jStyle – Special Feature
The Captivating Ski Resorts of JAPAN
In recent years, Japan’s ski resorts have undergone an almost unparalleled boost in popularity amongst overseas skiers. In this feature, we take a look at what makes them so special.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Japan saw an unprecedented boom in skiing. With the skiing population seemingly set to reach 20 million, the number of ski fields also continued to grow, climbing to more than 700, despite Japan’s small size. With 70% of Japan’s north covered in mountains, it’s no surprise that the region has become renowned for its snow.
However, when the bubble economy burst in the early 90’s, this new craze soon came to end.
The number of ski fields began to drop, with less popular resorts disappearing completely. Yet in spite of this decline, some 500 ski fields in Japan today are still being enjoyed by countless skiing enthusiasts. Ironically, it was just as the skiing boom was settling down that overseas skiers and snowboarders began to show interest.
As previously mentioned, Japan is known as one of the few countries in the world which experiences a large amount of snowfall.
The snow itself is also highly regarded for its quality, but for many years the fields were enjoyed almost exclusively by domestic skiing enthusiasts. However, for the last decade the ski resorts of Japan have seen a steady influx in overseas skiers, the vast majority of which are Aussies.
In the past, the topic of ski resorts would conjurer up images of the US or Whistler in Canada, though over time people have come to see Japan as an attractive alternative.
This was aided by the fact that Japan was closer to Australia than North America.
The first area in Hokkaido Prefecture for which Aussie skiers showed a preference was Niseko. Towns about its foothills brimmed with Aussies, and an area akin to an ‘Australia town’ was born. The growing popularity and recognition of Niseko meant that the Aussie invasion had well and truly arrived.
As Niseko became a mecca for Aussie skiers, some people have begun to search for fresher territory. The place that is currently experiencing growth and recognition among Aussie skiers is Nagano.
Situated in the heart of Japan’s mainland, Nagano is known as one of the best areas for skiing, rivaled only by Hokkaido.
If the name Nagano sounds familiar, it is because the town was host to the 1998 Winter Olympics. Nearly 80 ski fields can be found at Nagano, three of which are regarded as giant ski areas – Nozawa Hot Springs, Shiga Kogen, and Hakuba – and equalled only by Myoko Kogen in neighboring Niigata Prefecture. It is these four areas that are regarded as the most enjoyable for skiing. In this feature, we hear from Aussie journalist and Japan afficionado, Cecilia Macaula, who travelled to each of these sites in person to see what makes them tick.
Besides Niseko, a collection of neighboring towns in central Hokkaido, dubbed the Powder Belt, is starting to gain in popularity. The area’s inland climate and powder snow lighter than that of even Niseko is generating interest. In this feature, we present a special contribution from Masaaki Kato, founder of the Powder Belt movement, veteran editor-in-chief of the most famous ski magazine in Japan and resident of the area.
I hope you will enjoy this glimpse of what awaits in the increasingly popular skiing fields of Japan.