Japan is famous for its mountainous landscape, but as well as being picturesque there are great ski opportunities to be had. You don’t even have to travel to the northern parts of Japan; ski slopes can be found as far south as Kyushu. So if you’re a fan of skiing, or snow in general, but don’t have the money or thermals for Hokkaido, then here are five great ski destinations that can be easily reached from Tokyo.
Photo by 名古屋太郎 on Wikimedia Commons
Mt. Fuji has captured peoples interest the world over, just the sight of it inspires awe. But did you know that you can snowboard down it?
Accessible by train or various bus tours, Mt. Fuji has two ski resorts and is just a couple of hours outside of Tokyo. The first is ‘Snow Town Yeti’ located on the southern side of the mountain. It is the smaller of the two resorts but it is open as early as October. Unfortunately though, this is only because they use artificial snow in that period.
There are two slopes, one at 1000 meters and another half the length. These are great slopes for kids or more casual snowboarders, and there is a great no pressure environment that is inclusive of everyone.
The bigger resort is ‘Fujiten’ located along the northern base of the mountain. Whilst not vastly superior, ‘Fujiten’ does generally give a better experience to the more practiced skier. There are two 1300 meter slopes and a 500 meter reserved for families and beginners.
The resort offers several jumps perfect for snowboarding, as well as a kid's park. The park gives children a chance to sled or generally play in the snow without danger of running into any skiers.
Photo by hiropiro. on Flickr
Just two prefectures over from Tokyo lays Nagano, a wonderful prefecture for escaping the sight, sounds, and smells of the big city. It can be easily reached by Shinkansen in under 2 hours or is just a few hours away by standard trains or bus.
‘Shiga Kogen’ is located in Nagano, next to the town of Yamanouchi. There are over 20 ski resorts to be found here and each of them boasts snow all year round. All of these resorts have accommodation that you can stay in and are a great place for both the expert skier and the novice who just wants to give it a go.
Known for its peaceful Buddhist temples Nagano also sports mountains so beautiful they have been dubbed the Alps of Japan. These mountain chains have allowed Nagano to be the site of the 1998 winter Olympic Games and have also given rise to a plethora of ski resorts.
Photo by pxhere.com
You may have heard of ‘Shiga Kogen’ before because, as well as being a high class ski destination, it is also one of the easiest places in Japan to see the Japanese onsen monkeys (macques). Close by you’ll find ‘Jigokudani Monkey Park’ where you can go and bath in the outside volcanic baths that the Japanese Snow monkeys enjoy regularly.
Photo by Chi Tranter on Flickr
Deeper within Nagano you can find the wonderful valley of Hakuba. The valley is nestled in the Japanese Alps and has 10 of the best ski resorts in all of Japan. Professionals and serious skiers flock to the area every year. There are 200 runs, each one highly maintained and treated with care. This small valley should be of little importance but the amazing slopes have allowed a booming tourism business to flourish, and given a much needed boost to the area. Because of the great skiing conditions this little valley has been called a natural beauty and was even the site of many of the Winter Olympic games.
The place has become so popular that both serious and casual skiers can enjoy the slopes as there are classes ranging from beginner to advanced. The tourism has also allowed for a wealth of restaurants and cafés to open, each serving high quality dishes to warm you up after a hard day in the snow. Hakuba is three and a half hours away from Tokyo and whilst it can be visited in a single day you may want to stay over night. If you do, make sure to book early as finding accommodation can be quite competitive.
Photo by Hideyuki KAMON on Wikimedia Commons
Nozawa Onsen is a traditional village in Nagano prefecture, with some truly spectacular ski spots. Nozawa Onsen has recently blown up as a popular destination after being a sleepy little mountain town for years. This gave ski fans the chance to enjoy their favourite sport whilst also taking in sights of traditional Japan.
The town has a rustic charm with cobbled streets and classic Japanese architecture. The onsens in the town are perfect after a cold ski. There are twelve public ones, all of them high quality and foreigner friendly.
On top of this, the natural scenery is to die for. You can climb the mountains and on a clear day see all across the region to the Sea of Japan, 60km away, it’s quite a sight.
The best time to visit Nozawa Onsen is around January 15 as that is when the annual fire festival begins. Each year the town builds a large wooden shrine and has all of the people aged 42 sit atop it whist the 25 year olds attack the shrine, attempting to set it ablaze. These specific ages are chosen because they are both said to be unlucky in Japanese culture. The event ends with a stupendous firework display and the whole town celebrates with mountains of food and rivers of sake.
Photo by Tetsuji Sakakibara on Flickr
You will find no end to the skiing opportunities in Niigata Prefecture. Often credited as the birth place of skiing in Japan, the region has been a popular winter vacation destination for some time now.
Naeba is the highest regarded ski resort in the region and just so happens to be the closest to Tokyo. It is 200km from Tokyo and can be reached by train or car with a matter of hours. Close to the town of Yuzawa and the city of Minamiuonuma, Naeba has snow all year round. This area is famous for housing over 20 ski resorts as well as being the setting of the famous book ‘Yukiguni
’ or ‘Snow Country’ written by Nobel prize winner Kawabata Yasunari.
Naeba has hosted various skiing events, most recently the 2016 Alpine Skiing World cup. This is due to the great reputation Naeba has cultivated over the years as a ski spot worthy of the very best in the field, with great facilities as well as a stunning landscape. You can rocket down the slopes, explore the rich natural world, sample amazing restaurants, and in late July Naeba even has an annual Fuji Rock Festival.