You know that spring in Japan is all about the beauty of the cherry blossoms, and autumn means that the country is awash in brilliantly colored foliage, but did you know that winter has just as much of an appeal for travelers in the know? Some of the best skiing and snowboarding experiences can be found in Japan! Thanks to the diverse climate, especially in northern Japan and along the coastline of the Sea of Japan, the slopes are covered in the dry powder snow that skiers and boarders covet….. even in early spring.
There are accommodations for all budgets ranging from no-frills to middle-of-the-road to unparalleled luxury. Resorts also have great hot springs (onsen) on-site or nearby, and plenty of mouth-watering local cuisine and sake that will entice you to extend your stay. The diversity of terrain affords ideal conditions for all levels of skiers. And since many non-Japanese frequent these resorts, most are English friendly, with staff and facilities providing info in English and often in other languages as well.
For those who enjoy snow sports, but don't feel like carrying heavy equipment and bulky clothing to their destination in Japan, there are several inexpensive domestic shipping services at many hotels and airports that make luggage transportation simple and convenient.
Not a skier/snowboarder but love spending time outside in the winter? There are plenty of sightseeing opportunities, hiking and cultural activities to make ski resorts a perfect winter holiday destination. Additionally, the hot springs and lively nightlife beckon equally to all.
Most resorts can be reached easily from major airport or railway stations, and some are perfect for daytrips; several popular locations can be reached in about 90 minutes by Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo, and others are within easy reach of most major cities.
Here's a brief look at some of the fabulous skiing/snowboarding spots that neither the novice nor the veteran should miss.
Located in Hokkaido, Niseko (composed of five different resorts) is one of the most famous ski spots in all of Japan. It is almost surely the one most visited by non-Japanese, especially Australians. The full English speaking staff will help you with transportation, rentals, ski school, getting around the resort, visiting onsen, etc. Don't miss out on the nighttime fun, either. Enjoy skiing/snowboarding under the moonlight, then relax in the onsen while gazing up at the stars.
Nozawa Onsen in Nagano prefecture was selected as one out of the ten best winter trip destinations listed by National Geographic. Nozawa is a hotspring and ski resort village located in the northern part of Nagano prefecture. The appeal of this location, which permeates the local shops, local foods, and great skiing/boarding terrain, lies in its wonderful blend of traditional Japanese and modern amenities. Nozawa has 13 public hot springs that are free of charge; enjoy them while you chat up the friendly locals. There are many accommodations offering a variety of room styles located just a short walk from the ski lift.
Easily accessible from Tokyo (about a 90 minute Shinkansen ride), Nagano city is the gateway to the numerous ski resorts that pepper the Nagano prefecture landscape. Some of the most well-known among them include Hakuba, Shiga Kogen, Myoko Kogen and Madarao Mountain Resort. There are reasonably priced package tours that let you enjoy different resorts. A variety of cultural activities make Nagano a fun destination for the entire family; there are castle towns and temples, and of course you must visit the Jigokudani Yaen Koen Monkey Park where you can see Japanese snow monkeys enjoying the onsen!
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Known for the famous "snow monsters," (fir trees turned into fantastical shapes due to the heavy snow accumulated on their branches due to the fierce Siberian winds) the city of Zao in Yamagata and Miyagi is also a favorite for its onsen which can be experienced as an open air onsen (rotenburo), as part of traditional Japanese inns and public bathhouses. What is more therapeutic than a hot soak after spending hours in the glorious, bracing winter weather? Quite different than some mega-resorts, Zao has a cozy, traditional atmosphere - the Zao village is nestled at the base of the ski area, and since it was not originally built to be a ski town, it has retained the charm of a traditional Japanese onsen village.
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