Planning to ski and snowboard Japan?

You’ll need our guide – the A to Z to the land of bottomless powder, extreme politeness, culinary delights, wild whacky shows, zen nature and public transport that just makes sense.

Arigatou, kanpai!

Apps. You’ll need them! HyperDia for all your transport needs, GuruNavi for hunting out the best restaurants in town and Google Translate and if you’re a little bit ramen obsessed you’ll need to download Ramen Beast.

Bullet train. Zooming up to 300km/h, the bullet train or Shinkansen is the way to travel with speed and style. It really is an experience in itself.

Cash is king. For such a technologically advanced country, it can seem odd to carry around giant wads of Japanese yen. But it’s essential! Cash still rules in Japan.

Directions. The Japanese are expert direction givers and extremely helpful. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when lost.

Etiquette. This lies at the core of Japanese society. Do your utmost to emulate Japan’s excellent etiquette and you’ll go far.

Fire Festival. Put it in your calendar – January 15th every year is the famous Dosojin Matsuri or Fire Festival in Nozawa Onsen. One of the three biggest festivals in Japan and a must-see cultural event.

Photo Michael Mason for UnSplash.

Guides. Book them for the backcountry. They will show you the best untouched powder stashes and keep you safe.

Heavy luggage. Japan has a brilliant delivery service that is cheap and efficient. If you’re spending a few days in Tokyo or otherwise before your ski destination, find a Yamato counter (there’s always one at the airport) and send your ski bags ahead of you.

Ice Festival. The Sapporo Ice Festival is held for a week in February and dazzles with ice sculptures up to 15 metres high.

sapporo snow festival
Sapporo Ice Festival. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Japow. Japan + powder snow = Japow. It’s light, it’s dry, it’s deep. It’s arguably the best snow in the world. Enough said.

Kamoshika. If you’re lucky you’ll spot one of these native Japanese animals walking through deep snow. Half goat and half deer, the Kamoshika are said to be spirits of the forest and bring good luck to those who see them.

Locals. The Japanese locals are really what make a ski town special. Be sure to take the time to say hello.

Monkeys. The snow monkeys near Shiga Kogen are well worth the snowy trek through a forest – they sit in hot springs and provide perfect photo opportunities.

Snow monkeys. Photo: Billy Pasco via Unsplash

Nightlife. Japanese nights just hit different. Think tiny, underground bars, late night karaoke and too much sake.

Onsen. The best way to recover after a big day on the hill. Japan has plenty of natural hot spring baths, or onsen and are well worth the initial awkwardness of getting completely naked with strangers.

Pizza box chairlifts. These tiny, single person chairlifts are about the size of a pizza box. Slightly scary but very memorable and oh so Japanese.

Pizza Box chair at Niseko. Photo credit: Niseko Photography and Guiding

Questions. Head to the local information centre to ask all your questions. These are often located in a train station and usually have great English speaking staff and many useful maps.

Ramen. The quintessential winter meal made of noodles in broth and a heap of different toppings.

Sake. When in Japan, do as the Japanese do and try the local sake (fermente rice spirit).

Sake Barrels. Photo Thyla Jane via Unsplash

Tatami mats. That beautiful rush grass flooring often found in traditional ryokans. If you get the chance, opt for a traditional style room with tatami mats and futon beds for the true Japan experience.

Umami. The Japanese word equating to “pleasant savoury taste”. Often found in Japanese cooking like meat broths, mushroom and fish.

Vending machines. Drinking beers and hot soup out of vending machines is a quintessentially Japanese experience. The novelty never wears off.

Whiskey. Try the local liquor as Japan makes some of the best whiskey in the world, drier and smokier than international whiskeys, with iconic brands include Suntory, Yamazaki and Nikka.

Photo credit Yuri Shirota via Unsplash

X-rays. If you get hurt while skiing, rest assured that Japanese hospitals tend to be excellent, with food worthy of restaurant dining. 

Yotei. The mountain that dominates the skyline around Niseko. It’s an active volcano that you can actually ski into (see G for Guides).

Zen. How you’ll feel after your amazing Japan snow trip.

This article was featured in our FREE 70 page e-mag The Northern Issue for skiers and snowboarders ↓

Nozawa, the prettiest ski village in all the ancient lands of Japan