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Skiing

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Skiing in Japan

Area Guide Index
Hokkaido Tohoku Region Niigata Prefecture  Nagano Prefecture Gunma Prefecture  Other Area

General Information

Hot springs, beautiful autumn mountain scenery and Fuji-san. These are probably just a few of the more enduring images of Japanese nature. The white wonderland that many of the Japanese mountains transform into for a third of the year may come as a surprise to many.

Japanese winters are cold and severe and for city dwellers the winter season may well be their least favorite time of the year. But for many, skiers and snowboarders, winter is by far the best season as they are treated to some of the heaviest snowfalls and best quality snow in the world. With ski resorts dotted around the mountainsides throughout Japan, incredibly a large percentage of the Japanese population is literally within hours of quality skiing and snowboarding action. Many of the resorts are small local ski hills, but there are still a few hundred decently sized resorts to choose from, including a number of large world-class resort towns and regions. A fair number of these ski resort towns are also natural hot springs, and this combination of a day on the slopes followed by a soak in an onsen makes the Japanese ski experience irresistible to many.

There are around 600 ski and snowboard resorts throughout Japan all the way down from the northern island of Hokkaido to the southern island of Kyushu. The first snowfall of the season usually arrives in the north in November and the majority of resorts are able to open in the month of December, meaning that a White Christmas is almost guaranteed in the mountains of Japan. Another impressive feature of the Japanese snow season is the huge quantities of snow that fall - some resorts during the peak season report a snow depth of 6 or 7 meters!  So reliable are the snowfalls that if you are in Japan during the period January to mid-March, you are almost guaranteed excellent snow conditions. Such huge quantities of snowfall also means that many regions have a long ski season, with some resorts in higher locations being able to stay open until around in early May.

Snowboarding arrived in Japan in the early 90's and at first only a few ski resorts allowed snowboarders on their slopes. That quickly changed as snowboarding became more fashionable than skiing and now there are only a small number of skiers-only resorts remaining. Currently the number of skiers and snowboarders on the slopes in general is even. The number of resorts currently offering terrain parks and items is now increasing and is probably a trend that will continue.

Skiing and snowboarding in Japan is actually relatively inexpensive when compared to other countries. For example, a one-day lift ticket will typically cost around 4000-4500 yen, sometimes cheaper, and many resorts now also offer a large range of tickets including half-day, multi-day and season passes. Ski and snowboard equipment, as well as ski and snowboard wear, is also available at the vast majority of resorts so you do not need to be fully kitted out in order to give it a try.

The attractive packages including travel, accommodation and lift tickets are often available at travel agents, and you will also find good deals by contacting hotels directly if you want to plan your own trip.

There are many resorts within easy reach of Tokyo and even day trips are possible. Within 2 hours you will be able to visit ski resorts in Niigata, Gunma, Tochigi and Nagano and within 3 hours the options greatly increase.

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Area Guide

Hokkaido

Hokkaido is becoming increasingly well-known for excellent snow conditions and the coldest winters. Niseko is the most popular resort area and is also the place where you will find the most foreigners as foreign businesses invest in the town and facilities. Hirafu is now a bustling town with some of the best apres-ski on offer in Japan. It also has the added benefit of superb powder snow for most of the season. Other resorts in Hokkaido are the nearby Rusustu and Furano and Sahoro to the east of Sapporo.

Regional Information of Hokkaido

Tohoku Region

The Tohoku region covers a wide area and the resorts are more scattered, with the main popular resorts being Appi Kogen and Shizukuishi in Iwate Prefecture. Hakkoda in Aomori is less of a resort but is popular for people hunting out powder conditions on the mountain.

Niigata Prefecture

There are two main ski resort regions of Niigata - Yuzawa and Myoko. Yuzawa is the most hassle-free daytrip from Tokyo. Echigo Yuzawa is the main bullet train station and it only takes around 80 minutes to get there from Tokyo Station. The GALA Yuzawa resort even has its own bullet station that doubles up as a gondola station so you get off the train and straight onto the ski gondola! There are many other resorts in the region including Ishiuchi Maruyama, Iwappara and NASPA Ski Garden. 20 minutes from the station is Kagura resort and a little further the popular Naeba. The other main region is Myoko, home to the Suginohara, Akakura and Ikenotaira resorts.

Regional Information of Niigata

Nagano Prefecture

Nagano played host to the 1998 Winter Olympics and as might be expected has some excellent, world-class ski resorts. Resorts are found throughout the Nagano mountains, but the biggest resort areas are Hakuba, Shiga Kogen and Nozawa Onsen. Hakuba is arguably the most popular winter sports region in Honshu and is home to a number of snow resorts set against an impressive mountain backdrop. There are a number of resorts lined up along a 30km stretch of mountains including Happo-one, Iwatake, Tsugaike Kogen, Hakuba 47 and Hakuba Goryu. The men's downhill and super giant slalom as well as the ski jump and nordic combined events of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics all took place in Hakuba. Shiga Kogen is one of the giants of the Japanese ski areas and is actually one of the largest ski resort areas in the world. There are about 20 connected resorts in all that make up Shiga Kogen and it may very well take you more than a few days to ride every course. One lift pass will give you access to all 71 lifts, gondolas and ropeways at Shiga Kogen. Nozawa Onsen is a small hot spring village with it's very own large-scale ski and snowboard resort and is a favorite for many due to the charming village atmosphere as well as the skiing and snowboarding on offer.

Regional Information of Nagano

Gunma Prefecture

The northern region of Gunma also has a good share of ski resorts. Kusatsu is located to the west on the border with Nagano Prefecture and is another traditional hot spring town. In the north east of the prefecture, Marunuma Kogen, Kawaba and other various resorts in the Minakami and Katashina town areas can be found.

Regional Information of Gunma

Other Area

While the most snow falls in northern regions and generally the amount of snowfall is less the further south you go, ski resorts can actually be found as far as Kyushu Region. Of course, the ski season is also shorter the further south you are. For example, there are still a selection of popular resorts in Gifu Prefecture (Chubu Region), Shiga Prefecture (Kansai Region) and Hiroshima Prefecture (Chugoku Region).

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Further Information

You can get more information about winter sports in Japan  on the Snow Japan website (http://www.snowjapan.com) . Snow Japan is the independent guide and online community for anyone interested in skiing and snowboarding in Japan. The website has detailed information on every ski resort in Japan as well thousands resort photos, resort reviews and resort journals posted by readers.

(c)2006 JNTO and Snow Japan.