Japan: Steeped in legend and myth, yet actually very easy to get to know. More and more people are beginning to discover this, along with the poorly kept secret that the country offers some of the best skiing holidays and snowboarding trips in the world. As if that wasn’t enough, here are ten more reasons why you should ski in Japan this winter.
Yuki (pronounced you-key)
Snow – or ‘Yuki’ in Japanese – is perhaps the first attraction for many powder hungry skiers and snowboarders. With an annual snowfall that rivals world class destinations such as North America, there is plenty to play with.
Throughout the winter months storms generated over Siberia bring reliable snowfall to all the mountains in Japan. For guaranteed, epic powder conditions no other country comes close. For the lightest, driest powder head to Hokkaido, but be warned, up there it can get extremely cold!
Japanese people have a reputation for being friendly and it’s a well deserved one. A trip to Japan, whether it’s to ride the deep snow or just to soak up the culture, will leave you with a smile on your face. This friendliness is contagious, and soon enough you’ll be striking up a conversation on the chairlift in spite of the language barrier.
Japanese people also pride themselves on giving great service, so wherever you go you’ll be treated to a smile. Many foreigners -or ‘Gaijin’ -also work in the ski resorts as an opportunity to make some money, experience the culture, and of course partake in their share of skiing. These people are a great source of advice, and are always willing to help you out.
Japan, undeniably, has a high destination population for such a small country. However, skiing and boarding is a lot less crowded than popular European or American resorts. It is very uncommon to have to wait more than ten minutes in a lift line, and even this is classed as busy. Yes, holidays such as Chinese New Year also bring a relatively high number of people to resorts and weekends can get slightly more crowded, but plan around these times and you will have the slopes to yourself. Also, venture off-piste, in the regulated areas, and you will often have the entire mountainside to yourself! Don’t worry that a lack of people on the slopes suggests a lack of nightlife. Strangely enough, find the right bar and you’ll be surrounded by like-minded party-goers willing to dance the night away.
It’s a little known fact that Japan has the most ski resorts in the world. With this comes huge choice. A lot of the resorts are quite small, but a number are as extensive as their European counterparts.
Hakuba, situated in the main island of Honshu, is most accessible and boasts of numerous resorts, each with their own individual merits. The main resorts are all connected by a reliable and easy to use bus service. Niseko, in Hokkaido, is another great alternative with unbelievable snow. Such is the appeal, many westerners have chosen to settle here and start their own businesses.
Compared to what many people believe, Japan is not that expensive to visit. Lift passes and rental equipment are actually somewhat cheaper than major western resorts. For those wanting to improve their technique, lessons are also competitively priced, and most of the big resorts have native English speaking instructors. Food and accommodation can vary from place to place, but as with anywhere the more you spend the better quality you receive.
European-style chalet accommodation is uncommon in Japan, but a wide range of hotels and inns make up for this. Five-star luxury hotels offering haute cuisine and a choice of Japanese or Western-style rooms sit alongside more moderate, family friendly fares. For those with unlimited budget and wanting an entirely Japanese experience, a stay in a traditional Ryokan is a must – the private ‘onsen’ (see below) in many are worth the cost alone. For those on more of a tight budget, there are also numerous backpacker style lodges and homely guest houses.
Onsen alone could justify a ski holiday to Japan. At first the idea of sharing an over-sized bath with several other people, all entirely naked, might not sound all that appealing. But when you get over your self consciousness, you’ll find there is nothing more relaxing after a long day on the mountain.
Most Onsen in ski resort towns channel the water from the natural, volcanic hot springs in the earth. The water in one is never the same as another, and each is believed to have it’s own unique healing or restorative power. Trying several different Onsen during a stay can be part of the fun, and what better way to unwind than soaking in these mineral enriched waters as the snow falls around you, gazing back up at the mountains you have just descended.
A feast for the eyes as well as the stomach, Japanese food is as exquisite in appearance as it is in flavour. Sushi and sashimi don’t taste half as good anywhere else, and the varieties are endless. Not a raw fish fan? Then try Japan’s answer to the pizza, okinomiyaki. More of a savoury pancake in reality, it literally means ‘add what you like’. Often the ingredients are served and then it’s up to you to cook over a hotplate built into the table. Great for sharing, it is a very sociable way to eat – and as filling as any fondue. Other options are available, pizza restaurants and Mexican establishments are aplenty, but if you’ve made the effort in the first place, don’t leave without sampling some of this country’s wonderful creations.
To support the Japanese people
In March this year Japan suffered an enormous tragedy. Following the strength and determination of its people, and despite many impending setbacks, the country is getting back on its feet. The recovery is slow, however, and this winter may see a reduction in the number of foreign tourists. One way to help is by visiting this magical land and not be put off by false rumours or naivety. There are sure to be good deals on skiing holidays in Japan, and even less crowded slopes than usual can only add to the incentive.
And try something a bit different
The last reason is no more than just to try something that little bit different. Whether you fall in love with the country, its food, it’s generous people and its great skiing and then come back year after year, or if you just make the one visit, either way you’ll have some extraordinary experiences to last you a lifetime.
- Fly to Grenoble for your winter sports fix
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- Snowboard in Japan: 10 resorts to try
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