“What winter activities in Japan are there?” or “What are the best places to ski in Japan?” some of you may be wondering. Japan boasts some of the highest snowfall in the world, is often praised for having excellent snow quality for skiing, and has many ski resorts.
In this article, we introduce a wide variety of winter activities in Japan, mostly winter sports, that you can enjoy whilst visiting in winter. We have also compiled a list of the best ski resorts in Japan for your reference.
Table of Contents
- 11 Winter Activities in Japan
- Best Prefectures for Experiencing Winter Sports in Japan
- Best Ski Resorts in Japan
Without further ado, let’s look at the wide variety of winter activities in Japan there are, we have 11 in this article!
Within the sport of skating itself, there are different types of activities such as figure skating, speed skating, and ice hockey.
Figure skating is a popular winter activity in Japan. There are people who enjoy watching figure skating, as well as those who love experiencing it themselves.
Speed skating and ice hockey are winter sports that allow you to experience speed and power that cannot be felt on land. Not all ice skating rinks are open for speed skating and ice hockey all the time, so if you want to give it a try, check the date, time, and location of trial sessions and schools in advance to make a reservation.
Skiing is a winter activity that Japanese people are familiar with. Many ski resorts were built in Japan during the 1980s, and skiing became a boom. For some time after that, the number of people participating in competitive skiing declined, but in recent years there is a new boom.
Skiing in Japan is a winter sport that can be easily enjoyed as most ski resorts rent out clothing and skis. It is very convenient as you can travel light.
Snowboarding in Japan became popular in the late 1990s and has, in recent years, been a popular winter activity in Japan among young people. The only equipment you need is a single snowboard unlike skiing that requires poles too. Professional snowboarders dash down slopes, and make jumps or turns over bumps. Snowboards are also readily available for rent at many ski resorts, so it is easy and convenient to try. Just like skiing, it is an easy sport to challenge.
Curling gained popularity in Japan after the 2006 Turin Olympics.
What is curling?
Curling is a winter sport with the aim of sliding stones on top of ice towards the center of a circle drawn on the ice rink to compete for points. It is called “chess on ice” because strategy is important to win. The team with the highest score wins the game.
Curling in Japan can only be done in limited facilities. There are curling schools in Tokyo and Nagano Prefecture.
5. Snowshoe Trekking
Snowshoe trekking is a winter activity that involves wearing special shoes called snowshoes to trek over snowy mountain terrain. Snowshoes have wide soles to keep your feet from sinking into the snow. Therefore, you can walk on the soft snow that is usually difficult to traverse in ordinary footwear.
If you are new to snowshoe trekking, we recommend that you find an instructor to teach you how to walk. There are courses for beginners.
6. Backcountry Skiing
Backcountry skiing is a winter activity of skiing or snowboarding at untouched snow mountains, or the “wild”. Gliding over untouched snow and between trees is the unique charm of backcountry skiing.
Compared to other winter sports, it can be a little difficult, as you will need the physical strength required to climb the mountain slopes with your ski gear and special equipment may be required. The weather may change suddenly and there is always the possibility of an avalanche, so if you want to try it, be sure to join a guided tour or go with someone who has lots of experience with snow mountains.
7. Snow Rafting
Snow rafting, where you ride a rafting board pulled by a snowmobile, is a fun winter activity with a sense of speed, and up-down-left-right swaying. In particular, when the snowmobile makes a turn, you can enjoy the thrilling sensation of being swept off your feet as gravity pulls you to the side. Children can also join in on the fun with the speed lowered.
A snowmobile is a small vehicle used for travelling over snow. Snowmobiles leave tracks on the snow that are commonly called caterpillars. You need a licence to ride a snowmobile on public roads, but on private courses you can ride one without a licence.
Snowmobiles are easy to manoeuvre, making them a fun winter activity to experience in Japan. Driving while admiring the natural beauty of the snowy mountains is a great way to enjoy snowmobiling, or make it a challenge and drive over varied terrain such as hills and curves.
9. Snow Scooter (スノースクート)
A snow scooter is like a scooter without its wheels. Originating in France, it has gained popularity in Japan in recent years. It is operated like a bicycle, so even beginners can learn how to ride it easily. There are many ski resorts that have snow scooters for rent, so if you are interested, give it a try.
10. Sports Snowball Fight (R)
Sports Yukigassen (R) is a winter sport in Japan whose rules were devised and established in 1988 in Hokkaido. The tournament was first held in 1989, and has since spread throughout Japan and abroad. The match ends when all opponents are hit with snowballs or the enemy’s flag has been captured. The game is played in 3-set matches, with the winner being the team that takes the first 2 sets.
11. Dog Sledding
Dog sledding can be enjoyed in Japan as well! Dog sledding is a winter activity in which a sled is pulled by multiple dogs. Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds, Sakhalin Huskies, and other large breed dogs native to snowy areas are put to action. The thrill of dog sledding is steering the sled purely by communicating with the dogs. Beginners are recommended to join a course with an accompanying instructor.
Japan has many ski resorts, mainly in the north and in mountainous areas, but exactly where? Below, we introduce 5 prefectures that are best for experiencing winter sports and activities. Have a look and refer when picking your Japan winter travel destination.
Hokkaido, the Northernmost Island of Japan
Hokkaido is located at the northernmost part of Japan and has a high rate of snowfall. It snows almost everyday in winter, so the snow is always fresh and is said to be of world-class quality. There are numerous ski resorts in Hokkaido, with Furano Ski Resort and Niseko Grand Ski Resort being particularly popular with foreign tourists. Enjoy Hokkaido’s magnificent nature whilst challenging winter sports.
Niigata Prefecture with a Wide Variety of Ski Resorts
Niigata Prefecture has one of the heaviest snowfalls in Japan and is said to have good snow quality. In particular, the ski resorts of Joetsu, Tainai and Itoigawa have abundant snowfall. In addition, Akakura and Myoko have long been known as winter resorts. Also popular are the ski resorts of Naeba, Yuzawa, and Ishiuchi Maruyama, which are easily accessible from Tokyo. In particular, the Naeba Ski Resort offers a wide range of winter sports such as snow rafting and snowmobiling.
Nagano Prefecture has the Most Ski Resorts in Japan
About 20% of Japan’s ski resorts are located in Nagano Prefecture. Many of the ski resorts are popular because of the abundant snowfall and powder snow quality.
Among the various ski resorts, Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort and Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort are known for their large scale. Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort has jumps and cross-country courses, making it a ski resort where a variety of winter sports can be enjoyed.
Gunma Prefecture is Easily Accessible from Tokyo
Winter activities can be enjoyed in Gunma Prefecture near Tokyo, with popular ski resorts such as Mizukami, Tambara, Katashina, and Numata. The Marunuma Kogen Ski Resort in the northeast of the prefecture is open until early May and can be skied even in spring.
Gifu Prefecture has the Largest Ski Resort in Western Japan
Gifu Prefecture is home to Washitopia, said to be the largest ski resort in Western Japan. One of Washitopia’s charms is that you can easily go back and forth to its adjacent ski resorts, WhitePIA Takasu and Washigatake Ski Area to try their ski courses. In addition to that, Takasu Dyna, Takasu Snow Park and Dynaland, there’s a total of 30 ski courses available to try.
Good snow quality and a variety of winter sports are offered by many ski resorts in Japan. Below, we introduce the best ski resorts in Japan, especially for visitors from abroad.
Rusutsu Resort (Hokkaido)
Rusutsu Resort is located on the Rusutsu Plateau in Abuta-gun, Hokkaido. It has been selected for the World Ski Awards, an award given to ski resorts and areas around the world for their outstanding service.
There are 37 different skiing and snowboarding courses to choose from, depending on your level. Another reason for its popularity is the wide range of winter activities on offer, such as snowmobiling, snowshoe trekking and dog sledding.
Hakuba Happo One Snow Resort (Nagano Prefecture)
Located in Hakuba Village, Kitaazumi-gun, Nagano Prefecture is the largest ski resort in Japan, Hakuba Happo One Snow Resort. The 1998 Winter Olympics was held here.
Hakuba Happo One Snow Resort is characterised by its many ski courses for advanced and intermediate skiers. The ski resort’s figurehead course is the Riesen Slalom course. With a maximum slope of 30 degrees and a total length of 3,000 metres, this is a course for advanced skiers, but its wide width makes it easy to ski for intermediate skiers as well.
Other popular courses include the Riesen Grat course that offers spectacular views from the top of the mountain.
Zao Onsen Ski Resort (Yamagata Prefecture)
Zao Onsen Ski Resort is located in Yamagata City in Yamagata Prefecture, and is the largest ski resort in the Tohoku region. The reason for Zao Onsen Ski Resort’s popularity is the many hot spring facilities in the area. In addition to onsen ryokan built in the Edo period, there are also daytrip facilities where you can enjoy a hot spring bath without staying the night, so many people warm themselves up in the hot springs after skiing.
Another reason for its popularity is the frost and snow covered trees. The view of the ski slopes lined with frost-covered trees, each approximately 7 m tall, is breathtaking.
Japan is one of the countries with the highest snowfall in the world, especially in the north and mountainous areas where many ski resorts are set up. The quality of snow in Japan is excellent for all sorts of winter activities. From beginners to advanced levels, there are ski courses to suit all levels of skiers. Some ski resorts offer a range of winter sports such as snowshoe trekking, snow rafting, and snowmobiling. When you visit Japan in winter, be sure to try out some winter activities.