Japan Ski Tips
Japan Ski Tips: Manners
The most important of Japan Ski Tips is to be polite and respect the local culture. Local people are generally very friendly and are always willing to help foreign travellers. Unfortunately in some other resorts, like Niseko, some foreign skiers show scant respect for local culture and ways while they are there. This can do some irreparable damage that may result in some establishments shying away from allowing foreigners in. See discussion about this here.
Japan Ski Tips: Shoes
Say goodbye to your shoes. Not forever, but at the entrance to many hotels and public buildings. Slippers will usually be provided for you to change into, although you may be asked to remove those at a certain point inside. Don’t panic – just remember that this is simply one of the cultural differences in Japan, and observe what others are doing. The inside slipper (or shoe) for toilet slipper exchange often happens at the toilets too.
Japan Ski Tips: Language
Get a Japanese phrasebook – it will make a difference as English is little used. We recommend the Lonely Planet Phrasebook or the Berlitz Japanese Phrase Book & Dictionary. These days one can even learn Japanese on an iPod or add a phrasebook, so try to get some basic phrases before arrival. You can also read a Life in Japan type book
Japan Ski Tips: Snowboards
Japan Ski Tips: Credit Cards, Cash & ATM’s
This is one of the most frequently asked about Japan ski tips. Don’t expect to use your credit card with considerable ease in many places. Although Japan may be technologically advanced in many areas, the financial services area is not one of them. So be prepared and bring at least some cash if you get stuck. Some restaurants will accept cards as will most accommodation providers used by foreign guests as well as ski lift ticket offices.
An easy way to obtain cash is to use major foreign cash and credit cards at Post Office and ‘Seven Bank’ ATMs. Over 2600 Post Office ATMs which marked with the ‘International ATM Service’ symbol provide this service. Check here to see what debit cards are accepted at post office ATM’s in Japan.
In Myoko the post office in the lower part of the Akakura Onsen main street (located next to the Akakura Onsen winter bus stop) has an ATM that accepts Maestro/Cirrus cards. Check for these on our maps page (click on the relevant google map link) or here for the 7-Bank ATM in Myokokogen.
Service hours for Post Office ATM’s vary depending on the location, but in general they can be used:
- Monday to Saturday: 0:05 (7:00 Mon. and the day after a holiday)-23:40
- Sunday and national holidays: 0:05-20:00
- Closed: January 1-3
Note: 7-Eleven convenience stores are no longer accepting Mastercard, Maestro and Cirrus, as of 19th April 2013. Visa and a number of other cards will still work. See here for more details.
Japan Ski Tips: Onsen
Make sure you try an onsen. An onsen is a large bathing pool filled with hot natural spring water from geothermal sources below the mountains. Apparently the water is filled with minerals that have great healing properties. Whatever is in the water it certainly revitalises your body and is a great way to end an awesome day of riding the powder or the pipe. Just be aware that tradition dictates that you bath naked. However, there are separate men’s and women’s onsen. Before you enter the hot water, you have to clean yourself. Just copy what the locals are doing: sit on a small stool and clean yourself. Soap and shampoo are normally provided. Use it! Some locals might watch you suspiciously, assuming that you might make the water dirty, so use plenty of soap and shampoo! Get some simple onsen instructions here.
Japan Ski Tips: Crowds
Try to avoid snowboarding on weekends and public holidays as many of the main lifts, such as the Suginohara gondola, can become very busy. As most Japanese like to rise early and start skiing or snowboarding early in the day, another way to avoid crowds on the slopes is to start riding in the early afternoon.
Japan Ski Tips: Take a day trip
Take a day trip to the nearby city of Nagano – the former being the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics and home to the famous Zenkoji Temple. Other days trips include Matsumoto Castle or see the snow monkeys in Yudanaka Onsen
Japan Ski Tips: Drinking
If you’re lucky enough to go drinking with some locals an empty glass is a sign that it needs to be filled again. So leave yours full once you have finished for the night. And on the subject of filling glasses, it’s not polite to fill your own glass – someone else will do it for you. Always receive your glass or cup with both hands and always lift your glass or cup when someone is pouring for you. Check out places to go drinking in Myoko Kogen here.
Important, if drinking in Tokyo or Osaka read this warning!
Japan Ski Tips: Ski Run Grades
Unlike the typical green, blue, red, black system used by resorts elsewhere in the world to grade runs not all Japanese resorts have adopted a consistent grading methodology.
Japan uses a color-coded system, but shapes do not usually accompany them. Some resorts, mainly those catering to foreigners, use the North American or European color-coding system, adding to the confusion. When in doubt, check the map legend. The usual ratings are:
- Beginner slopes. These are usually near the base of the mountain, although some follow switchback routes down from the top.
- Intermediate slopes. At most ski areas in Japan, these constitute the majority of the slopes (40% to 60%, depending on how the slopes are accounted).
- Expert slopes. These are the steepest and most difficult slopes at the ski area. The difficulty of these compared to like-classified slopes at other ski areas is heavily dependent on the target audience.
Japan has more than 1000 ski areas (115 in Nagano Prefecture alone), many of them small and family-oriented, so comparisons between slope classifications in Japan and “equivalent” slopes in Europe or North America are minimal.
Japan Ski Tips: Ropes, Warnings, Signs and Avalanches
Some ski resorts in the area maintain a relaxed attitude to off-piste skiing but one does need to still respect signs and ropes. Technically the tree runs are all out of bounds in the sense that you don’t get the ski patrol sweeping every afternoon to come and find people. They also aren’t obliged to get you out if you hurt yourself in the trees as well. So enjoy the trees but do show proper caution. A skier died in 2010 who was OOB (not far though) above Akakura but not particularly well prepared. One does still have to show caution, especially around creeks and gullies. There was one very lucky Aussie in Yuzawa in 2012 who got stuck overnight in a gully barely 50m from a lift but lived to tell the tale.
There is not a great avalanche risk at the Nozawa and Myoko resorts, especially inbounds. That doesn’t mean there are never any. Hakuba can be very dangerous to the uninitiated and there are usually deaths each year there. There is a lot of congenial looking lines in Japan within the easily accessible back/side country. Basically a lot of shorter pitch stuff where one doesn’t get that Euro “fall and die” feeling and the trees give Japan that much more slide potential definition. In the trees at the side of some resorts there is risk from sloughing, with the significant volumes of snow leading to risks of people being swept/covered in small, deep gullies. There is also some slab avalanche risk, but this is more frequently found in open sections above the resort. There are easily accessible back country areas where there are slab avalanches. There are also obvious spots in off piste areas (but possibly in what you are calling the resort boundary) with avalanche barriers. These spots are best avoided.
Thanks to some of the crew on ski.com.au who provided feedback for the above. 🙂
Japan Ski Tips: Peak Season Travel
Train stations and airports become very crowded during each of the three peak travel seasons in Japan. Visitors to Japan need to be aware of the difficulties in booking travel tickets and accommodation during these periods:
1) New Year holiday period – December 27 to January 3 and adjacent weekends;
2) “Golden Week” holiday period – April 29 to May 5 and adjacent weekends;
3) “Bon” festive season – one week around August 15.
NOTE: It can also get a bit busier with tourists from East Asia during Chinese New Year
Japan Ski Tips: Restaurants & Eating Out
Start practicing to eat with chop sticks before you get to Japan. Your hosts will be nicely surprised and compliment you (if you can use them well). Nearly all the local food has to be eaten with chop sticks or spoon anyway.
Food is restaurants is not always cheap – especially given the current exchange rate. A much better alternative is to buy at a local supermarket or convenience store. After 6-7pm there is usually steep discount offered on the prepared fresh food boxes.
Forego the idea of meat-and-potato meals (apart from niku jaga) and upgrade your predictable obsession for chicken wings by hitting one of Japan’s izakaya. Part bar, part restaurant, these inspired establishments are basically a Japanese beer-soaked version of tapas or dim sum. Expect a casual, convivial atmosphere; great sake and beer; and a long list of small plate dishes like tempura prawns, gesso (octopus), freshsushi from the Japan Sea, okonomiyaki (Japanese omelette), gyoza dumplings, small bowls of miso soup and yakitori skewers. Izakaya are a tradition over Japan — and vary from modern, American-influence dishes to traditional Japanese cuisine to things solely cooked on skewers. In places like Myoko these establishments really come into their own. Share a table with soon-to-be friends or elbow up to the bar and chat with the staff and you’ll find that the hours will dissolve faster than the aches did while soaking at the onsen. Check out restaurants and places to eat in Myoko Kogen here.
Japan Ski Tips: Medical Assistance
Medical assistance in English can be very difficult to find in rural Japan. Please speak to your hotel reception about how best to access medical facilities and if they can provide English translation.
For an excellent outline about medical assistanceplease check this great JNTO resource.
Japan Ski Tips: Japan Tourist Help
If you’re stuck somewhere a great source of English information is the Japan Travel Phone, which is a free national telephone service. The telephone operators can answer questions on just about anything. The toll free number from Nagano is 0088-22-4800 or 0120-44-4800 and in Tokyo it is 3201-3331.
Learn Japanese on your iPod or add a phrasebook