Short Breaks Travel

Two top spots for skiing in Japan

Hong Kong won’t see a snowfall anytime soon, but the good news is that we don’t need to travel out of Asia to enjoy a winter vacation! There are so many great destinations for a ski holiday, and one current hotspot is Japan. The country gets loads of snowfall each winter and is especially known for its soft and fluffy powder snow. Not sure where to ski in Japan? Check out these two great locations for your next winter holiday.

Where to ski in Japan

Hakuba, Nagano

Hakuba Valley Happo One skier

One of the country’s most well-known ski destinations, Hakuba is located in the Northern Alps. It gets plenty of top quality snowfall – measuring at more than 10 metres each season – making it perfect for skiing and other fun winter sports. The valley is home to multiple ski resorts, including Happo-One that hosted the Winter Olympics in 1998. Great accommodation options in the area include traditional inn Hatago Maruhachi. Hakuba has a wide variety of courses and slopes to suit different skill levels, including open runs suitable for beginners and kids. Many of the resorts also come with family-friendly amenities, so if you’re travelling with the brood, your young ones will be well taken care of.

Getting there

For direct access, there are buses at both Narita and Haneda airport to Hakuba (bookings required). The journey is approximately five hours and four hours respectively.

Niseko, Hokkaido

Niseko Hokkaido skiing

Head further north to Niseko in Hokkaido for an equally great ski trip. With consistent powder snowfall each year (up to a staggering 20 metres!), the ski resorts at this Hokkaido hotspot are located on Mount Niseko-Annupuri, with many ski pistes, lifts and gondolas to check out. There are gentler slopes and lifts for novice skiers so it’s suitable for families. But if you’re up for a challenge, more experienced skiers can explore the backcountry even in the later winter months. You can also hit the slopes after dark for a thrilling night ski experience.

Getting there

Buses are available from both New Chitose International Airport and Sapporo city to Niseko (bookings required). It takes approximately three hours and three-and-a-half hours respectively.

Beyond the slopes

Winter fun

If you’re not so keen on skiing or snowboarding, there are other fun winter activities you can enjoy in Japan’s white wonderlands. Go snowshoeing, snowmobiling, sledding, tubing, have fun playing with the snow or just sit back to enjoy the stunning views around you. The country’s natural landscape makes a dramatic transformation during the winter, showcasing gorgeous natural features including mesmerising “jewellery ice” along Hokkaido’s coast and the majestic Shirakawa ice pillars in Kiso, Nagano.

Jewellery ice Hokkaido

Culture & food

Staying in a ryokan is a must-do while in Japan. You will sleep on comfy futons on tatami floors and dig into traditional meals such as an elegantly presented kaiseki (multi-course meal). Many ryokans also house onsen (hot springs) where you can enjoy a relaxing dip after a long day out. The waters are rich in minerals and are said to offer health benefits such as relieving fatigue. At the moment, we’ve got our eye on Zaborin, a luxury ryokan in Hanazono in Hokkaido.

And of course, enjoying local food is another highlight when travelling in Japan. From fresh seafood to steaming hot noodles and meats, this is one of the world’s great cuisines. Hakuba is located in Nagano prefecture, known for its soba (buckwheat noodles). You can also try oyaki (stuffed dumpling), which comes in savoury or sweet versions. Famous eats in Niseko include nabe (hot pot), jingisukan (grilled mutton), soup curry, crab, ramen and soft-serve ice cream.

Visit the JNTO website for more useful information about winter activities for your trip.

Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO)


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This article first appeared in the October/November 2019 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.