Even if you’re a seasoned traveler, it might be a bit intimidating to explore an entirely new part of the world. Maybe you’ve been all over Europe, seen the States, even trucked around Australia. A trip to Japan can seem like setting out into uncharted waters. But, if you’re a hardcore ski enthusiast, luxury travel agents will tell you that it’s a destination you won’t want to miss. Phenomenal snow-capped mountain landscapes, loads of challenging terrain and off-piste runs, deep powdery snow that’s perfect for skiing and snowboarding, unconventional après ski experiences... Japan is the place for a truly unforgettable ski holiday!
So, if you’re planning your first venture into an Asian ski holiday, what should you know?
1. When’s the best time to plan a ski trip?
The ideal month for hardcore powder-hounds is January, or, as some people like to call it, “Japanuary.” This is the depth of the Japanese winter, and even mild areas of the northern slopes gather on average 1.5m of fine, powdery snow. That being said, mid-December is an excellent slot as well, and you’ll often find the slopes loaded with Aussies eager to test their skills against the terrain. Thankfully, the season stretches out for a few months, so you can still find excellent conditions for skiing and snowboarding even into early March. Another thing to keep in mind is that crowds move in during the Chinese New Year around mid-February, so plan accordingly if you like your space on the slopes.
2. Do I Need a Visa?
You can breathe a sigh of relief here. Australians travelling to Japan don’t need a visa if their stay is less than 90 days and they come for purposes of tourism, business trips, conferences, or meeting with friends or family. Long story short, all you have to do is set up the trip and make the flight. The rest is a breeze. Just in case you’re wondering, you won’t have to pay an entry or departure tax, either.
3. What about Money?
First thing you might want to consider is that many places don’t accept credit cards. So, it helps to pay in cash. This isn’t a huge issue, as you can find 7-11’s all over the place and they all have ATMs onsite. But, if you’d like to save yourself a bit of money, most banks will let you order Yen if you give them 24 hours advance notice. You’ll save yourself some stress if you bring some cash with you, and there are plenty of currency exchange sites at no charge or for the same rates you’ll find at the airport.
4. What’s the Wifi Like?
This is a big question in the digital era. We’ve got to stay connected, so it helps to know how to navigate this little hurdle. Well, you may want to check with your hotel before you arrive, as Wifi differs from one accommodation to the next. But, if you want to make sure you’ve got internet access, no matter what, you can always rent a hotspot device from Japan Wireless. The rates are reasonable and you can always just drop the hotspot in the mailbox at the airport on the way out.
5. Will I Be Able to Charge My Phone?
I know. This is a boring, practical detail. But the thing is, you’ll want to be prepared. So… bring an adapter. Japan uses the same power outlets as you find in the US, and they work on 110v. So, if you want to save yourself a headache, bring an adapter along so you can charge your various devices without an extra trip or purchase.
6. What Are the Prices Like?
Even when working with luxury travel companies, no one wants to spend more than they have to on their vacation. And, it helps to know what to expect so that you can get the best deals and not get taken for a ride. So, here’s what you can expect. One Australian Dollar comes to about 74 Japanese Yen. If you’re headed to a high end resort like Niseko, you can expect to pay around 5000 Yen (68$ AUD) for lift tickets, and equipment rental is in the same ballpark. A solid lunch will cost you anywhere from 600 to 1500 Yen (around 8-20$ AUD). Bottomless hot chocolate will cost you around 400 Yen (5.50$ AUD), while you can get a sake or beer for around 800 Yen (11$ AUD).
7. What About Getting Around?
If you want to drive in Japan, you should come prepared with an international driver’s license. And, remember that the place tends to be a bit slow, so just relax and enjoy the journey. But, the good news is that you can avoid that headache altogether. Buses, shuttles, and rental cars are readily available, and you can get a bullet train from Tokyo to the Japanese Alps in about 30 minutes. From there to Hokkaido is just a short 1.5 hour flight, which gives the advantage of scenery on top of convenience.
8. What Are the Slopes Like?
So we’ve got the boring (but necessary) stuff out of the way. What about the fun stuff? Well, most of the slopes are groomed regularly, and they rise to an average of 1200m above sea level. This means you won’t have to worry about elevation sickness, but you will be able to enjoy some sick runs. Plus, most places will allow you to go off-piste, so you can make your own trail through the trees. Different resorts have different rules, so make sure you check in with your resort before leaving the trail behind. Finally, while hardcore skiers can find challenging terrain, it’s not just for the experts. There are plenty of runs for intermediate powder-hounds and newbies.
9. How About the Food?
Prepare for an experience. First of all, if you want the village cuisine experience, you’re going to be indulging in some Ramen. And this isn’t the kind you find in a pack. Authentic homemade noodles, real broth. Expect to get expert level with chopsticks and slurp it down within a few minutes if you want the noodles to remain moderately “al dente” during the meal. But that’s just the beginning. You can get loads of international or fusion cuisine, and, for those places that don’t offer menus in English, you’ll be able to rely on a picture to know what you’re ordering.
Plus, a few other fun details: you can get everything from a vending machine from cold beer to warm sake to Kit-Kats in a bewildering variety of flavours (think banana, strawberry, cherry blossom, and green tea). Finally, sake is an art. Warm sake seems traditional, but it’s usually of lower quality. And cold sake can come with some luxury frills you can’t imagine. So, give yourself at least one authentic sake experience at a nicer place during your holiday. You won’t regret it.
10. Onsen – Awesome. Toilet – Mildly Confusing.
This is one detail that a Sydney travel agent can ease you into before you arrive. One of the unique après ski experiences you can expect in Japan is the onsen, or Japanese hot tub. This is a true cultural experience, often in hot spring fed pools, and the usual dress code is skin. Most modern hotels will offer a fill toiletry kit and access, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Always wash thoroughly before entering the bathing area. When you enter the pool, go gently. Slashing and diving is not done, traditionally, so you might get a few looks. Most onsens are divided between male and female, and they can be either indoors, or outdoors, in which case they’re called rotenboro. Finally, you can be modest on your way to the pool and wrap a towel around your more sensitive regions, but when you enter the water, it’s customary to set the towel aside or put it on your head.
Now, high class hotels will come equipped with en-suite bathrooms, but the bargain locations might only give access to an onsen. So, you may just have the cultural option for your regular ablutions. This may be a bit of a different experience, but it’s relaxing and indulgent enough that you might end up preferring it after a bit. Last note – Japanese toilets are interesting. Japan has a penchant for bringing some hi-tech options where you might not expect. So, even in a train station, you may find an entire control panel on the side of the stall. And it can be an adventure to find out what each of those buttons mean, as they differ from one stall to the next and often don’t come with pictures. But, it’s fun for a story if nothing else.
In all honesty, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Japan is one of those bucket list destinations that you might not realize should be on your bucket list. You need to see it before you really know, and once you go, you’ll be back. So, if you want to know more about Ski adventures in Japan, or anything else about your next Japan holiday, feel free to contact us. At Rose Bay, we know how to help you plan the best vacation you can imagine. No hassles, and only fun surprises.