Skiing, snow monkeys, and hot springs in Japan
There’s a Japanese proverb that says: “One kind word can warm three winter months.” Gracious kindness to guests, or omotenashi, is second nature to the Japanese. You’ll experience it wherever you go, from the Tokyo metro to a Shinto shrine. To warm up your winter — but also rev up your energy levels — hit Japan’s ski slopes.
This mountainous country is peppered with over 500 ski resorts, suitable for all levels. The sheer variety of skiing and snowboarding terrain —from the sub-arctic island of Hokkaido to the sup-tropical island of Kyushu— is incredible. Whatever the country’s smaller ski resorts lack in steepness, they make up for in deepness: regular snowfall comes so thick and fast that it has its own nickname: “Japow” (Japanese powder). Like the local beer, the snow is super-dry. And the slopes are as immaculately groomed as Japan’s meticulously manicured gardens.
Japan’s biggest and best-known ski resorts are in central Honshu and on the northern island of Hokkaido. The former has the highest mountains, while the latter has the deepest snowfall in the country, with up to 38 metres of pure white powder each year. And the action doesn’t stop at sunset. Night skiing is big in Japan, with the main runs lit up so you can power through the powder after dark.
The après-ski scene is, of course, quintessentially Japanese: a steaming bowl of soba noodles, a sizzling sukiyaki of wagyu beef and tofu cooked tableside, served with thawing tumblers of Japanese whisky or warm sake.But the pristine pistes and knock-out cuisine are not the only reasons why you should explore these liberating landscapes. Japan’s mountain regions are steeped in tradition, culture and spirituality, all rooted in the importance of communing with nature.
Make a pilgrimage through drifts of falling snow to a rock-top temple or a sacred pagoda hidden in the depths of ancient cedar forests. You might meet Japanese macaques (snow monkeys) or the mystical Yamabushi, hermit monks who worship these mountains, along the way. Join the monks in a ritual waterfall purification. Or soak away the exhilaration of the slopes in an onsen (a hot mineral bath fed by natural thermal springs), as snowflakes sprinkle the scene like stardust.