|Introduction to winter sports in Japan
Many people who are unaware of the delights of a Japanese winter are genuinely surprised to hear about how much snow falls in the many mountainous regions of Japan.
Here’s the thing. Japan offers some of the most amazing ski and snowboard experiences out there.
We’re not biased, honest!
There’s a number of reasons for this - consistent snowfall; massive amounts of snowfall; often excellent powder conditions; varied and challenging terrain; literally hundreds of resorts, many easily accessible by car and train; natural 'onsen' hot springs to soak in after a day on the slopes… to name just a few.
It is only in recent years that the ski slopes of Japan have started to be recognized internationally as a prime destination for skiers and snowboarders.
We’d like to think that SnowJapan, online since the autumn of 1999, has played a part in getting the word out. We’re still here in 2013 with a brand new version of our website representing a major step forward and with further big plans for the future.
In this introductory guide, we want to provide some background to winter sports in Japan.
A bit of history, a flavour of what to expect and a short introduction to some of the more popular areas of Japan.
Snow in Japan?!
The most enduring image of the Japanese countryside is possibly the stunning countryside in the spring, summer and autumn months of the year.
Endless greenery, cherry blossoms, mountains, temples and spectacular autumn foliage are prominent elements of that popular picture.
But Japan actually has perhaps some of it’s most breathtaking scenery in winter. And more importantly, some of the best and unique skiing and snowboarding experiences, as well as some of the heaviest and most consistent snowfalls to be found anywhere in the world.
One of Japan’s most loved novels, written by Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata, is called ‘Snow Country’ (yukiguni). The novel was set in a small snowy town in Niigata Prefecture called Echigo Yuzawa. Yuzawa Town (as it is now usually known) also happens to be the town where SnowJapan first started. The creator of SnowJapan first came to Japan in 1992 and has lived in the region since then. It is still the base for SnowJapan. More on that here.
Until recent years the Japanese winter sports scene has almost been one of the countries best kept secrets, but each year it is becoming increasingly known as more people visit from overseas and then spread the word about their experiences in Japan.
It feels like there’s some real momentum now.
With resorts dotted all over the Japanese islands, from the northern island of Hokkaido right down to the main southern island of Kyushu, almost all of Japan’s inhabitants live within a couple of hours of a ski lift. Many much closer. Considering the country’s size, that’s pretty amazing.
Japan is the home to the largest number of ski and snowboard resorts in the world - with over 500 resorts. And we have them covered here on SnowJapan.
In Japan ski resorts are called ‘ski-jo’, literally meaning places to ski.
Many of these ski-jo are actually very small operations with one or two lifts and short runs, but at the same time Japan is home to a many large-scale ski and snowboard resorts. Some of the names that you might have heard of include the following:
The incredible deep powder of Niseko, Hokkaido;
There's so many more good choices to be had - the variety and depth of choice open to snow-lovers in Japan is pretty incredible.
What about Mount Fuji? Well, there are no ski resorts actually on Mount Fuji, but there are a few smaller ski resorts on the lower foothills fairly close to Fuji-san - Snow Town Yeti and Fujiten Snow Resort. Some people have even hiked up and skied and boarded down Mount Fuji.
The Nagano Winter Olympics of 1998 brought winter sports in Japan under the international spotlight and by that time word was already starting to spread. With the possible exception of winter 2011/2012, due to the unfortunate events of March 2011, each season more and more foreigners are travelling to Japan, finding powder and falling in love with the Japan experience. Many are coming back again and again.