Japan is a phenomenal country. Filled with wonderful people, centuries of culture, incredible site seeing, ridiculously good food and the most amazing snow, in the whole world. It is a year-round destination, without a doubt. However, why not visit during winter and experience both sides of Japan’s greatest offerings – culture and snow.
If you haven’t been to Japan already – what the hell are you doing? Get your ass over there right now! Okay – maybe not right now, but let’s start planning that trip STAT. This post is designed to help you out a bit with the planning process. I’m about to give you the low-down of Japan. The who’s who, and the where’s where. You get the gist.
By the end of this post, you’ll have a clear picture of your trip, including why you’ve just got to go there. Then, keep an eye out for part two – the real juice on how much fun you’re going to have, while you’re there!
6 Reasons Why You Must Visit Japan Right Now!
- The Powder – Japan legitimately has the best snow in the world! There is something magical about it I’m telling you. The sky turns into a tap that is constantly left on. Exhibit A – snow report… 52 cm in one day! And that’s just the norm. There is just no comparing it. Some parts of B.C. Canada do come close – but no cigar.
- The Culture – Japan’s culture is ingrained deeply into the people and their social behaviours. You will find ancient temples everywhere! Even in tiny ski villages. It’s apart of their culture, you see. And it’s amazing to see a country still so in touch with traditions and their cultural values.
- The People – Japanese people are among the nicest you’ll ever meet. They will go above and beyond to help you. As far as celebrating your win when you remember how to say a simple ‘yes’ in Japanese. Or running down the street yelling, ‘I help you, I help you!’, when you’re looking at a street map.
- The Food – Oh, the food! I’m talking about the ramen, the gyoza, karage (fried) chicken, katsu don and Japanese curry. The list could go on forever. Be prepared to eat all the food. And the lollies! Japanese lollies are the best. Don’t worry – I’m going to dedicate a whole post to Japanese food. I feel it’s deserved.
- The Site Seeing – Most of the things you’ll see in Japan are linked to their history, and thereby culture. For quite a small country, without large distance between major cities, there is so much to see and do!
- The Powder – again. Yes. It’s that good. Don’t believe me? You’ll just have to experience it for yourself..
I’ve convinced you right? Now that you’re planning a trip to Japan next season – here is the scoop on all the important logistics that will go in to your Japanese Ski Holiday (or any Japanese holiday, for that matter).
Getting There & Away
Japan has an abundance of premium carriers offering flights into both Tokyo and Sapporo – depending on your ski-field destination. (We will cover this further in future posts shortly, don’t worry). Tokyo has two main airports – Narita and Haneda. Narita is further from the city and is Japan Airlines main hub. While Haneda is closer to the city, and is the hub for All Nippon Airways and Qantas.
These three carriers all offer direct flights from Sydney to Tokyo – daily. How awesome is that! If you’re continuing to Hokkaido, they also offer great connecting flights up north. My favourite is All Nippon Airways (ANA). They have ah-mazing leg room (right), as well as they fly over night in both directions. Tick and tick.
Hot Tip: Just be careful with your connection in Tokyo when flying Japan Airlines the whole way through from Sydney to Sapporo. They often fly into Narita, and out of Haneda, with only a 3 hour connection. It is obviously manageable, as the airline permits it. However, I would not personally take that risk. Destination stress-ville if you ask me!
If you’re interested in a transit or stop-over en-route to Japan, you can also fly with Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Thai Airways and China Airlines. While it is definitely a longer journey, they can be a lot cheaper than the direct flight – especially during peak season. Plus, flying with these guys gives you a chance to explore another city along the way. Bonus!
This one is quite important when considering what to pack for your ski trip. I would always recommend taking your own gear, as I think ski hire is just an absolute rip. For 10 days in Japan, you could buy a whole new set-up for the money you’ll spend on ski-hire. Trust me on this. It is not worth it.
Luckily, airlines like Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, allow passengers 2 x 23 kg luggages per person. One for your clothes and one for you ski’s – amazing! Qantas, Singapore, Cathay, and Thai all allow 30 kg per person – still plenty of allowance to avoid rental costs.
Australian Passport Holders do not require a visa to enter Japan. You will be granted a stay of 90 days upon entry as a tourist – so much time for powder hunting! I’ve also visited Japan 4 times as a tourist in 6 years, and I haven’t been questioned as to why I return every year. I guess for starters because I leave on time every year, and they’ve certainly twigged to the fact that us Aussies, love their snow.
If you are wanting to work there, you will require a working visa. To find out more about your Working Holiday in Japan, head over to my post A Working Holiday in Japan 101.
When to Go
This is all dependent on what you’re going for. For the purposes of this post, and for ski travel, the best time is definitely mid January to mid February. The snow is pumping at this time. It’s still busy, but way less busy than overChristmas and New Year. In saying that, the photo below was taken right before Christmas one year.
Don’t forget to pack your snorkel!
If you’re interested in seeing the Cherry Blossoms, you will need to visit during late March to mid-April. Typically the Cherry Blossoms last about 3 weeks. It is possible to do this in conjunction with your ski trip. It will just require a longer trip (say 3 weeks) and some damn good luck. What I’m getting it is, you could enjoy some spring skiing in Hokkaido up until the end of March, before tacking on some touring in cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka in early April.
Let me just start this section off by saying – the Japanese are the epitome of efficiency. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a late bus, train or plane in that country. Except for that one time that a blizzard kept us in the airport overnight. Butttt that’s a bit different.
Getting to and from the ski resorts has gotten easier and easier over the years. Of course, each resort destination is different, however, for now, I’m just going to cover briefly on the options, with specific instructions to come in destination specific posts (stay tuned!).
Oh famed Bullet Train. It really is amazing and a great way to get around. It is cheap, but it’s definitely effective. While you won’t be able to catch the bullet train to the base of the ski resort, they do get you within great proximity to finish the trip with the local bus. Bullet Train’s can cut the duration of the journey in half!
The bullet train will leave Tokyo from Shinjuku station. You may need to change once during your journey, however, I’ve been told that it is super straight forward (compared to old times).
Japan Tourism has caught on to the fact that we will come in droves to ski their fields – and therefore have created companies to hand deliver us to said ski fields – straight from the airport. Be warned: these transfers are even more expensive than the bullet train. But they are incredibly convenient. You’re looking at around $120 AUD per person, per way to travel from Tokyo Haneda or Narita Airport to Hakuba. Ouch.
The best part about them though, is they’re cleverly scheduled to depart 2 hours after most major international flights. They’ve really hit the nail on the head with their business directive if you ask me. To be honest, for your first trip to Japan, just cough up and take the shuttle. It will save you from lugging around 4 heavy pieces of luggage between two people while navigating the ginormous Shinjuku station.
If you’re feeling particular savvy, give the local bus a go. I’ll admit, I found them hard to find every time I caught one in Japan, as the damn things seem to go from a different place every time! But they’re much cheaper than both the Bullet Train and Resort Shuttles. If you’ve already spent a few days or weeks travelling around, you may have the knock for finding obscure local transports 🙂
Handling Money: Cash vs. Card
Long story shot: take bulk cash with you. Japan is still a ways behind when it comes to cashless payments such as Eftpos and PayPass. Especially in the ski resort areas.
You will find maybe one or two ATM’s in most resort towns, however, they are always kind of hidden out of the way. Big hotel chains will accept Eftpos, as well as some restaurants and retail stores. But I really would just recommend you to cash up and use the ATM’s as a refill option.
Tokyo is the exception – you will find card is accepted freely almost everywhere.
Well there you have it folks. I’m pretty sure I’ve covered the lot, but feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions. Otherwise, hang around for part two of my Japan series – detailing what to expect from the ski resorts and their villages. It’s going to be so much fun!