I’m a planner. Before even deciding to move to Niseko for the winter, I’d started looking into packing guides for Japan. What to squeeze into my measly 25kg of baggage allowance. What to leave behind. And what I’d be able to purchase upon arrival.
Despite my best intentions, there are some things that even the best packing guides didn’t mention. Here’s my personal ultimate list of what I wish I’d brought with me – it’ll be relevant whether you’re visiting for a week or for six months.
1. Warm(er) clothes
I worked at Big White Ski Resort in British Columbia, Canada, for four winter seasons. And while there were some really cold spells, the winters were generally milder than expected – most of my thermals sat in the cupboard untouched. So when packing for Niseko, I prepared for similar, optimistically mild conditions… and regretted it almost instantly upon arrival.
The secret behind Niseko’s snowfall are the seasonal winds that breeze on over from Siberia. Yes, Siberia. And those Siberian winds will cut straight through your layers to take your breath away. Bring the best base layers you can afford, along with puffer vests for layering under ski jackets and a puffer coat (think Patagonia, or The North Face) to keep you warm while on your aprés-ski travels around town. Don’t forget your beanies, mitts, gloves, face masks and neck warmers. Never worn a helmet on the slopes? It might be time to invest – along with keeping you safe, they also keep your head nice and warm.
2. Cash, cash and more cash
Japan is very much a cash-based society. The ATMs and card machines can be few and far between, and some only accept Japanese cards, so be sure to bring enough Yen to comfortably get you through at least a few days upon arrival. Prices at restaurants and bars in Niseko have a ski resort price tag attached, so expect similar prices to what you might find at restaurants in Australia – luckily, the convenience stores are cheap and stock surprisingly great food that they’re happy to heat up for you.
3. A coin purse
Carrying all that cash around means you’ll quickly accumulate a whole lot of coins, and your wallet’s coin compartment will probably struggle. It’s worth bringing a coin purse, or the largest wallet you have, to make the most of your coins – you won’t believe how much you come to appreciate it. Bonus fun fact: the Japanese 500yen coin is one of the highest monetary-valued coins in the world.
The climate in Niseko is insanely dry, and you might struggle to drink enough water while busy on the slopes. Bring Hydralyte from home to keep your hydration up. This’ll also come in handy if you have a big night out at one of the many tiny bars dotted around Hirafu. Sake, anyone?
5. Western toiletries
If there’s something you really can’t do without – make sure you bring it along, because you won’t easily be able to find it here. Toothpaste, deodorant, moisturiser and tampons are all essential to bring along as the Japanese equivalents are super questionable (or, in the case of moisturiser, have whitening properties). If you’re a dry shampoo user, stock up, as it’s just about impossible to find here. I hear good things about the 100yen mascara from Daiso, though…
6. Long winter boots
You’re coming to the snowiest place in the world, so you’re going to want shoes that can handle the weather. Ankle-length winter boots won’t cut it in Niseko, especially when you need to wade your way through over 30cm of powder. Bring long winter boots or pack your gumboots – they’re quite common in Niseko, as they’re easy to slip on and slip off again when going into anywhere that requires shoe removal.
7. Cold & flu meds
With all those cold Siberian winds, you might just get sick – and if you do, the Japanese medications won’t cut it. Bring your favourite cold and flu medication from home, along with pain killers and throat lozenges. Vitamin D is also a great one to pack if coming for an extended period of time, as you can easily go weeks or even months without seeing the sun. Some over the counter medications are banned in Japan so check first before packing.
8. Avi gear
The Niseko gates are famous for providing access to incredible backcountry and sidecountry terrain. But if you’re looking to head out there, be sure that you’ve packed the right equipment and know how to use it. A shovel, probe and beacon are essential. If in doubt, book in with a guide – there are plenty of guiding companies in Niseko, such as Niseko Photography & Guiding.
Enjoy it out there, and don’t forget to pack the number one most important item… your powder skis/snowboard!
Check out our packing guide for Japan here.
Have you skied in Japan? What did you pack?