The thought of skiing in Japan conjures up many idyllic images. You know the ones; people skiing through waist-deep powder, snow-capped volcanoes in the background and steaming bowls of ramen for lunch. These are the images we see on the front of the brochure or the home page of the website. But there’s got to be more to this exotic culture than that, right?
What is it that makes a winter visit to Japan so different from any other ski destination in the world? And how is a first-time visitor transported experientially through the environment, tradition and culture to discover the real heartbeat of the place?
Travel is a journey for the senses, which makes Japan an experience that goes way beyond the cover of any marketing collateral.
So, here are a few things you might be lucky enough to feel, sense and have a first-hand perspective on during your next trip to the land of the rising sun.
Culture: Japanese food, in Japan, is an experience that will surprise you.
It’s an undeniable fact: there’s Western Japanese food… and there is provincial Japanese food. They cannot be compared. While there might be mind-blowing Japanese restaurants in many locations around the world, they will never live up to the experience of eating out in Japan, especially around the ski resort areas, which are quintessentially rural villages that serve locally specific delicacies.
If you have to duck to get through the front door of a local Japanese restaurant, you know you’ve struck gold. And if that restaurant maxes out at eight seats and only takes two sittings each night, then get ready for something special. Chances are you’ve had a tip-off from a local on where to find this place and how to book, because they are famously hard to locate, usually have no online presence and the person taking bookings will certainly not be speaking English. Get ready!
Once you are seated you will notice that you are surrounded by a myriad of cartoonish figurines, decorated cats rhythmically waving their paw at you and dust encrusted Japanese Anime, all standing proud on a shelf watching over the tiny room as an intensely focused chef weaves minor miracles in the kitchen. Sometimes there will be a menu, and some of the dishes may sound completely foreign, even when written in English (Chicken skin gyoza? Nabe hot pots?) … But those in the know will simply order the Chef’s recommendation – they know what’s best.
Environment: Skiing through Birch trees and down volcanoes with monkeys and Kamoshika is an otherworldly experience for every skier
Bare white trunks without a leaf or pine needle in sight go whizzing by as you glide down perfectly gladed runs through the lightest powder snow in the world. The thin narrow trunks give way to well-spaced pathways through the powder and the snow falls so lightly, like it’s in no particular rush to arrive on the ground. For those of us who have spent many years skiing through the Evergreen varieties, with their tree wells and low boughs positioned perfectly to snag us on the way past, skiing through Birch trees is a unique experience that every skier needs to try. And when the sun comes out, make sure you look up to see the Birch trees ‘pop’ in front of an intense blue-sky background as flakes of snow blow around carelessly in the clearing air.
Like most things in Japan, the environment is subtle, intricate and unconventional. Everyone has seen a picture of a snow-covered volcano, but until you witness one emerge through the clouds painted pink on a clearing afternoon, or better yet, take a helicopter ride to stand at the lip of the dormant crater, only then will you understand their silent command over the villages and lands below.
And while you might have heard that you can visit snow monkeys that bathe luxuriously in the onsen (natural hot springs), did you know you can ski with them too? Especially if you are exploring the backcountry and off-piste areas, you may be lucky enough to see them monkeying around, so to speak, at the bottom of the valleys near gently bubbling mountain streams.
The Kamoshika is the most sacred of all the animals found in the Hakuba Valley.
Many locals will describe it as a type of bear, pig or goat… but the Kamoshika is in fact a Japanese serow; a ‘goat-antelope’ found in the dense woodland of central Honshu. After being nearly hunted to extinction, the Japanese government passed a law in 1955 designating it as a “Special National Monument”, thereby saving the species so everyone can enjoy an encounter with these curious animals… before they bolt away up the hill through the snow.
Do you want to ski in the famous Japanese powder and finish the day soaking in a traditional onsen? Mabey Ski LOVES Japan and is here to make sure every moment of your Japanese experience is as memorable as the last.
Mabey Ski’s adventure designers have travelled and skied all over the world to find the most unique and wonderful ski experiences on the planet. If you are interested in heading to Japan or anywhere else in the world for your next adventure, then we are here to show you how.