Need To Travel To Japan

Japan offers some of the best snow in the world, but it offers a whole lot more as well. Here’s why you need to travel to Japan. 

When most people think of skiing in Japan they think of Niseko or Hakuba, however, there are hundreds of ski resorts located across the country. They range from small ski hills with one or two ancient chair lifts to luxury resorts with world-class infrastructure. Of these resorts, there are roughly twenty that are visited by international travellers and the rest you’d be lucky (or unlucky) to see another international visitor.

Riding the old lift lines at Madarao Kogen. Credit: Andrew Fawcett
Riding the old lift lines at Madarao Kogen. Credit: Andrew Fawcett

The Resorts

At the more touristy resorts you can expect to find all the modern conveniences you’d find elsewhere around the world. From luxury accommodations to restaurants and bars, rentals, retail stores and English-speaking ski schools. However there are many resorts offering an even more authentic experience – and they are easily accessible to even the most novice of travellers. Just don’t expect five-star hotels, Michelin-star chefs and ski valets!

Two people strolling through a snowy Nozawa Onsen
Snowy strolls through Nozawa Onsen

Japanese ski resorts have a varied selection of terrain, making most resorts suitable for beginner, intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders. For those looking for something more challenging, there is some incredible side and backcountry terrain if you know where to find it. Skiing off-piste is a relatively new phenomenon in Japan and resorts have been slow to adapt to the increasing call for this style of snowsport, however, they are getting there and we’re excited about it.

Happo-One backcountry. Credit: Ollie Godbold
Happo-One backcountry. Credit: Ollie Godbold

The Snow

You don’t have to search far for powder in Japan, it can be found most days at most resorts across the country. A weather system from Siberia that crosses the Sea of Japan is responsible for the dry and plentiful snow. The Northern island of Hokkaido has the highest average annual snowfall, with some resorts recording 18 metres – one of the highest amounts in the world! Fortunately, their neighbours to the south also benefit from the Siberian weather system, especially those closest to the coast like Myoko Kogen.

Sierra getting deep in the Myoko powder
Sierra getting deep in the Myoko powder

The best time for guaranteed snow is from mid-January to mid-March when the storms roll through and temperatures are cold, creating top-quality powder snow. This is (not surprisingly) the most popular time to visit, however, even the busiest day of the season in Japan would not rival the quietest day in some of the more popular US and Canadian resorts.

The History and Culture

Japan offers so much more than mountains and snow, it is a country steeped in history and culture – from delicious cuisine to some of the friendliest people in the world. The second you step off the plane you will experience glimpses of Japanese culture, from friendly staff with their over-the-top greetings and low bows to the busiest yet most efficient transport system in the world.

Fushimi Inari-taisha, Kyoto
Fushimi Inari-Taisha, Kyoto

Some ski towns are more traditional than others and you can get your cultural fix from the local people, customs and sites around the village. Such as experiencing the onsens (natural hot springs) and Fire Festival in the quaint village of Nozawa Onsen. However, if time permits, it is always recommended to spend a few extra days exploring another part of Japan. The options are endless, from castles and temples in Kyoto, historical sites of Hiroshima, samurai and geisha spotting in Kanazawa, dining at Izakayas (Japanese pubs) in Osaka to the crazy streets and neon lights of Tokyo.

Shinjuku, Tokyo. Credit: TCVB
Shinjuku, Tokyo. Credit: TCVB

The Efficiency

Choose one stopover city or do them all, as Japan has undoubtedly the best transport network in the world. Their famous Shinkansen (or bullet train) will get you from one end of the country to the other at record speeds. They even offer cost-effective rail passes for foreign visitors which give unlimited access to the JR Network for periods of 7, 14 or 21 days.

Waiting for the Hokuriku Shinkansen. Credit: Abe Kislevitz
Waiting for the Hokuriku Shinkansen. Credit: Abe Kislevitz

The Cost

Japan on the whole is cost-effective, at least in comparison to other ski destinations around the world. Prices vary at each resort depending on size, popularity and infrastructure. But it is not uncommon to find lift passes for 3800 yen per day (equivalent to $36USD). The accommodation options can also be great value for money in some of the more traditional Japanese resorts. With rooms for as little as 4000 yen ($38USD) per night. Of course, on the other end of the scale, you will find luxury hotels and apartments with all the bells and whistles which can command prices well into the hundreds of thousands (of yen).

Otaru Fish Markets, Hokkaido. Credit: Matt Wiseman
Otaru Fish Markets, Hokkaido. Credit: Matt Wiseman

Dining out

As with accommodation, the cost of eating and drinking in Japan varies considerably. At one end of the spectrum, you have convenience stores offering quick and easy meal options for next to nothing. In the middle, you have local Japanese restaurants offering cheap and cheerful home-cooked meals, like ramen, katsu curries and udon noodles. The perfect winter warmers for your lunchtime stop. Then there are Izakayas (typical Japanese restaurants/pubs) where tapas-style food is shared among friends. Izakayas can offer good value for money but of course, it depends on what you order and how much sake you drink. At the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find fine-dining fare and Michelin-starred chefs in some of the more Westernised resorts.

Takahashike, Echoland, Hakuba

The Novelties

If you don’t mind a bit of a tipple, then you’ll be pleased to know an array of beverages can be purchased from the vending machines at any time of day or night. In some of the bigger cities, it’s not only drinks you will find but all sorts of weird and wonderful items, think hot corn soup, vegetables, batteries, toilet paper, underwear and face masks to name a few.

Hakuba vending machines

Face masks are not all that unusual and one thing you will notice is most Japanese people wear a mask in public places, like shopping centres, buses and trains. They did this well before the COVID pandemic caused the rest of the world to don a mask. You might be surprised to know they do it to protect others from catching their illness rather than the other way around. Japanese people are polite and considerate and particularly conscious of good hygiene practices.

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