Sarah Harden wrote this opinion piece after a snow holiday in Japan.

It’s a powder day, but you don’t need to examine the snow carefully to know. The lift line tells you everything; avalanche packs, groups of men, overbearing voices, and a total disregard for manners or etiquette. Welcome to Japan.

There are many reasons why our family returns to Japan year on year. We were initially drawn by our affection for the culture, which had developed over many years of studying both karate and the language. So when it was suggested that we seek out the ski fields we jumped at the chance. That was in 2002. We haven’t looked back.

For all the reasons that people love Japan, so do we. The food is absolutely incredible, the culture of mindfulness and consideration for your fellow humans is both admirable and makes for a calm and comfortable living experience, and most importantly the Japanese people are welcoming and friendly, willing to share the amazing civilisation they have established over many thousands of years.

Which is why behaviour at the ski fields by non Japanese people can, at times, be so crass and infuriating.

Here are a few examples of behaviour that I witnessed that marks the foreigner and made me ashamed of my fellow Australians; and let me be clear, it’s mostly the Australians, with a notable effort on the part of the British.

Queue Jumping

Bro #1 gets in line. His fellow bros go to the toilet, get a coffee, buy tickets etc. As the lift approaches, bros #2 to #6 emerge from their activities and push through the assembled crowd to join bro #1. The result; 5 people who have been patiently waiting miss out on the first lift.

I have also seen this behaviour in relation to family groups, where Mum and three kids will join Dad up the front. It’s not on people. Wait your turn like everyone else. If you’re separated, then you’re separated. Sort it out at the top.

Onsen etiquette when skiing in Japan

Loud Talking

Groups of bros, loudly talking about how much powder they’ve smashed, how far out the back they’ve been, where they’ve travelled too, how hot they rate the female physiotherapist staying at their accommodation etc.

To truly appreciate how grating and obnoxious this is, you would have to have experienced the almost zen like beauty of the mostly Japanese populated lift. Everyone’s quiet or talking in hushed tones. No one uses a phone.

It’s serene and pleasant. You can take in the stunning vista of the landscape and plan your next run. Pro tip; no one wants to hear about your lines, runs, sake binge. Correction; no one wants to hear you at all.


A particular shout out to the bros in the cafe on the mountain. It’s snowing, it’s -15, it’s crowded but everyone is having a lovely lunch. Do you really think we need or want to see your white stomach and gross tattoos (especially taboo in Japan) because you’ve stripped down to your muscle shirt? We don’t. I didn’t, neither did my husband, my daughter, or the groups of Japanese people somewhat horrified by your, *ahem*, display.

Buying snow gear in Tokyo to ski or board in Japan

Avalanche packs

These bad boys get a special mention. I’m all about safety. I’ve worn a helmet while riding for over 20 years. I know what I’m doing and I ride in control.

Putting on an avalanche pack does not make you immortal.

I saw many avi packers heading out into the wilderness having just listened to their lift conversations. Did they know where they were going? No. Had they dug a pit to establish the condition of the snow pack? No. Were they with a guide? No. Well, one group did, but he’d been a “local guide” since he arrived in Japan two weeks before they did.

But they all had a pack. I know they had one because every time they moved it smashed me or my daughter, knocking us off balance. All the gear, no idea.


A final mention to the very tall man, with very fat and long skis who took up an inordinate amount of space to begin with, and then STRETCHED his calves and quads in the gondola.

I get it. You’re extreme, had a huge run, your legs are massive and the toxins are building up (except it’s the first lift). But could you try to keep your arse out of my face please?

I would very much like to continue to return to Japan for years to come to visit with friends and experience the amazing mountains, art, history, food and culture.

Please travellers, I implore you to learn a little about the social norms and etiquette, and try to not screw it up for the rest of us.

Do you agree with Sarah’s opinion or have you had a totally different experience in the beautiful fields of Japan? 

Have some respect! The ultimate etiquette guide to skiing in Japan


  1. Back in Japan now after a 10 year hiatus and have seen many of these examples over the past couple of weeks. My only critique of your list would be I’d rather see people prepared with avy gear heading into the back bowls with hopefully an AST1 under their belt and a semblance of understanding of the risks.The number of totally unequipped people ducking ropes in Nozawa during last week’s storm was frightening and quite amazing there’s not been more reported fatalities. The Japanese resorts also need to come up to speed with global backcountry access standards – the “out of bounds, not our problem” attitude will just get people killed rather than educating people about the risks.

  2. Nice worded Sarah, probably the biggest turn off about skiing in Japan. I had a few weeks in an Austrian resort recently, and not 1 native English speaker to be found, and none of the above issues.

    Big fat skis are partly to blame as ‘everyone’ is now a pow and backcountry legend when previously you had to be able to ski with a degree of skill. Anyway, progress 😉

  3. …wow, the ugly aussie skier/boarder has migrated from Canada to Japan – we have put up with this crap for over 40 years in Canada!!!

  4. You sound like that one angry ojisan in the neighborhood who’s complaining about the noises coming from a hoikuen. If you can’t handle being around people, then you better stay home. Seriously, it’s not people like the ones you describe but people like you who ruin for everyone else.

    Tattoos are a taboo in Japan? Sure they are… in older onsens. But things are changing. If you can’t stand seeing someone’s arm tattoos then don’t look at the person. It’s very simple. Manspreaders? Is that really a thing? Someone stretched in front of you and the guy happened to be big and took more space than most and you need the urge go rant about it online? If the guy is bigger than most, common sense dictates you should simply give him since space. Avalanche pack? Most likely inexperienced people and this could very well be addressed in a proper avalanche related article but again, not an angry rant about everyone you don’t like. They’re not ruining for anyone else, just you (who by the way, are the one intruding into someone else’s conversation).

    If you really can’t stand seeing a tattoo longer than a shirt’s sleeve, listen to “the bros” talking about how awesome the powder is, someone needing extra space because shoganai, he’s just taller than you, pro tip: Stay home!

  5. I just came back from Niseko.
    I did not witness any of this behavior skiing. However Australia day celebrations are a bit out of control (Not sure why it is so big?) Sadly some people love any excuse to get drunk!
    This was my first trip to Japan and I will most certainly be returning.
    However on my return to the heat of Melbourne I went to the Fish & chip shop where the customer dress code for particular males appears to be no top undies showing above low cut swimmers and big gut!
    Yes the Japanese are very respectful people.

  6. Just laughing at garthgoyle, who obviously has some tough stickers and is completely void of cultural finesse. And Joel, who is probably one of Garthgoyles obnoxious mates. yes, the Japanese hate you. You are, to them, a pig. loud, obnoxious, arrogant and stupid. You are in japan, not back home in Boganville. My advice: stay home and stop making an ass out of yourself to the Japanese. Because you are.


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