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  • Japan

    My ski club had been planning on a trip to Japan this 20/21 season but have pushed it back to the 21/22 season due to the health scare. I would really like to ride the bullet train and see the snow monkeys.

    My first question is, what Japanese city do flights from the States usually land in?

  • #2
    I’ve not been skiing in Japan for a few years, so please take this info with a healthy dose of salt.

    During normal times, the majority of flights from the US mainland (ie not Hawaii) are bound for Tokyo. Within these Tokyo flights, most of them use Narita airport (the large international airport miles out of town), with a smaller percentage landing at Haneda airport (the equally large downtown airport). Both are well connected to the city and surrounding area with trains, highways and buses. The city of Osaka also receives some US mainland service.

    If you want to mix bullet train, snow monkeys and skiing all in one trip and have limited time, the Nagano area just north of Tokyo is what you are looking for. The ski area closest to one of the larger monkey hangouts is Shiga Kogen.

    Powderhounds is a great read for background information for Japan skiing. Here’s their Shiga page.

    The potential downside of skiing down “south” near Tokyo (vs up “north” in Hokkaido) for international travelers is getting unlucky with the weather - A bad warm spell can turn everything to slush for a week or two, and your limited time there means a wasted trip vs being able to wait it out. Hokkaido, being the northen most island, is so far north and has so much snow that it is a reliable bet all season. Unfortunately, there are usually no direct flights from the mainland US, so a connection will be required. Also no bullet trains(except for a short spur connecting to the main island), and no snow monkeys either - so it’s a tough call if you are time limited.

    Best of luck with the trip planning... here’s hoping it all goes back to normal next season.


    • #3
      Japan is amazing! Check out my three part series on skiboarding in Japan of you're interested! LYK is a wealth of knowledge on the topic
      Fox-Trotting - Thrifty Wanderlust & Adventures

      Skiboard Magazine


      • #4
        Good times!
        It was a privilege to ride with you J and to have been part of your adventures.

        To elaborate a bit more on what I said on my previous posting - I want to emphasise that a few warm days in Tokyo is not going to laid waste to the slopes - there’s still plenty of good skiing to be had. In fact here’s an old promo video for Shiga - shot on one of their “meh” days.

        Its still pretty dang good! It’s just that, on a “GOOD” day, it can be like this

        (I have nothing to do with the above videos - They’ve just been my fav Japan ski promo videos all these years)

        Anyways, here’s a quick and dirty general layout of the area with the major ski field areas labeled.
        Click image for larger version

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        • #5
          Brief summary of my worthless opinions:
          Shiga - Endless groomers. Snow monkeys.
          Hakuba - #2 Australian ski colony after Niseko. Steep-ish(for Japan). Trees. Backcountry. Bars/Apres ski.
          Myoko - Old school 1980s Japan. Charming but somewhat limiting in activities and size. Off the beaten path with few tourists, and super friendly locals.
          Nozawa - OLD school 1880s Japan - as in picture book pretty. Old town is charming but makes for lots of walking with ski boots. Traditional fire festival mid January is surprisingly interesting and wild.
          Yuzawa - A delightful mix of modern Japan ski-jos and old school - and it’s a value pack mix with tons of little hills all around, each with their own personalities. Easy access from Tokyo so mainly caters to the city dwellers weekend breaks - you pretty much have the place to yourself on weekdays. Low elevation, so very susceptible to warm spells.
          Kagura - Go. Take some sake to Mahatma for us.


          • #6
            Opinions on planning as a function of trip duration...

            4 days or less in-country - Forget Nagano. Do Yuzawa/Kagura due minimal time wasted on transport. 70 mins on bullet train from Tokyo.

            5 - 10 days - Nagano area. Stay at the ski villages for ski in/out convenience and freedom from the hassles of car rental and driving, or stay in Nagano city for cheaper accommodations, flexibility and choice in terms of where to go for each day. Hakuba, Myoko, Nozawa and Shiga ski fields are all about a hours drive from the city. Yuzawa/Kagura is about a 3 hrs drive away and would be a fun overnight trip if time permits.

            +10 days - consider flying up to Hokkaido or train up to northern Honshu for a few days to fully experience the chest deep powder this place is famous for.


            • #7
              Originally posted by LYK View Post
              Opinions on planning as a function of trip duration...

              +10 days - consider flying up to Hokkaido or train up to northern Honshu for a few days to fully experience the chest deep powder this place is famous for.
              Why not just go to Hokkaido directly for a week?
              Current: '20 Spruce Slingshot 119s, '20 Spruce Crossbow 115s, '18 Spruce Osprey 132s (touring), '21 Rvl8 SII 104s, '21 Summit Invertigos 118s
              Also: '11 Allz Elaila 94s, '12 Rvl8 Rockered Condor 110s, '15 Spruce Osprey 132s , '18 Spruce Crossbow 115s
              Previous: Gaspo Hot Wax 84s, Mantrax 98s, Summit Nomad 99s, Spruce Yellow 120s, Eman Uprise 104s


              • #8
                Originally posted by ysb33r View Post

                Why not just go to Hokkaido directly for a week?
                Sapporo does not have direct service from mainland US, so you’ll have to connect via Tokyo (or somewhere else) anyway.

                Plus no snow monkeys and no bullet train in Hokkaido as mentioned, so might as well do some skiing up in Nagano while checking those things off the box while in Nagano. Nagano snow is not as “famous” as Hokkaido snow, but it’s got its unique charms too that are worth exploring, especially if you are already there for the snow monkeys.

                Some of my most amazing and memorable powder days were down in Yuzawa and Kagura in Honshu. So deep, so silent, so pure... it makes you giddy.

                However, if the lack of monkeys, train, and the extra transit time are not an issue - I would agree that Hokkaido would be a safer bet to to its reliable snow.


                • #9
                  Ok since we are on the topic of Hokkaido, let’s do the same run thru with this place...

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                  Heading to Hokkaido, most arrive via Sapporo’s (Chitose) airport to south of the city. 99% of those visitors then immediately hop on a bus to head west towards Niseko - Hokkaido’s largest and most infamous resort. But dare I suggest, if you have the time (ie more than a week in Hokkaido), to hold off on Niseko, and head the long way around instead - in order stop by some of the other local hills, and maybe get a bit of winter sightseeing along the way.

                  Teine would be the first hill on my suggestions list - half an hours drive from downtown and serviced by a city bus - it’s got some of the best views of the city and its surrounds, and the run down below the abandoned Olympic cable car is some of the best fun I’ve ever had on snow anywhere - deep and steep! It’s also a good excuse for basing yourself in Sapporo and hang out there for a night or two - it’s an interesting and vibrant city with good food and great nightlife, in one of the snoweist urban areas in the world.

                  Next is Kiroro, a secluded medium sized resort that actually gets more snow than any other place in Hokkaido - including Niseko! My favourite place to hang out is the somewhat out of bounds valley between the two hills. 1 hour drive from Sapporo or 30 mins from the charming but touristy town of Otaru are possible off mountain bases. It is also around an hours drive from Niseko if you decide to base there. Kiroro also has its own resort hotel.

                  Now Niseko... I don’t hate Niseko - far from it. It’s popular because it’s got a good combo of snowfall, terrain, acreage, facilities and nightlife. The issue is that it is just too popular internationally, so it’s often way overcrowded, on the hill and off. And due to the sheer number of international visitors, its character has morphed into something not quite Japanese, not quite Australian, not quite Euro and not quite North American... it’s strange. It’s still good, but I don’t love it. But do go experience it - it is very very good skiing - but please do venture out to somewhere else at least for a day or two - to get away from the crowds, and to see what the rest of Hokkaido has on offer.

                  Rusutsu is our last stop, and would be the other easy day trip option out of Niseko if you end up based solely out of Niseko. It’s less than an hours drive from the 4 Niseko base villages. It is a ski resort run by the huge Prince hotel conglomerate, and doubles as a water and amusement park in the summer. Its probably Prince’s fanciest ski resort (Karuizawa - halfway between Tokyo and Nagano, is probably fancier but the skiing there is so crap it hardly qualifies) and its fun to glimpse at a truly local Japanese theme park resort. But we are here for the skiing - and Rusutsu gets just almost as much snow as Niseko gets. But unlike Niseko, most of the guests here are young families and they tend stay on the easy slopes just outside the hotel, leaving most of the mountain crowd free and open. Paradise!

                  And if you have even more time - check out the rest of the resorts further abound in central Hokkaido. Furano, Sahoro and tomamu are a couple hours drive away. Being further inland, their powder is even drier and lighter (but not as much in quantity - kinda like Salt lake snow vs Colorado snow).

                  More later.


                  • #10

                    The initial question regarding arrival cities raises a good follow on question - given a choice, which airport should you use?

                    The situation post-covid is anyone’s guess, but if things return to the way they were, your most likely port of entry will be Tokyo Narita airport. This airport is well set up for tourists arriving and heading into Tokyo and beyond. It has dedicated airport express trains to the main bullet train stations (Tokyo and Ueno stations) and also the main tourist hotel district (Shinjuku).

                    This is in contrast to the downtown airport - Haneda, which is connected to the subway network instead. It may be closer to town but it will likely take multiple line changes to get to where you need to go, and it’s not so easy to haul heavy luggage on a busy subway train. However, Haneda does have more frequent flights to Sapporo, so if your objective is to head north right away, this airport might offer a better connection.

                    Sometimes the airlines will try to sell you a flight arriving in Narita with a onwards connection in Haneda. Don’t do it - the airports are on opposite sides of town and it will take you half a day to get from one to another - if you are lucky.

                    For domestic flights, hang on to your checked luggage sticker stub - they check your matching tags as you leave the bag collection area.


                    If you intend on travelling via the Shinkansen (bullet train), look into getting a JR rail pass. It provides for 5 days of unlimited travel within a 14 day period and might save a bit of money depending on your itinerary. For example Train fare from Tokyo to Nagano is around 8000 each way. The Narita airport express is 3000 each way. The train pass is 18000.

                    You can check schedules and fares here

                    train pass

                    Unlike the airport express trains, the Shinkansen trains have very limited luggage space. If you are lugging ski bags, suggest you get to the platform 15-20 mins early and line up to be the first to get on (lines for each train car are clearly marked on the platform). A good place to stash skis is behind the seats of the first or last row of each car - there should be enough space between the seat back and the wall for a few ski bags. If you don’t get there first and get the space to you might end up hugging your ski bag for the entire trip.

                    This, plus lugging your skis up and down the maze like train stations is not for everyone. There is a very well regarded express courier system that is widely used to send bulky luggage such as ski bags ahead - kuro-neko-yamato (black cat Japan). Its pretty much next day service - so a common routine would be to drop your equipment off to them at the airport when you arrive, then go hang out and spend the night in Tokyo with minimal luggage. Then when you train up to the resort the next day, your skis and everything else are already waiting for you at the hotel.



                    Rule 1. Do not drive in Tokyo city. Just don’t.

                    Other than rule 1 above, Japan is actually a fun place to drive and it’s pretty easy to get around by car now-a-days with GPS guiding your every step. Most important is to arrange for an international license at your local AAA before setting off - they absolutely will not rent you a car without this. Gas is expensive and most expressways are toll roads so the fees do add up - best to do long distance travelling by train and just rent a car locally - most places even let you rent by the hour. Also car rentals around ski areas generally have their cars better set up for winter driving.

                    Some ski cabins rentals also includes the use of a van.

                    Another option to travel by road are “shared taxis” - which are actually 9 seater vans that can be chartered for long distance journeys. If your group is large, a charter bus is often the most economical option.

                    to be continued...


                    • #11
                      Tokyo round-up

                      Tokyo is a very convenient staging area for international arrivals prior to heading off to the ski hills - this is where I build-in slack in the schedule for people arriving on different flights, dates, and for unforeseen circumstances. Especially for larger groups, it’s a good place to organise, socialise, and do some last minute shopping while waiting for everyone else to show up.

                      It’s one of the biggest cities in the world - so where to stay and hang out for such a brief stop?

                      Have no fear, more of my unsubstantiated and judgmental BS is here!

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                      For lodging- in terms of convenience, there are 3 areas that makes the most sense - Shinjuku, Ueno, and Tokyo station.

                      The “fun” choice:
                      Shinjuku, on the west side of town, is the most “touristy” section of Tokyo - akin to times square in New York. It’s got direct train service (Narita express) from the airport, a million hotels (including international chains), a billion restaurants, bars and things happening around the clock. Be advised there’s also a “red light district” that is somewhat seedy, but interesting to stroll through at the same time. The downside is that if you are taking the Shinkansen out of Tokyo, the stations are on the other side of town, but it’s an easy and direct subway ride across as long as you are not schlepping many bags. On the other hand - lots of long distance buses, including ski bus services leave from here. Some of the ski buses run overnight - very time efficient way to get more slope time, but way too hardcore for my aging backside nowadays.

                      My choice:
                      Ueno in the northeast corner is my personal choice for cooling my heels in Tokyo. It is the quickest trip of the 3 from the airport - 40 mins on the Skyliner express. There is a large street market area along the train tracks south of the station along with plenty of restaurants and food options, although the overall atmosphere is much more subdued when compared to Shinjuku. The biggest advantage for Ueno is that it’s the last major station on the Shinkansen before leaving town, so all the bullet trains stops here, but at the same time since this is a smaller station it is much easier to negotiate. One downside to staying in Ueno is that it’s mostly locally branded hotels around here, so if you need to stick with international hotel chains, see next entry.

                      The easy, but more pricy choice:
                      Lastly, Tokyo station is the terminal station and the center for the whole eastern Shinkansen network. There are plenty of choices for hotels in this area here, including international chains. There is also direct Narita express train service from the airport. In terms of transportation convenience this can’t be beat. Downside is rooms tends to run a bit more expensive here, and Tokyo station is somewhat chaotic and intimidating to navigate on arrival.


                      • #12
                        LYK If one were to arrive with a small backpack, a roller and a skibag how easy is it go get to your destination in those areas you mentioned above?
                        Current: '20 Spruce Slingshot 119s, '20 Spruce Crossbow 115s, '18 Spruce Osprey 132s (touring), '21 Rvl8 SII 104s, '21 Summit Invertigos 118s
                        Also: '11 Allz Elaila 94s, '12 Rvl8 Rockered Condor 110s, '15 Spruce Osprey 132s , '18 Spruce Crossbow 115s
                        Previous: Gaspo Hot Wax 84s, Mantrax 98s, Summit Nomad 99s, Spruce Yellow 120s, Eman Uprise 104s


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by ysb33r View Post
                          LYK If one were to arrive with a small backpack, a roller and a skibag how easy is it go get to your destination in those areas you mentioned above?
                          I assume you have a normal shoulder carry ski bag? I had traveled with a similar setup. While it worked well enough travelling with long distance buses - just throw the bag and case underneath and keep the essentials in the backpack. However, with train travel, I came across the following issues:

                          -The shoulder carry ski bag proved clumsy while getting thru doors, elevators, and in crowded stations.

                          -The roller suitcase was difficult to manoeuvre on stairs, and awkward to find storage for sometimes due to its rigid shape.

                          My eventual setup consisted of a large roller duffle... like this

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                          and a snowboard bag with backpack straps... like this

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                          With the roller duffle, I keep a small pack with valuables and personal effects near the top, which I can remove and keep with me when storing the larger bag. The duffle can then be compressed to fit in the smaller overhead bins/station lockers. The duffle is also easier to manhandle up and down stairs when compared to a roller suitcase.

                          The snowboard backpack had enormous capacity, while at the same time kept my footprint small, manoeuvrable, and (somewhat) unobtrusive.

                          I purchased my snowboard bag (similar to above) at one of the ski shops in the Ochanomizu neighbourhood - there is a large concentration of ski/snowboard and sporting goods shops there all within a few blocks of each other. It’s a good place to do some last minute gear shopping, or just to browse around and burn off a few hours(or dollars)...

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                          • #14
                            The bullet train goes to Sapporo now! although its still a long trip from tokyo.
                            Fox-Trotting - Thrifty Wanderlust & Adventures

                            Skiboard Magazine


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Roussel View Post
                              The bullet train goes to Sapporo now! although its still a long trip from tokyo.
                              Almost... they’ve got it up to Hakodate for now, still another 9 years to wait before Sapporo.
                              Click image for larger version

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