I’d love to ski in Japan, but I can’t afford it! Perhaps one day… If this sounds like something you might have thought before, you could be in for a pleasant surprise. Often when you think of Japan, you think top-notch sushi, fancy toilets, luxury hotels, bullet-trains…expensive, right? Wrong! Or, at least, it does not have to be.
Like almost any country, Japan is a place where you can travel as luxuriously…or as economically as you would like. In fact The Telegraph recently rated Tokyo the ‘cheapest long haul destination’. Below are some suggestions for taking the ski trip of a lifetime – without spending a fortune.
Niseko Ski Resort
Probably what most comes to mind when you think of travelling in Japan is their famous Shinkansen, or bullet trains. The Shinkansen is a network of high-speed bullet trains, stretching from the southern tip of Kyushu right up to the northern island of Hokkaido. With a maximum speed of over 300 km/hour, these trains are an excellent way to cover a lot of ground in little time. The price tag? Quite a lot if you are buying your tickets on arrival. The solution? A Japan Rail pass, purchased in advance of arrival. These 7+day train passes offer unlimited Japan Rail travel, including the shinkansen system, at a fraction of what it would cost to purchase tickets for each journey. Many feel that experiencing the shinkansen is a must while visiting Japan, and luckily some of the mainland ski resorts are well connected and with a JR pass, a great option. As an example, a one-way journey from Tokyo to Nagano station (to reach Hakuba resort) is about one third of the cost of a 7-day unlimited rail pass. Especially when visiting the mainland ski resorts, a JR rail pass is a great idea.
Japan also has a number of bus companies who service the larger ski resorts such as Niseko and Hakuba, offering direct transport from local airports and the resorts.
I am sure you have heard the stories – fancy Tokyo sushi bars where you can catch your own fish, the carefully-prepared fugu delicacy (poisonous blowfish), or kobe beef platters which melt in the mouth – all at quite a strain on the wallet. But it does not have to be! Food in Japan is some of the best in the world, whether it is Michelin star fine-dining or a ramen stand in a train station. There are also many surprisingly affordable options, such as ready-to-eat food available in convenience stores, hyakku-en rotating sushi bars (AKA dollar-store), and incredible mom and pop restaurants serving up delicious, and extremely affordable, homestyle cuisine.
One of the best things about skiing in Japan is finishing up a morning on the slopes and hitting up one of the local resort on-piste restaurants for a delicious, steaming hot lunch. A full hot lunch (often served with complimentary tea) can cost as little as JPY1,000.
Niseko Ski Resort
Japan has some incredible ritzy accommodation options, from the Park Hyatt Tokyo (made famous by the popular 2003 film Lost in Translation) to Roppongi’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel to famous ski resort hotels like The Vale Niseko and Hilton Niseko Village. But there is also a plethora of affordable accommodation options, the most popular of which are ryokans, or Japanese-style inns. These traditional hotel options often include meals, tea service, and are an incredible comfortable and cozy place to stay. If you are looking for even more budget options, try a business hotel (located in most main hubs), which provide no-frill accommodation. Even cheaper still are capsule hotels, where instead of a room you are given something a little larger than the bed itself, normally outfitted with a tv, bedding, and shared restrooms.
Hakuba is the perfect choice for Japanese-run cozy and comfortable hotels, where you will find an affordable bed and tasty meals. Try the the Hotel Taigakukan or Mominoki Hotel.
Niseko resort also offers a variety of very clean and friendly backpacker-style accommodation, with either shared dorms or private rooms. Try Moorea Lodge, Owashi Lodge, or the newly-built Always Niseko.
Whatever your budget, amazing accommodation and resort services deals can be found in Japan, especially during the shoulder and low seasons (early December and Spring).