JAPAN SKI HOLIDAY FAQs
We receive a lot of questions about Japan ski holidays. You may have some questions already which are answered below, other answers may be just as helpful. We hope you find this section helpful, and if you have any questions which are not answered here, please e-mail them through to [email protected]
- Can I send my luggage or ski equipment directly to the ski resort in advance of arrival?
Yes. Sending your luggage directly to the Japan ski resort in advance of arrival, or directly to the airport prior to departure is a great way to enable a stopover in Tokyo without the burden of having to carry heavy bags. Japan has a wonderful delivery service that makes it very inexpensive and easy to ship your bags or ski & snowboard gear directly to your accommodation. You can do so from any large airport (Tokyo Haneda or Tokyo Narita, Sapporo New Chitose, etc). Or, you can send it from accommodtion to the airport, or onto another accommodation. At the airport, look for a sign with a black cat and yellow outline. They will have this Yamato Transport counter in all Arrivals areas. If you are shipping from your accommodation, the hotel or property manager will be able to give you the form you need and arrange the pickup service.
- Which is the best Japan ski resort?
The best Japan ski resort depends on the individual needs and preferences of the traveller in question. For first-time visitors, we often recommend Niseko resort, with its international advantages (the primary language is English, many western influences), number of amenities, and easy access. For those looking for a bit more of a Japanese experience, we usually recommend Hakuba, where you can choose from a selection of either Western or Japanese-style accommodations set in an authentic Japanese town. And for those powder-hungry visitors who are perhaps a bit more adventurous and who have already experienced the pleasures of Niseko, we usually recommend either Kiroro, Furano, or Rusutsu resorts. For more information on where the Japan ski resorts are located, check out our Japan ski resort guide blog post. More information also in our Complete Guide to Skiing in Japan article, filled with insider tips on ensuring the best Japan ski holiday.
- When is peak ski season?
As with most ski resorts in the Western Hemisphere, your top powder period is generally going to be from late December through to mid February, though it can vary season-to-season. Prices of accommodations in Japan tend to increase dramatically over the peak holiday periods (Christmas, New Year, Chinese New Year) and so if you are flexible and can avoid them, then we generally recommend doing so. Lower season dates (late February & March) can offer some incredible deals on accommodation and resort services.
- I want to visit an onsen while in Japan. What are the rules?
Visiting an onsen or Japanese hot spring while in Japan is a wonderful thing to experience, especially in winter. There are however very specific rules which must be followed when visiting an onsen. For tips, etiquette and rules, see Japan Onsen Rules.
- What kind of amenities will my accommodation have?
Most Japan ski resort accommodations will provide towels and linens for guest’ use. Many Japanese-style hotels or ryokans with in-house onsens (hot spring baths) will also provide guests with a yutaka (bath robe) and slippers. Some self-contained accommodations such as chalets, townhouses and apartments will also usually provide things like shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, dish soap, and garbage bags. Some may also provide coffee & tea as well. Please note that specific amenities vary by accommodation so please get in touch with us to confirm.
- Will my accommodation have free Wi-Fi?
The majority of Japan ski resort accommodations, including self-contained chalets and apartments, as well as hotels and lodges, will offer complimentary Wi-Fi.
- Should I purchase travel insurance?
It is a condition of booking with Japan Ski Experience that every customer has adequate travel insurance cover. Japan Ski Experience strongly advises you to take out a travel insurance policy which provides adequate cover in the event that you have to cancel your booking, and in the event that your booking has to be cancelled or changed as a result of force majeure. In the case of bookings for ski lessons, guiding, snowmobiling etc. it is your responsibility to ensure that your travel insurance policy provides adequate cover for the activity you will engage in.
- What kind of accommodation can I book?
The popular international Japan ski resorts such as Niseko, Hakuba, Furano and Kiroro have all different kinds of accommodation to suit every style and budget. Niseko and Hakuba especially have such a wide range of options you can really find exactly what you’re looking for, from boutique hotels, to large modern apartment-condos, to Canadia-style lodges, to luxurious 6 bedroom chalets with private onsen bath and everything in between.
If you are specifically after a more Japanese style accommodation, then you will have more options of that type in Hakuba ski resort than you will in Niseko. Hakuba has several traditional style Japanese-owned Ryokans with tatami flooring and shared onsens or ofuro baths.
But don’t worry if the choice is overwhelming. Our experienced teams are waiting to help you find your perfect Japan ski accommodation.
- Is a Japan Rail (JR) pass worth it?
Japan Rail passes are a wonderful way to see Japan and can offer big savings for those planning to do a lot of travelling in Japan over a short period of time. That said, most people visiting the ski resorts will be spending the majority of their time in resort, and as such, rail passes would not offer any savings.
If you are planning to tack on a week+ or so of additional travel on either side of your Japan ski trip, then it may be worth considering. Please note that Japan Rail passes must be purchased in advance of arrival and need to be activated at any Japan Rail service centre before use. More information is available here.
- Can I use my mobile phone in Japan?
Yes, most international network providers these days will enable your phone to function in Japan. International roaming rates can be pricey though, so if you plan to use your phone a lot outside of your hotel, chalet or apartment (where Wi-Fi is almost always available and free), we recommend purchasing a SIM card that will provide a certain number of days unlimited use (varying plans and costs), though are usually quite affordable. Most major airports including Narita and Haneda will have Kisosk offering these services. You can also purchase prior to arrival and pick up the SIM when you land.
- Do I need an International Driver's Permit?
Yes, you do. If you are planning to hire a vehicle while in Japan, OR if the Japan ski accommodation you will be staying at includes a complimentary vehicle, then all driver’s will need to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) issued by a signatory to the 1949 Geneva Convention in advance of arrival, as well as bring their home country license. IDP’s can easily be obtained by filling out an online form and costs about $50.
Please note that some car rental companies have a minimum age limit of 25-30 yrs old) so ensure you check this out before you book.
- Will I get by without any Japanese?
The short answer is yes, you will.
Niseko ski resort especially is considered an international ski resort, with English being spoken in most businesses including restaurants and cafes, hotels and concierge personnel, and other retail shop owners. In Hakuba resort you will be able to get by easily without any Japanese, as all locals and business owners are used to dealing in English to their international visitors.
In the larger urban areas such as Tokyo, English signage is found in most transit centres, including airports such as Sapporo New Chitose, Tokyo Haneda and Tokyo Narita, Japan Rail stations, Shinkansen (bullet train) stations, and on all major highways. There are also English-speaking agents at most service counters in larger transit areas as well, who will be able to provide assistance.
If you would like to learn some basic Japanese in advance, check out our Essential Japanese for Travel guide.
- Can I use my credit card in Japan?
Japan has historically been a cash society, though that is slowly changing. These days many restaurants and shops will accept leading credit cards (VISA, Amex, MasterCard) though it is recommended that you carry a sum of cash with you as well as some of the smaller businesses will not be able to accept cards.
Most convenience stores have ATM’s where foreign cards can be used to withdraw cash, though they typically have set hours and you may not be able to withdraw cash after a certain time at night.
- Is there a medical clinic in Niseko?
There are a number of medical clinics and hospitals in the Niseko area, most of which are located in Kutchan-Town, about 20 minutes outside of Niseko.
Within Niseko Hirafu is the Niseko International Clinic, which has both English and Japanese-speaking doctors who can service International guests. The clinic is ideal for non-emergencies such as X-rays, ultrasound, minor sports injuries, as well as General practice.
There is a large hospital in Kutchan Town called Kutchan Kosei Byoin (Kutchan General Hospital). Many staff members can speak English, and they do have translators on staff.
- What is the caliber of rental equipment in Niseko? Should I bring my own?
You can find the latest models and top brands of ski and snowboard equipment to rent during your Niseko ski holiday at Rhythm Japan, who have a number of shops in the Niseko area and who offer everything from fat powder skis to backcountry gear to skis perfect for groomed runs. They also have premium boot-specialists to ensure you’ve got the perfect fit. Therefore, unless you really do prefer to bring your own boots or gear, you’ll have plenty to choose from Rhythm. You can add ski or snowboard equipment to your Niseko booking easily at the same rate as purchasing in-resort, and have them waiting for you at the shop upon arrival, with free pick up service (advance notice required). Get in touch with us to add equipment to your Niseko booking.
- Where can I buy groceries in Niseko?
For those wishing to stock up on some food suppliers in their Niseko self-contained accommodation, there are a few options in Hirafu Village. If you’d like to purchase things like breakfast items, snacks, drinks, ready-made food, bread, cheese, milk and other basic items, then you can purchase most of these things in one of the small convenience stores located in Hirafu Village, such as Lawson, 7-Eleven, Seicomart and Sapporo Drug. If you are looking to purchase food for cooking proper meals, then you are better off going to one of the 3 large supermarkets in Kutchan such as MaxValu, Co-Op, and Lucky Supermarket. Kutchan is located approximately 8km from Hirafu Village and can be easily accessed by bus, night bus or taxi. Check out our Niseko Supermarket Guide for more detailed information.
- How long is the bullet train from Tokyo to Sapporo?
There are a number of different options and routes to get you from Tokyo to Sapporo city by train. Overall, we generally recommend avoiding this method of transit. This is because if you combine the travel time and the cost, you’re going to find that flying from Tokyo to Sapporo New Chitose Airport is a better option, as it is not only much quicker, but also often less expensive. That said, for those that are dying to experience the Japan bullet train or Shinkansen on their Japan ski holiday, then you can choose to travel by train. The most direct way is to take the HAYABUSA bullet train from Tokyo station to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto station near the Southern tip of Hokkaido (approximately 4 hours), followed by the LIMITED EXPRESS HOKUTO 13 train to Sapporo city (about 3.5 hrs).
For those wanting to travel from Tokyo to Niseko by train, after getting to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto, you’ll need to make your way to KUTCHAN station, and there are 1-2 transfers required. The journey from Hakodate to Kutchan takes 2.5-3.5 hrs.
For exact schedules and fares you can refer to hyperdia.com/en/. For more information about getting to Niseko, please see our GETTING TO NISEKO page.
- What time is the last bus from Sapporo New Chitose Airport to Niseko?
The last bus departs Sapporo New Chitose Airport at 21:30. As there are minimum connection times required between a flight arrival and a bus departure, if you are planning to travel to Niseko by coach, you should arrange your flight to arrive no later than 20:00 (international arrivals) and 20:45 (domestic arrivals).
The minimum connection times are at least:
- 45 minutes after a domestic flight arrival
- 90 minutes after an international flight arrival
Please note that not all departures will be operating and coaches need to be booked at least 14 days in advance through Japan Ski Experience. Coach service usually commences from early December and operates until end of March. Exact schedules can vary from season to season.
- What time is the first bus from Niseko to New Chitose Airport? How early can I get there?
The first bus from Niseko departs at 07:30 and arrives at Sapporo New Chitose Airport Domestic Terminal at 10:30 and at the International Terminal at 10:40. Please note that there are minimum connection times required in order to confirm your bus transfer from Niseko to the airport.
The minimum connection times are usually:
- 60 minutes prior to a domestic flight departure
- 120 minutes prior to an international flight departure
As such, we strongly recommend arranging your International flight to depart no earlier 12:40, and Domestic flights to depart no earlier than 11:30.
- How do I get around Niseko resort? How often do the shuttle busses run?
The Niseko area is very well connected with a series of shuttle busses that operate frequently throughout the winter ski season. The Niseko United Shuttle bus, which connects Niseko Grand Hirafu, Niseko Annupuri, and Niseko Village ski resorts, operates every 15-20 minutes throughout the season. The Niseko United Shuttle bus is free for Niseko All Mountain lift pass holders.
The Hirafu Village Grand Shuttle bus, which runs throughout Hirafu and taking people to and from their accommodation and the lifts, operates approximately every 15 minutes from when the lifts open until the last lifts in the evening. The shuttle offers free service and bus stops are plentiful, making almost all accommodations in Hirafu easily accessible to the lifts.
Other Niseko area shuttle busses include the free Hanazono Shuttle which connects Niseko Grand Hirafu and Niseko Hanazono resorts, as well as the Kutchan-Hirafu bus enabling guests to visit the shops and restaurants of Kutchan town.
- Should I make restaurant reservations before I get to Niseko?
Niseko restaurants tend to become very busy during the peak season and dinner reservations are recommended. Most restaurants now have the option to book online, and almost all will have English-speaking staff available to assist you over the phone.
Check out our Niseko Restaurant guide for our top restaurant recommendations.
- Should I pre-book Niseko resort services?
We recommend that all resort services (Niseko United All Mountain lift pass, ski and snowboard equipment, group and private lessons, guiding) be booked in advance of arrival, as there are a number of benefits to having everything ready to go.
Airport transfers must be booked at least 10 days prior to arrival in order to ensure a guaranteed seat, as the buses fill up (peak season) or may not operate if there are not a certain number of seats filled in advance (low season).
Group and private lessons tend to book out early, and a lot of the time if lessons are not booked in advance then it might not be possible to book them upon arrival. Lift passes when booked in advance will be hand-delivered to your accommodation at no additional charge saving you the time of having to arrange it the next morning. Ski and snowboard equipment will be set aside and waiting for you so that you don’t need to do it all the morning you hit the slopes.
For more information about Niseko guest services, please cick on the SERVICES tab on our Niseko Resort page. If you would like to add Niseko resort services to your Japan Ski Experience booking, please visit your Manage My Booking page or get in touch with us at: [email protected].
- Can I get around Niseko without a car?
Renting a vehicle is not a requirement in Niseko resort, where the 4 ski resorts (Annupuri, Hanzono, Niseko Village, and Grand Hirafu) are very well connected by the Niseko United shuttle system. Furthermore, the majority of Niseko accommodations are located in Hirafu, at the base of Grand Hirafu Resort. Hirafu is a very walkable and compact town, so lift access (as well as access to shops and restaurants) is very convenient. The Hirafu shuttle bus system also easily connects the Lower, Middle, and Upper Hirafu Village areas, and most accommodations are located less than a few minutes’ walk to the nearest shuttle stop.
For those who do prefer to hire a vehicle and who may want to explore the local area, you can do so at Sapporo New Chitose Airport or in Hirafu (Peak and/or Toyota). Vehicles need to be equipped with snow tires and it is recommended that they also be 4WD.
- Are there any ATMs or Cash Machines in Niseko I can use to withdraw money?
In Niseko Hirafu there are a few places where you can withdraw cash. There is a ATM with English instructions in the Chatrium Niseko building (previously Shiki Hyatt House) on the main road in Hirafu. There is also an ATM located in the Lawson, Seicomart, and Seven Eleven convenient stores as well as the Satudora Niseko Hirafu store located in the bottom of the Hirafu 188 Apartments building. If you can get to Kutchan you can also withdraw cash from ATMs located in the Post Offices and other convenience stores.
If you will be arriving in Niseko in the evening, we recommend that you withdraw cash at Sapporo New Chitose Airport prior to departing since some cash machines have specific service hours and may be closed upon arrival.
- What is the check-in procedure?
All accommodations in Niseko resort have slightly different check-in procedures, depending on whether it is a hotel, apartment, or chalet, as well as the specific vendor managing the accommodation.
The majority of Niseko accommodations have a check-in time of 15:00 and a check out time of 10:00 but all will offer a place to store luggage before and after these allotted times. We generally advise our guests that if they are flexible, to arrange their arrival time and departure times to align with check-in/check-out times for their own comfort and convenience.
Exact check-in details pertaining to your specific accommodation are included in your Essential Travel Vouchers which are emailed through to our guests 14 days prior to travel. This information will explain everything you need to do upon arrival at New Chitose Airport.
- How do I get to Niseko?
Niseko Ski Resort is located on the northern island of Hokkaido. Guests will need to fly first to Sapporo New Chitose Airport and then transfer from there to Niseko. For complete details and step-by-step instructions, please check out our Getting to Niseko guide.
- Is there a hospital or medical facility in Hakuba?
There are a number of small (non-emergency) medical clinics in Hakuba resort, including the Shintani Clinic, who have English-speaking staff. If visiting a different clinic, it is advised to bring a translator with you. For assistance, you can speak to the property manager of your booking (information will be included on your Japan Ski Experience vouchers for travel). There is no hospital in Hakuba, though the closest one is located in Omachi, about 40 minutes by car. Azumi Hospital is about 60 minutes, and the Matsumoto hospital is approximately 90 minutes away.
- What is the caliber of rental equipment in Hakuba? Should I bring my own?
Hakuba ski resort has a number of well-stocked equipment rental shops to choose from. Two of the largest include Central Snowsports and Rhythm Japan. Both of these shops stock the best brands and latest models in ski and snowboard equipment, from fat powder skis to backcountry gear to skis perfect for groomed runs. They also have premium boot-specialists to ensure you’ve got the perfect fit. Therefore, unless you really do prefer to bring your own boots or gear, you’ll have plenty to choose from at the Hakuba rental shops. You can add ski or snowboard equipment to your Hakuba booking easily at the same rate as purchasing in-resort, and have them waiting for you upon arrival, either at the shop, or delivered to your accommodation (intermediate and advanced only). Get in touch with us to add equipment to your Hakuba booking.
- Where can I buy groceries in Hakuba?
Hakuba Resort has 3 large supermarkets within the ski resort area, as well as a handful of convenience stores which stock a wide variety of ready-made meals, snacks and beverages. Refer to our Hakuba Supermarket Guide for detailed information about how to get groceries in Hakuba.
- How can I visit the snow monkey onsen?
One of the amazing perks of Hakuba ski resort is having the chance to visit the world-famous Jigokudani Monkey Onsen park, which is located about 45 minutes from Hakuba. Day trips are offered from Hakuba which include a visit to the Snow Monkey park, lunch at a sake brewery in a traditional town, and a stop at Nagano city’s ancient Zenkoji Temple. The day tour is highly recommended and is an amazing experience for people of all ages.
- Where should I stay in Hakuba?
Hakuba ski resort is made up of several main accommodation areas, but, with a few exceptions, the majority of accommodation clusters are located in and around Happo Village, Wadano, and Echoland. If you plan to hire a vehicle while in Hakuba (a great idea to easily visit all 10 Hakuba resorts and the surrounding area), then you may prefer a more secluded and quiet setting (eg. Misorano, Mizuho, or near Hakuba47 / Goryu resorts). Alternatively, if you want to easily walk to some of the Hakuba night life, restaurants, retail and cafes but don’t mind hopping on a shuttle to the lifts, then Echoland is a great place to be based. If however you’d prefer to be able to walk to the lifts, then you might prefer to stay in Happo Village or Wadano, both situated at the base of Hakuba’s Happo One Ski Resort.
- Is Hakuba good for beginners?
The short answer is yes, Hakuba is great for beginners! While overall, Hakuba’s 10 resorts are most suited to intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders, there is plenty of gentle terrain suitable for beginners, children, and those who are a little bit rusty. While you will fiind suitable runs in all resorts, focus on Hakuba Iwatake, Hakuba 47 and Hakuba Goryu resorts for the most beginner-friendly runs.
- What are the restaurants like in Hakuba?
Hakuba Ski Resort has a ton of wonderful restaurants and cafes to choose from. From authentic Japanese to mouth-watering French to good old fashioned Tex-Mex, there is something for every palette. Check out our Hakuba Restaurant Guide to help you narrow down your choices on your next Hakuba holiday.
- Should I make restaurant reservations before I get to Hakuba?
Certain popular Hakuba-area restaurants tend to become very busy during the peak season and dinner reservations are recommended. Most restaurants now have the option to book online, and many have English-speaking staff available to assist you over the phone.
Check out our Hakuba Restaurant Guide for our top restaurant recommendations.
- Should I pre-book Hakuba resort services?
We recommend that all resort services (Hakuba Valley lift pass, ski and snowboard equipment, group and private lessons, guiding and excursions) be booked in advance of arrival, as there are a number of benefits to having everything ready to go.
Airport transfers must be booked at least 10 days prior to arrival in order to ensure a guaranteed seat, as the buses fill up (peak season) or may not operate if there are not a certain number of seats filled in advance (low season).
Group and private lessons tend to book out early, and a lot of the time if lessons are not booked in advance then it might not be possible to book them upon arrival. Lift passes when booked in advance will be hand-delivered to your accommodation at no additional charge saving you the time of having to arrange it the next morning. Ski and snowboard equipment will be set aside and waiting for you so that you don’t need to do it all the morning you hit the slopes, and can even be pre-delivered to your accommodation in advance of arrival.
- Can I get around Hakuba without a car?
Unlike Niseko, Hakuba resort is made up of 10 different ski areas and is very spread out, which makes it an incredible destination to experience the vast ski terrain and different village areas. For those who really want the chance to easily discover the local area and easily get around to all of the ski resorts, having a 4WD vehicle can really help. A number of more secluded Hakuba accommodations now include a vehicle for guest’ use (International driver’s permit required).
If you do plan to hire a vehicle, it is imperative that you get one with snow tires (and ideally is 4WD) as there is usually a LOT of snow in and around the resort. You can pick up your car either in Nagano city, or in Hakuba Resort (Windy Car Rental, White Fox Car Rental, etc).
That said, the majority of accommodations are still located in areas that have either easy lift or shuttle access (Wadano, Happo Village, Echoland) as well as being walkable to a nice selection of restaurants and cafes and as such, having a vehicle is certainly not essential for a large number of Hakuba apartments, hotels and chalets.
- What is the check-in procedure?
All accommodations in Hakuba resort have slightly different check-in procedures, depending on whether it is a hotel, apartment, or chalet, as well as the specific vendor managing the accommodation.
The majority of Hakuba accommodations have a check-in time of 15:00 and a check out time of 10:00 but all will offer a place to store luggage before and after these allotted times. We generally advise our guests that if they are flexible, to arrange their arrival time and departure times to align with check-in/check-out times for their own comfort and convenience.
Exact check-in details pertaining to your specific accommodation are included in your Essential Travel Vouchers which are emailed through to our guests 14 days prior to travel. This information will explain everything you need to do upon arrival in Tokyo or in Hakuba (depending on whether or not Hakuba airport transfers are included on your booking).
- How do I get to Hakuba ski resort?
Hakuba Ski Resort is located on the main island of Honshu, Japan. Guests will need to fly first to Tokyo Haneda or Tokyo Narita Airport unless they are already coming from elsewhere in Japan. From Tokyo, the journey is approximately 3 hours to Hakuba. For complete details and step-by-step instructions, please check out our Getting to Hakuba guide.
- What are the check-in and check-out times?
The individual check-in and check-out times vary by property. Typically however, check-in time is 15:00 or 16:00 and check-out time is 10:00. This enables all necessary cleaning to take place between groups. We generally recommend aligning your arrival time and departure times as close to check-in / check-out times as possible, however we realize that this is not always going to be possible. For those groups who do arrive earlier than the check-in time or are departing later than the check-out time, arrangements will be made with the property owners/management or front desk team to store your luggage in between.
- What if I need assistance while in Japan? Is there a number i can call?
All guests will be provided with detailed information on each service on your Japan Ski Experience booking. This packet will also include contact information for each service provider, as well as details on who to call and when should a problem arise.
Vouchers will also include in-transit email addresses and contact telephone numbers for our Japan-based Japan Ski Experience team, as well as an emergency telephone number for urgent assistance while in-transit.
- Can I add services to my booking after I have already arranged final payment?
Yes, resort services including lift passes, ski and snowboard equipment, group and private lessons, airport transfers, and excursions can be added to your booking after your accommodation balance payment has been received. Each service has a cut-off period for when it can be added prior to travel, but generally speaking anything can be added up to about 14 days prior to arrival, pending availability.