Graphic by: Shoichi Shiomi

Snow Sports in Japan


The 1998 International Winter Olympic Games was held in Nagano, Japan. The country of Japan is very mountainous and contains many opportunities for snowboarding and skiing. In fact, skiing and snowboarding are very popular sports with the Japanese people. That was an exciting year for the winter Olympics, as snowboarding made its Olympic debut. With the Winter Olympics returning to Japan, the international community was reminded of Japan’s wealth of mountain ski resorts and rich national culture.

Japan is made up of over 3600 islands, of which close to 450 are populated. There are four main islands that compose the country of Japan. Kyushu and Shikoku are the two southern most islands. Honshu is the largest of Japan’s islands and includes the capital city of Tokyo. Hokkaido is the northern most island and the last of the main islands to be populated by the Japanese people. Although many ski areas are a short distance from Japan’s capital city of Tokyo, these areas often have less snow and are more icy than areas in the more Northern regions of Japan. The northern part of the island of Honshu and the entire island Hokkaido abounds in wonderful mountain areas for snow sports of all types.

The 1998 Olympics was held in the Nagano Prefecture on the island of Honshu. Japan is divided for purposes of local governments into geographical regions that are referred to as prefectures. The Nagano Prefecture is located near the middle of the country of Japan. It is sometimes referred to as “The Roof of Japan”. There are three mountains ranges in this area referred to as the Japan Alps. The mountains there are some 2,000 to 3,000 meters high and include the Japan (Northern) Alps, the Southern Alps, and the Central Alps. As the name Alps implies, this is an area that provides the Japanese people a grand Nordic playground. For not only is Nagano blessed with majestic mountain views, it also has many hot springs (called Onsen by the Japanese). The beauty of the Nagano Prefecture makes a wonderful vacation destination for the avid snowsports enthusiast.

The Shiga Heights Ski Resort is the largest ski resort in Nagano and is located in the Joshin Etsu Kogen National Park. This ski area can be reached by taking the Nagano Dentetsu Railway limited express to Yudanaka and then transferring to a bus or taxi to reach the various ski grounds. During the peak ski season, buses travel directly to Shiga from Tokyo. There is a large variety of terrain in the Shiga ski area that is made of up of 22 different ski grounds. This resort has 81 lifts, that include gondolas, ropeways, and chairlifts. Snow conditions are excellent and a wide variety of terrain exists for skiers of all abilities.

The three northern most prefectures of the island of Honshu are called Aomori, Akita, and Iwate. These three prefectures offer some great ski areas and beautiful national parks. The Towada-Hachimantai National Park can be visited in the Aomori Prefecture and is most famous for the colorful foliage in autumn, and the beautiful Lake Towada. The Iwate Prefecture contains the Rickuchu Kaigan National Park known for its beautiful seacoast with towering, rugged cliffs. There are ruins of an ancient castle in the city of Morioka, which is also in the Iwate Prefecture. All three prefectures had many ski areas and Onsens to enjoy.

Appi Kogen is a ski resort in the Iwate Prefecture. To reach Appi Kogen, take the Bullet Train (called Shinkansen in Japanese) to the Morioka station. In Morioka, transfer to the JR Hanawa Train Line to the Kogen station in the town of Appi. Appi Kogen is a another 10 minutes by bus. The mountain has 30 lifts including 2 cable cars, 23 chairs, and 5 T Bars. The Appi resort provides good runs for all types of skiers. Most all the trails extend the entire length of mountain. Everyone will enjoy the wide variety of trails and terrain available at the Appi resort.

In the wintertime the island of Hokkaido is transformed into a true winter wonderland. Winter storms from the arctic north cover the dramatic and unspoiled scenery of Hokkaido. The island contains active volcanoes, large lakes, and vast virgin forests. The large city of Sapporo provides an excellent vacation spot if you ski or snowboard. Tourists and locals can take runs on the actual courses used in the 1972 Olympics, and the Asian Winter Games. The fact that many slopes are within the city limits of Sapporo is one convenient reason to make this a vacation destination. More than a dozen ski sites can be reached by public transportation in less than two hours travel time. The most popular places for downhill skiing is the Mt. Moiwa Skiing Grounds and the Sapporo International Ski Area. Although there is great skiing within the city limits of Sapporo, the locals prefer to head to the slopes in the surrounding mountain areas.

Sapporo is the home of the Japanese Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri) that is held every February. During the Snow Festival, giant snow and ice statues are constructed in Odori Park that is located in downtown Sapporo.

Skiing or Snowboarding in Hokkaido is wonderful due to the deep powder snow dumped from the arctic storms. The mountains are relatively lower in elevation than the larger ranges in Europe or the Americas. The lower elevation makes it a little easier for some people to enjoy the sometimes strenuous activities of alpine sports, and the powder is deep and plentiful.

The Kiroro Ski Resort is located approximately 2 hours from the Sapporo/Chitose Airport by bus. The Kiroro Resort has 1 Gondola, 4 high-speed quads, and 4 double-chair lifts. The resort was opened in 1992, so this is the newest resort on the island of Hokkaido. Great snow is always abundant at the Kiroro Ski Resort.

Like the island of Honshu, Hokkaido has many Onsen (hot springs) for relaxation after a long day of snowboarding or skiing. There may be an Onsen at the ski area you use or at the hotel you stay at. You will find the Onsen is a wonderful way to relax after a fun day out on the snow covered mountains of Japan.



Snow Sports Japan by: W. Dire Wolff