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, I hate to tell you that you are missing out! I would highly recommend that you add it to your bucket list immediately. Now that that’s done – I would go further to say that if you’re even remotely a snow lover, your very first trip to Japan just has to be a ski trip!
There is a lot to consider when planning a ski trip in general, but some would say there is even more to consider when planning your first ski trip to Japan. This is mainly because of the foreign culture and language barrier. Don’t worry though! I am 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, I hope you will feel super comfortable that you have all the logistical information surrounding your ski trip to Japan. And of course, that you are itching to get there!
5 Reasons Why You Must Visit Japan Right Now!
1. The Powder
Japan honestly has some of 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. Check out the screenshot of the snow report down below. I mean 52 cm in one day! 😱 And that’s just the norm. There is just no comparing its consistency. Some parts of B.C. Canada do come close – but no cigar.
2. 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 really is amazing to see a country still so in touch with their cultural traditions and values.
3. The People
Japanese people are among the nicest you’ll ever meet. They will go above and beyond to help you out. As far as celebrating your win when you remember how to say a simple ‘yes’ in Japanese. Or running down the street yelling, ‘I’ll help you, I’ll help you!’, when you’re looking at a street map in the middle of Kyoto (truly!). They also love to practice their English, so don’t be surprised if a group of Japanese friends introduce themselves to you in a local bar.
4. The Food
Oh man, the food! 😍 I’m talking about the ramen, the gyoza, karage (fried) chicken, katsu don and Japanese curry. If I’m honest, the list could go on forever. Soooo many people say to me that they’re worried about the ‘weird’ food, and yes there are some weird delicacies (like with any foreign country). But for the most part, the food is amazing, so you needn’t worry. Japanese lollies are also the best.
I’m thinking that I need to dedicate an entire post Japanese food 🤔. I feel it’s deserved 😂.
5. The Site Seeing
For quite a small country, without large distances between major cities, there is so much to see in do in Japan! If your ski trip to Japan is only 2 weeks long, you’ll likely only be able to scratch the surface of site seeing a major city like Tokyo.
This will be just enough to whet your appetite and no doubt, have you returning to Japan year after year for a ski trip, combined with some culture rich site seeing.
So, have I convinced you yet? I am sure that Japan speaks for itself and you didn’t need that much convincing anyway. Let’s get into the logistics then. Here are the answers to the most common questions that I get asked about when providing advice on a skip trip to Japan.
Getting There & Away
Japan has an abundance of premium carriers offering direct or quick-connecting flights into both Tokyo and Sapporo from Australia, such as Qantas, Air Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines. If you wanted to work in a stopover in Hong Kong or Singapore along your way, you can do so with Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines respectively.
Direct flights can go as cheap as $899 direct return from Sydney during winter 😱. With this being said, they can also go as high as $1,600 direct return 🤮. If you see a cheap sale, absolutely do not hesitate to book those flights.
Air Nippon Airways (ANA) are my particular favourite for this journey as they fly overnight in both directions, and they have awesome leg room (shown above). They also always seem to come out with the best sale fares each year, over Qantas or Japan Airlines.
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 ANA and Qantas. If you’re travelling to Hakuba, Myoko or Nozawa Onsen, you will want to fly into Tokyo.
Sapporo has only one main airport – New Chitose. If you are visiting ski areas such as Niseko or Furano, you will need to fly up to Sapporo. Only recently, Qantas has started flying to Sapporo directly on certain days, which is awesome. Otherwise, both Japan Airlines and ANA offer quick connections through Tokyo to reach Sapporo.
Hot Tip: Just be careful with your connection in Tokyo when flying Japan Airlines from Sydney to Sapporo. They often fly into Narita, and out of Haneda, with only a 3 hour connection. You need to change airports in transit 😳. It is obviously manageable, as the airline permits it. However, I personally would not be taking that risk (anxiety central 😵).
This is something that a lot of people forget to consider when planning a skip trip to anywhere for that matter. If you have your own gear and are planning on taking it with you, you’ll likely need a higher baggage allowance or an airline that allows you 2 x checked luggages.
Hot Tip: I would always recommend that you take your own gear with you for any ski trip that is longer than 3 days. The cost of rental gear vs. the quality and condition of said rental gear, is ridiculous.
For 10 days ski hire in Japan, you could buy a whole new set up for the money you’ll spend. At the very least, I would urge you to take your own boots if you have them. Do you really want to be distracted by excruciating boot pain caused by ill-fitting rental boots when you’re in powder heaven? I rest my case.
Luckily, airlines like Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, allow passengers 2 x 23 kg checked luggage per person. One for your clothes and one for you ski’s – amazing! Qantas only allows 30kg’s of checked luggage per person, however they do let you make up this allowance over two bags.
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 which gives you so much time for hunting powder! As always, I would recommend to check the status of this prior to your travel, just in case the rules have changed since this post.
If you are interested in working in Japan, you will require a working holiday 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
As I mentioned previously, Japan is certainly a year-round destination. However, seeing as you’re planning a ski trip to Japan, the best time for most reliable and consistent snowfall is usually between mid-January to mid-February. The snow absolutely pumps during this period 😍.
Small Disclaimer: I say ‘usually’ because in the last few years (2017, 2018 and 2019) snow seasons have been all over the place in terms of their ‘usual’ patterns. You’re most likely to get the best snowfall during this time, but you could also get nuked on in December. For example, the below photo was taken right before Christmas one year… it is literally up to my eyeballs you guys 😱😍… Don’t forget to pack your snorkel 🙈.
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 obviously an exception to the rule.
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 the options that will likely be available if you’re travelling to the bigger areas.
Shinkansen or the ‘Bullet Train’
I have absolutely no doubt that you’ve heard of Japan’s famous bullet trains aka the Shinkansen. It really is an amazing and super fast way to get around. Shinkansen tickets are not cheap, but this mode of travel is definitely effective and can cut your journey time in half. 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.
You can’t book one-way Shinkansen tickets from outside of Japan, so you will need to buy your ticket on arrival. Most services run often enough that you don’t have to worry about missing out on a service with free seats.
Hot Tip: Unless you are planning a big trip around Honshu with lots of bullet train legs, do not bother with a JR Rail Pass. They are super expensive unless you’re going to take at least three bullet train journeys.
Ski Resort Shuttle
Japan has caught on to the fact that Westerners will come in droves to their amazing ski fields. Therefore, companies have popped up who will willingly hand deliver us from the airport, straight to those ski fields, on a coach.
These transfers are actually more expensive than a bullet train ticket, and the journey will take longer. But in terms of convenience, they are awesome. Especially if you have a load of luggage, and it’s your first time in Japan – you may not feeling like navigating Shinjuku train station after a long flight, with no idea as to where you should be going.
A resort shuttle ticket will cost you around $120 AUD per person, per way to travel from Tokyo to Hakuba, Myoko or Nozawa. Ouch.
The best part about these shuttles though is that they’re scheduled to depart 2 hours after major international flights. They’ve really hit the nail on the head here. By the time you’ve cleared customs and collected your luggage, you have enough time to grab some snacks and you’re loading onto the bus. Perfect ☺️.
If you’re feeling particularly travel savvy, you could give the local bus a go. I’ll admit, I found them hard to find every damn time I caught one in Japan. They seem to go from a different place every time. Although small confession here, I am pretty directionally challenged sometimes 😬.
They are much cheaper than both the Bullet Train and Resort Shuttles, so if you have already been travelling around, and feel you have the knack for Japanese public transport – go for it!
Handling Money: Cash vs. Card
Japan is still very much a cash based country, especially in the ski resort areas. On average, you might find one foreign ATM in these areas that won’t swallow your bank card. My advice is to take as much cash with you as you feel comfortable carrying, and use card for bigger purchases when possible.
Big hotel chains will accept Eftpos, as well as some restaurants and retail stores. Of course, Tokyo is an exception where you will find card payment is accepted freely almost everywhere.
That’s a wrap on the in’s and out’s surrounding the logistical arrangements of your upcoming ski trip to Japan. I think I have covered most things, but if you think of anything else, please feel free to leave a comment below, or reach out at any time! ☺️
If you’re still with me, and want to read about the fun stuff involved in a ski trip to Japan, check out my post ‘What to Expect from the Land of the Snowiest Winters on Earth’.