Everyone seems to know someone who has just been to Japan and so we had to go and try it too … and I have to say it was awesome as a family holiday destination.
Now its not the cheapest holiday if you normally hitch the caravan up or tent at the beach, but in terms of international travel and especially if you are into the snow, Japan is not over the top expensive. We completely loved it as a great chance to see another culture and also get to some of the best snow in the world.
The main expenses are flights of course. Accommodation, food, ski school and lift tickets are all cheaper than equivalents in Australia.
You can fly direct (expensive) or via other hubs like Singapore and we chose the latter. It was not easy doing 17-19 hour transits with even our older kids and I would hate to try it with young ones. If you avoid the absolute peak month which is January, you can get very reasonable direct flights which I would recommend. Check Jetstar and Qantas for direct flights or at least shorter times.
Getting to the Snow
There are bus companies that specialise in transferring tourists to the snow fields directly from the major Tokyo airports. We did that on the way back and it was comfortable and easy to travel the 4 or so hours to the airport. The company looks after the bags and you just relax and take in the view.
Train is another option and can be particularly fun to go on the high speed trains. The only issue is you will have to lug your gear with you on the train and through the stations … and there isn’t a direct train from the airport.
Japan is blessed with some of the most consistent and plentiful snowfalls each year and their infrastructure is well established. We snowboarded for 8 days and it snowed everyday but 1 when we enjoyed beautiful blue skies. The powder is great but of course it is well setup for beginners too.
There are many snow regions and some quite popular resorts but we went to a much smaller and less busy resort town called Myoko Kogen. Technically we actually stayed in Akakura Onsen which is a small town with a few streets and 2 ski resorts. We walked everywhere to the lifts, restaurants and our hotel which was awesome.
We travelled with four kids all up with another family and there is an amazing ski school and kids club operator in town called Myoko Snowsports. These guys are owned and run by Australians and they have a superb operation where we could book the kids (from 3 y/o up) into their program for most of the day. They looked after them in small groups, taught them and fed them and the kids loved it!
They looked after all of our gear rental too and we could buy our tickets there … all beyond friendly and helpful. I had the best coffee there in their restaurant too. They were total legends.
The adults also booked in for an afternoon lesson which went for around 3 hours. We found that really great as an experienced teacher could spot where we were going wrong and give us some great ideas on how to improve. Apart from that they showed us to parts of the resort that we had not seen and gave us some tips on where to go when it gets busy.
It did not get busy. I almost never waited in line for any lift … incredible if you have skied almost anywhere else. Lift tickets can be from as cheap as $30 depending on where and how you ski but we usually skied/boarded both resorts and paid around $50 / day for the lifts. That is still much cheaper than in Australia.
The website has heaps of info about bookings and prices etc
In Myoko we stayed in a traditional Japanese room in a hotel also run by an Australian couple but there are stacks of options. Our room slept 4 on the floor with traditional mat flooring and futon style roll out mattresses. It had a heater, toilet and a small TV but the showers/bathing was in an onsen (google it!) which is essentially shared.
Each hotel is different but you can check them out very well online these days. For a room sleeping 4 in the snow with breakfast each day, ski storage and drying room it was maybe 30% of the price we could get in Australia.
Just type Akakura into the search box below to see some options.
The Japanese have some common dishes which we loved and most places had some more familiar things like pizza, fries etc. All across the resort there were places to get hot chocolate or food and of course vending machines with even hot drinks. The coffee was not that great to our taste in most places though.
Many of the restaurants had images of the dishes and you could ask for an English version of the menu. They have ticket vending machines where you place your order at most places and then take the ticket to the counter where they prepare the meal. Make sure you have cash as it is super rare to be able to use credit card.
Would We Go Again?
Already planning haha … yes but for longer! Stay tuned for a full article with even more specifics about this awesome holiday location!