jSnow issue1 2017

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Skiing issue 1 │ 2017 │ FREE


JAPAN Take a look at AIZU, a secluded ski paradise A trip around CENTRAL HOKKAIDO Spring Skiing in NAGANO




'll give you a number: 500. Take a guess what it represents. Bottles of beer drunk in a year? Hairs remaining on a bloke's head? Well, it's the number of ski areas estimated to be in Japan right now. It's a give-or-take number, depending on how you count. Some mega-areas such as Shiga Kogen were formed by amalgamating once independent areas. But based on a white paper issued by a Japanese research institution, Japan is the country with the greatest number of ski areas in the world. Second prize goes to the U.S., with its 428 ski areas, at last count. Tiny Japan verses massive America. What's more amazing, Japan once had up to 1,000. That was at the peak of the Bubble Era in the late 80's and early 90's, when Japan's economy was awash with money. Illusory money. As a country, Japan is a lone range of volcanoes, jutting out from the sea. There are a few patches of flat land between the mountains, and that's where the cities squeeze in. But most of Japan is towering mountain, and most of these mountains are covered with snow. Snow falls Japan like no other country on earth: its number 1 – at least in my opinion.

To have perfect conditions for skiing, and a population where everyone lived near a snowy mountain meant that during the boom period of rapid economic growth, ski resorts sprung up everywhere. At its peak, the skiing population in Japan swelled to 19 million, with skiing becoming almost mainstream. But as the economy deflated, so did the population of skiers. This was a time of diversification of leisure, as people found other ways to spend this newly-won free time. Things settled. A heap of ski resorts disappeared, and the people who remained were the ones who really loved skiing, not just the flighty ones having a go at a new trend. These days, the population of skiers in Japan is said to be just under 5 million. That group of people, who fell in love with skiing in Japan and stayed in love, includes myself. I’ve been an editor and writer all my life. I've had the chance to create all sorts of publications. I’ve also been crazy about skiing, from the very beginning. In my 20s, I created a ski magazine in Japan, and go to fly from one peak to another, over Japan and the world, reporting on the delights I found.

The connections I made with people in the ski industry way back then are still alive. We skiers tend to be an enduring bunch. Somehow I ended up in Australia. For years now I've worked creating the Magazine, jStyle, which introduces Japanese culture and Japanese travel destinations to the people of Australia. It's long been one of my dreams to create a publication like this one that focuses exclusively on the snow scene in Japan. And that's how jSnow was born. So I find myself in this position: a Japanese person who knows the Japan ski industry inside out, with a burning desire to communicate it to the world. A Japanese person now living in Australia, and Editor in Chief of this magazine, jSnow. I have so many stories to share with you and so many places I know you will love that I want to bring into your world. Starting with this first issue, I hope that through jSnow magazine, the secrets and attractions of the Japanese ski scene all open up for you. Keep in touch, and don't miss the next issue. Kazuya Baba

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Cover photo: Asahidake ©Masaaki Kato

Asahikawa City Asahikawa Airport Kamui Asahidake Furano Tomamu Sapporo

issue 1 │ 2017 │ FREE EDITORIAL EDITOR IN CHIEF Kazuya Baba EDITOR Ida Van TRANSLATORS Cecilia Macaulay, Ida Van, Christopher Hall DESIGN ART DIRECTOR & DESIGNER Kosaku Makino

CONTENTS Nekoma Aizu Wakamatsu City Nozawa Onsen Hakuba




Take a look at AIZU, a secluded ski paradise



GRANDECO ALTS Higashiyama Onsen

Echigo Yuzawa Shiga Kogen Kusatsu Tokyo













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Made in Japan Quality OGASAKA SKI

DESIGNERS Junko Wakimura, Kazuko Edwards ADVERTISING GENERAL MANAGER Kazuya Baba SYDNEY SALES MANAGER Naoto Ijichi SYDNEY SALES REPRESENTATIVE Seiichiro Kanno, Yukie Yamamoto, Natsuki Nishino, Nana Negami, Honoka Asai NICHIGO PRESS PUBLICATIONS PUBLISHER Ike Ikeguchi GENERAL MANAGER Kazuya Baba EDITORIAL npeditor@nichigo.com.au DESIGN npart1@nichigo.com.au ADVERTISING npsales@nichigo.com.au jSnow is published by NICHIGO PRESS AUSTRALIA PTY. LTD. Level 3, 724-728 George St., Sydney NSW Australia General Enquiries Tel: (02)9211-1155 Fax: (02)9211-1722 Email: npsyd@nichigo.com.au Websites: j-style.com.au / nichigopress.jp / www.nichigo.com.au Southpaw Font: AWP, Allison Usavage, Tyler Finck DISCLAIMER: While we take every care in ensuring that material published in jsnow is accurate, data and information may change after the date of publication, 15 Apr 2017. Nichigo Press cannot take responsibility for the content of advertisements and contributions from external persons or entities. No material may be reproduced in part or in whole without written consent from the copyright holders. Nichigo Press Australia requires as part of its terms and conditions of contract that the content of advertisements do not infringe the rights of any third party and do not breach any provision of the Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth) or the Fair Trading Act 1987 (NSW) or similar legislation enacted in other states of Australia (or other jurisdictions). Nichigo Press cannot be held responsible for advertisements that breach these conditions.

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TAKE A LOOK at AIZU a Secluded Ski Paradise Cover story

BEST-KEPT SKI SECRET OF JAPAN'S MAIN ISLAND Words and photography: Kazuya Baba


hen you think of the ski areas most popular amongst foreigners on Japan’s main island, you would first think of places in Nagano and Niigata such as Hakuba, Nozawa, Shiga or Myoko. Otherwise, it’s the Tohoku area resorts, such as Appi or Hachimantai that come to mind. There is, however, a ski area that westerners are just beginning to discover. It’s the slopes of Aizu, at the gateway of Tohoku, the main island’s northernmost region. Because of Aizu’s inland location, humidity is low, and snow quality is as high as it gets. Its fine, dry powder is comparable to the powder snow of Hokkaido at Japan’s northernmost tip, with its reputation as the world’s number one powder paradise. The very reason that makes Aizu’s fresh powder slopes so thrilling is, ironically, the absence of crowds. Despite being 100 kilometres north of the Daiichi nuclear accident, Aizu lies on the outer edge of the Fukushima district. Although Aizu itself is basically untouched by radiation, the very word

‘Fukushima’ is synonymous with the word ‘disaster’ to many people, Japanese and foreigners alike. Many people choose to stay away, avoiding to look at the actual data themselves. For people willing to do their own research, this makes a ski holiday in Aizu a prize catch. Not only can you get freshly-fallen powder all to yourself, the whole ski industry is bending over backwards to woo skiers back with all kinds of special deals, such as free lift passes for people aged 19 - 24. Fortunately, the data shows that the Aizu and Bandai areas saw little effect from the accident. This is due not only to distance, but also to being upwind of the accident, and having two protective mountain ranges between Aizu and the stricken power plant. Nevertheless, local government watches the situation closely. In addition, the citizen group, Safecast, provides reliable independent radiation monitoring with easy to use smartphone apps and online maps as an alternative source of information. A visit to Aizu is about much more than extremely inviting snow. The treasure of the north is the samurai town of Aizu Wakamatsu, built around the spectacular castle to which all wealth and culture flowed. Like the television dramas that it inspired, Wakamatsu town is full of tales of intrigue and heroism that played out all those years ago. These stories continue to inspire the people of Japan, and even a foreign movie star or two; the Tom Cruise film, The Last Samurai, tells of the real-life events that took place in these mountains and streets. Yes, the ‘Bushido’ or ‘Samurai Spirit’ is strong in the people of the north. So too is their attachment to their traditional cuisine. In a world where everything starts to be the same everywhere you go, we tasted wonderful dishes that are exclusive to this area, springing from its natural features and traditions, which I would love to share with you. There are a total of 22 ski resorts in the area that all slope down to the open plain. The district that flows down from the north is known as Aizu, while the south-western area goes by the name Minami Aizu. In this trip my 9 companions and I focused on three places in the northern district: the main ski resorts of Aizu, the samurai town of Aizu Wakamatsu City, and the romantic historical village of Higashiyama Onsen (hot springs), just nearby. Here is the story of my experience of Aizu, and the must-see places in each of the areas. jSnow issue 1 │ 7




y trip began the minute I touched down at Narita airport. I met my party, and the ten of us all bundled into a bus, heading straight for the snowfields. It was a four hour bus trip, so after the long flight from summery Sydney, we fell into a slumber. Awakening, the world outside the window had turned white. We were in snow country. We all tumbled out of the bus at ALTS, the nickname for the Hoshino Resorts’ Alts Bandai. After a quick lunch, we turned our heads towards the slopes, and off we went to explore. It turned out to be a preview trip only, checking out the trails, as the slopes were hit by furious snowfall. Were we pleased about this? Of course! The snow was spectacularly light, fine powder, just feeding our anticipation of the skiing that lay ahead the next morning. ALTS, the largest ski resort in the Aizu area, is run by Hoshino Resorts, a chain with 8 │ jSnow issue 1

luxury resorts all over Japan. ALTS sits on the slopes of towering Mt. Bandai, a volcanic mountain included in the illustrious, Hyakumeizan, a list of the 100 favourite mountains of a famed Japanese alpinist. The list now has a life of its own, as dedicated mountaineers attempt to climb all one hundred. 29 ski courses is a lot for just one resort. ALTS is the kind of resort that doesn’t do things by half-measures. The ski area is roughly divided into two parts, the front and the back. Nekoma Bowl is the bowl-shaped slope at the back. Because it faces north, away from the sun, it has the super-high quality powder. The undulations of the non-compacted snow give this run a high degree of difficulty, making it popular amongst hardcore skiers.

The fact that you can also find relatively friendly slopes on Nekoma bowl is probably a big part of its allure – a group of friends with differing skiing experience and abilities can all have a great day together, experiencing the a quality of powder snow that’s unsurpassed, anywhere on the planet. EXCLUSIVE CAT SKIING SLOPES

We awoke the next day to a full-blown blizzard, with super-low temperatures predicted. Did that discourage hard-core skiers, like the ones in our

group? Of course not! The more punishing the storm, the greater the thrill and joy of skiing through an entire night’s worth of freshly fallen snow. We had to be careful about what we wished for, though. If the storm blew too hard, then the slopes would be closed, and we’d watch all that beautiful snow go to waste. The view from the window was especially nail-biting for us, as today was the long-anticipated ‘cat skiing’ day. From Monday to Friday, the slope, which ALTS once managed as a regular slope full of skiers, is closed. Snow falls quietly all week, completely undisturbed. Then come the

weekend, the snowmobiles, known as ‘Snowcats’, track their way up to the top of the slope, and let the warm skiers out of their cozy cabins to tear through a whole week’s worth of beautiful, untouched powder. As it turned out, today was our lucky day. Unlike ascending in a ski lift, you can feel the terrain beneath you as the Cat clambers up the mountain, which is a treat in itself. The Cat drops us off, we ski down the beautiful powder, while it follows along behind us, back to the foot of the slope. Then, we continue to repeat the whole delightful episode, all day long. This particular slope is by appointment only. Today we were the privileged ones, with this luxurious expanse all to ourselves. It’s a wonderful feeling, hooting and whooping our

glee to each other as we raced down, not another soul in sight. After many ups and downs in the freezing storm, the ladies of the group, Melissa and Libby from Australia, got the idea of hot springs in their heads. The rest of us didn’t take much persuasion. This area has been famous for its many hot springs long before skiing was invented. To steam and soak in the waters known for their curative properties, and to gormandise on the local cuisine is a perfectly valid way to make the most of your time in this special place. We loved the ‘ski in, ski out’ location of our accommodation at the Hoshino Resorts Bandai Onsen Hotel, just a few steps from the ski lifts. You’ve got hot springs, rentals and shops - a huge range of everything you could need, all in one place. It really is a perfect base from which you can come and go, visiting surrounding slopes and attractions. ALTS Bandai should be your first stop when planning a trip to the wilds of Aizu. jSnow issue 1 │ 9



izu attracts the hardcore skiers hunting down the best snow in Japan. Of all the resorts in Aizu, the one that wins the prize for most magical snow is Nekoma. The funnelshape of its north slope, as it narrows in at the base, is the reason the slopes avoid icing up for most of the season. But the big attraction is the premium powder the Japanese call ‘micro-fine snow’, created by the super-low temperatures of Nekoma, at around minus 15 degrees Celsius. For some reason, most of the skiers here are Japanese, and there aren’t that many of them either. It’s just not a place foreigners think to come. It’s possible to get to the top of the Nekoma slopes by simply hiking over the summit from ALTS, which is just over the other side of the mountain. If you are skilled enough to take responsibility for your own safety, go for it.

But as the peak is unpatrolled and the risks are many, this time we all decided to leave ALTS and head for the slopes of Nekoma by shuttle bus. It went around the mountain, and took us 40 minutes. The was no charge for the shuttle, and no need to buy more lift tickets, as both ALTS and Nekoma are operated by Hoshino Resorts. Nice. We had a day of indecisive weather, with the sun peeking out, then snowfall, followed by more fleeting sunshine, all day long. The slopes were a patchwork of skied upon snow and then big stretches of pristine, untouched powder. When you hit the freshly laid powder, it was like gliding. You really can’t experience it anywhere else in life, this weightless feeling of almost flying. I’ve experienced a lot of good snow, but this really was one of the best I have come across in all of Japan. Being high season,


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and in the depths of winter, it couldn’t have been any colder, but the freshly falling snow just had us feeling that things couldn’t be better. It’s not a massive resort, with its ten courses. But they range from beginner to advanced. If you are in the Aizu area, don’t miss the secluded charms of inland Nekoma - intense cold, and that distinctive Nekoma terrain, and the finest power imaginable. There are rumours that the ALTS and Nekoma areas might soon be connected at the summit, since they are both operated by the same resort. If that happens, the days of solitude at Nekoma are numbered. But for some reason, an interconnected snow playground seems an alluring daydream for me. I’m looking forward to the day it becomes a reality.



urther north of ALTS and Nekoma lies GRANDECO, our final visit of the Aizu ski areas. GRANDECO is not the easiest to get to of the Aizu resorts, but despite the drawbacks of its location, it is still immensely popular. It is not a big resort, with a total of five gondolas and chairlifts, and seven courses. GRANDECO is a long, narrow ski area, which is its main attraction. Skiers spend their time on lengthy, uninterrupted runs down slopes, rather than getting on and off lifts all day. Its defining characteristic is an environment that is friendly to families and people wanting to have a fun connection with their friends. The range of slopes is suitable for all levels of expertise, but the majority are gentle slopes suitable for beginner and intermediate level skiers. There are few places in the world where you can enjoy both the best quality powder snow, and so many cruisy, easy, longdistance slopes. It is super cold. But at an elevation of 1,000 metres above sea level, that’s what you would generally expect. At GRANDECO they are careful to protect guests from the downsides of the powder-creating temperatures, by providing quad lifts protected with hoods which are filled with comfortable and happy families. Also, it’s rare that Japanese families can go on a ski trip for the Golden Week holiday in early May. Here,

© Owain Price

© Owain Price

it’s possible, with the long, luscious snow season when you are this far north, and this high up. During the high season the quality of the snow is good enough to give Nekoma and the other Aizu resorts a run for their money. It’s not only an approachable place for regular people to enjoy the snow, but also it also has plenty of challenging runs to keep advanced skiers

fully engaged. We had a great time going through tree runs, and scaring ourselves with the tough steep slopes. The best hotel of the whole area is said to be the hotel adjacent to GRANDECO, so there is one more plus to add to the collection. Family time can truly be enjoyed in this highly pleasant place, with unsurpassable snow, good service, and easy, approachable skiing just out the door. GRANDECO has just about everything a family could wish for to create a lovely time in each other’s company. jSnow issue 1 │ 11




oday was our ski-free day, a day for exploring Aizu Wakamatsu city. Known as the city of warriors, it goes down in history as a place of heroism and tragedy. The last stand of the warrior known as ‘Japan’s Last Samurai’ took place here, which makes it a poignant place in Japan’s history. To be immersed in that chapter from the past is a perfectly good reason to come and stay here. But more prosaically, it’s just a 30 minute drive from here to Alts Bandai, and an hour to Nekoma. So even if you only have skiing on your mind, it’s a pretty irresistible base. As a sightseer, you will probably start off with Tsuruga Castle. The original castle was constructed 630 years ago, and lasted until its bombardment in the civil war during the latter half of the Edo period, the last time wars were fought by samurai. Although finally defeated, the castle and its warriors earned a glorious kind of immortality through their final brave attacks. They withstood an entire month under siege, facing weapons of immense destructive power, never before seen by these ancient warriors. Now, the replica castle holds all sorts of 12 │ jSnow issue 1

displays and documents, that bring to life the story of what happened here, floor after floor, until you reach the apex. From the very top of the tower, we caught our breath and viewed the city of Aizu spread out below us. It’s not quite skiing, but a wonderful feeling, high above the world. After this glorious place, we then wandered down to the modest thatched tea ceremony hut, built centuries ago by the son of Sen no Rikyu, the renowned master and initiator of the Japanese tea ceremony. Here, we partook of matcha green tea, served in the ritual way, with traditional Japanese sweets. The ladies were especially appreciative of those sweets, all elaborate, pretty and sugary-sweet. Melissa seemed so taken by the whole experience that she purchased a set of the special tea ceremony equipment – a pottery bowl, bamboo whisk,

and so on – so she could bring this special feeling back with her to her life in Sydney. There aren’t usually what you would call cities around ski areas in this country, so that limits how you can keep entertained and occupied once you’re done skiing for the day. But if you stay in Aizu Wakamatsu, you really won’t run out of attractions and distractions. The city of Aizu was built up on what was once ancient swampland. Draining the wetlands and setting the nutrient-rich soil aside created extremely fertile farmlands, which is why the rice grown here so delicious. The difference between this juicy, flavourful rice and ordinary rice is so distinctive that you will immediately realise when you take your first bite. The snow that piles up in the surrounding mountains also has an impact on making things here delicious. It seeps into the ground as meltwater, gets purified as it filters through the rock, then lies in the ground as clear, cold spring water. This pure water and lush rice go together to make astonishingly good Japanese

sake. The town is full of traditional izakayas, quaint eatery-bars, as well as modern bars and restaurants of all sorts. After hearing stories of the marvels of the sake of this area, we went over to the longestablished sake brewery, Suehiro Shuzo, to see if the legends were true. They showed us the careful process of making perfect sake, not dramatically different from centuries ago. At the tasting corner we refined our powers of discrimination, and finally chose some favourites to buy and take home. On the wall were photographs and calligraphy by the world-renowned doctor and humanist, Hideyo Noguchi. Dr Noguchi had visited this place early last century, and the ladies of our group entertained themselves by photographing each other in the same hall, same angle and pose as that of Dr Noguchi. In lands with pure water, good sake, and spectacular scenery in all seasons, food always tastes good. As Aizu is an isolated mountain city, deeply inland, the unique local cuisine has dishes that have been passed down with their special Aizu character intact. Herring pickled in Japanese pepper, stewed dried cod, and kozuyu, a clear broth served on auspicious occasions are exclusive to Aizu. Wappameshi, is a dish of steamed rice scattered with other tasty morsels and seasonings, also unique to this region. Aizu is famous for its handmade buckwheat noodles, or soba. Connoisseurs of soba flock to the many specialty restaurants of this seemingly simple dish, and marvel at its subtlety. It was really hard to tear ourselves away from the charms of Aizu Wakamatsu. The night of eating local food and the amazing sake just stretched out longer and longer, as we watched the snow pile up outside and watched everything become indescribably lovely as the sake took effect. There are many more ski areas in Aizu than the ones we have introduced here, all special in their own way. Get yourselves a base in lovely Aizu Wakamatsu, and go explore them all. jSnow issue 1 │ 13




ten minute drive from Aizu Wakamatsu central, yet hundreds of years away, is the historical hot spring village of Higashiyama Onsen. Although there are several other historical hot spring towns in the mountains of Japan, it’s unheard of for them to be just around the corner from a busy city. Higashiyama Onsen is special in that sense. Higashiyama Onsen is proud of its long history, founded by the itinerant monk, Gyoki, 1300 years ago. This intrepid fellow travelled the country instigating public works to benefit the people of Japan, waterworks included. It is known for being a favourite place of respite and recreation of historical figures. One such 14 │ jSnow issue 1

personage is the samurai leader Toshizo Hijikata, leader of the Shinsen-gumi special forces, active during the last days of the Samurai. Japan’s very first prime minister, Hirobumi Ito was another great person of history who frequented the bathhouses of this village. And then there was us, making it our final destination of our Aizu tour. The onsen is a mineral-rich sulfate spring. It is said to have a therapeutic effect on disorders such as rheumatism, high blood pressure, and menopausal symptoms in women. We were lucky enough to stay at the Ashina, a truly grand ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn. The Ashina is a 120 year old reconstructed farmhouse, dismantled and rebuilt in the village

as a luxury accommodation. There are only seven guest rooms. As we walked in, we found that one of these rooms was where the creator of the animation Astro Boy, Osamu Tezuka, happened to stay. The room has now been decorated to give the impression you are staying in the great man’s own workroom. Inspiring! At the Ashina, the hot water rises up to the baths directly from its source in the earth. There were indoor baths, and outdoor baths, and we

just couldn’t decide on which was better, so we bathed and bathed until we couldn’t be any more relaxed and glowing. “Look at our lovely, dewy complexions!” the girls marvelled. It turned out that our party of 10 had the entire place to ourselves that night. Usually, elaborate meals are served privately in each of the seven rooms. But tonight we all gathered around the open hearth, used for kaiseki cuisine, in the main tatami room. It really felt like a time slip to the Japan of old, as delicious morsels of food sizzled gently over our charcoal fire, our faces lively in its flickering light. Food found only in this place, this season. How did they coax such deliciousness from such simple ingredients? There was a point in the night when the food, the atmosphere, the glow from the baths and the sake had gotten our spirits as merry as they were going to get. That was the moment the geisha made their entrance. Three genuine geisha, in full regalia. The night was just getting started, as it turned out. It was a night of shamisen, dance, and the witty banter and attentiveness that geisha have honed to an art form. There was also taiko drumming, and nagauta – a unique experience of traditional singing. An evening’s entertainment with real geisha is something so rare, you never expect it will happen to you. Even Japanese people don’t expect to have such an experience. So this night, in this secluded mountain village, blanketed in thick snow, felt like some kind of dream. It was true, in a sense. It’s the only place in the whole of Tohoku with so many geisha, twenty, and we were lucky enough to be there to be a part of it. Do whatever you can to complete a trip to Aizu with a stay at Higashiyama Onsen. The time you spend here will sparkle in your memory like starlight on snow. jSnow issue 1 │ 15

Listel Inawashiro is a large 370 room hotel open all year round with dinner choices which include western cuisine, Japanese cuisine and a buffet. The hotel also features a Japanese style pub, a cocktail bar and a karaoke room. All rooms offer fine views of Lake Inawashiro, the 4th largest in Japan which is colloquially referred to as ‘Tenkyoko’, a beautiful lake that reflects the sky like a mirror. Rooms also feature excellent Wi-Fi connectivity allowing guests to keep in touch with friends and family about the highlights of their visit to Japan.


HOTEL LISTEL INAWASHIRO Key points 3 Great access with a free shuttle bus to the surrounding ski areas and close to the best station in Aizu 3 Stunning views from all rooms 3 Excellent facilities within the hotel

Listel-Park, Kawageta,Inawashiro town, Fukushima pref. JAPAN +81-242-66-2233 inawashiro@listel.co.jp


S pecia l R e por t


A trip around Central Hokkaido


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@ASAHIDAKE ©Masaaki Kato

The belly of central Hokkaido, also known as the “powder belt”, is thus named because of the outstanding powder snow which falls in the region. Asahikawa Airport serves as the entrance to this region with the nearby town of Asahikawa being the central point of various ski areas, lending itself to its common name – Central Hokkaido. For skiing in Hokkaido, most people tend to drift towards Niseko, however, many skiers have turned their attentions to Central Hokkaido in search of a more pure skiing experience. It is a haven for the world’s best quality powder snow which cannot be experienced elsewhere. Located in Japan’s northern most region, Hokkaido, the “powder belt’s” ideal conditions are further boosted through its inland location. This allows for dry snow to fall and accumulate, producing conditions which cannot be experienced on ski fields near the coast. In this special feature, the editor of this publication has taken it upon himself to visit the four main ski slopes of Central Hokkaido as well as a stay in the town of Asahikawa. Though he may be a well informed and experienced skier, this report will detail his first account of skiing solo in Central Hokkaido.

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Da y 1 KAMUI

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As the plane began to descend on Asahikawa Airport, I could already see a winter wonderland stretching out before my very eyes. I had never seen an airport surrounded by so much snow before and worried, unnecessarily, about the possibility of the plane slipping upon landing on the icy landing strip. Getting into my rental car at the airport, I entered “Kamui Ski Links” into the GPS and away I went to the closest ski resort to the airport. As far as the eye could see was a beautiful landscape of snow. My excitement over my first ski trip to Central Hokkaido and nervousness over my first cautious drive (in a long while) over snowy

roads made for an interesting journey towards Kamui. After about an hour of driving, a road sign with “Kamui” written on it finally appeared. My destination for the day had a more local feel to it than other ski resorts. There were no hotels or inns around so as to limit would-be travellers to day trips, which meant that most of the visitors were locals of the Asahikawa area. Visitors from overseas might have also found it a little difficult to reach since it can only be accessed by car. However, shuttle bus services from Asahikawa have started operating in an effort to increase the amount of overseas visitors to Kamui. Asahikawa is a great

region to visit with various wonderful places to see. Kamui is not only the easiest place to get to for those who choose to stay in Asahikawa, but it is also one of the best ski slopes to go to in order to experience high quality snow. The first thing I felt when I reached Kamui was that it really was a perfect example of a local ski slope in Japan. At the same time, I was overwhelmed with the desire to tell the world about this local treasure. Inbound visitors wouldn’t normally be able to experience the simple small town atmosphere if they visited the average ski slope, because they would generally be acclimatised

to receiving foreign travellers. My guide around this wonderfully local ski slope was Makoto Ogata, head teacher of the Miura Dolphins Kamui ski school. The Miura Dolphins has become a household name due to the efforts of its managing director and mountaineering pro skier, Yuichiro Miura who reached the peak of Mt. Everest for the third time in his life in 2013 at the ripe old age of 80. Makoto mentioned to me that the Kamui ski slope is great because not too many people visit. Though the ski resort only has a total of 7 chairlifts (including the gondola), the slope itself is wide and spacious. The snow

is groomed into beautiful wide ranging arcs, making skiing on the slopes a real treat. There are also many off-piste tracks open as well and various tree runs to challenge and please skiers of varying levels. Because I had arrived on a weekday, the amount of visitors was sparse, allowing me to pretty much have the whole slope to myself. It felt a little wasteful to only visit this place on a day trip. I probably would have preferred to explore Kamui on consecutive day trips whilst I stayed in the city of Asahikawa if I had the chance to. Now might be your only chance to savour the magnificent slopes all on your own before word gets out to too

many foreign visitors! If you do happen to make the trip to Kamui, I highly recommend a visit to “NOBu” at the base of the ski slopes. Asahikawa is known in Japan as one of the best places to enjoy the Japanese soul food, ramen. “NOBu” is a very well known traditional Asahikawa ramen restaurant that has maintained the same recipe over many generations. You’d be hard pressed to find a place that serves ramen as delicious as here at a ski resort anywhere else around the world. I left Kamui Ski Links in the evening and decided to hop into my car for a night drive to Furano. jSnow issue 1 │ 21



Furano is a particularly well known region within Central Hokkaido. It is a popular tourist destination amongst Japanese travellers, even outside of winter, with sights such as its huge fields of lavender. The reputation of Furano has also begun to rise of late in neighbouring Asian countries because of this as well. Although it has the potential to become a bustling sightseeing hotspot for many reasons, western visitors seem to only have eyes for Furano’s ski season. And, while it boasts the calibre of holding 10 FIS World Cups, most of its popularity stems from its location which draws people in for long stays here. Furano is only an hour and a bit away from Kamui by car on a good day. Compared to other snow towns, Furano is fairly large and while it is possible to find accommodation there, I decided to stay at the New Furano Prince Hotel at the base of the ski slope this time around. The Prince Hotel Group is a widely known hotel chain in Japan which owns a number of hotels inside of resorts all over the country. A little spell of bad weather added some time to my trip but I was able to reach the town before dinner. On my way to the hotel, I was treated to the beautiful night view of the ski slope which operates at night as well. Gazing 22 │ jSnow issue 1

out over the magnificent night lights in Furano whilst skiing must make for a unforgettable romantic experience. Upon my arrival at the New Furano Prince Hotel, I immediately made plans for dinner. Of the six restaurants inside of the hotel, I decided to eat at the sushi counter, where the sushi chef made and served sushi right in front of me, inside of “Karamatsu”, a purveyor of Japanese cuisine. Hokkaido is a prominent treasure trove of gourmet delights in Japan and is said to have the most delicious seafood in the country – so I knew I wanted to have a dish filled with seafood on my first day in Hokkaido. While I tantalised my tongue with the delicious Hokkaido sourced ingredients, I listened to what the chef had to say. He mentioned that the number of western skiers had increased substantially over the past few years and that European skiers in particular have come in droves after discovering the appeal of the powder snow in the region. Both Japan and Europe, being located in the northern hemisphere, share the same ski season. Europe has built a reputation for having numerous excellent ski resorts yet, Europeans decide to make the trip to Furano for its incomparably high quality powder snow. I continued speak to the

chef with a drink in hand as I spent the night enduring my excitement over the skiing I would get to do the next day. The next morning, I met up with Scott Tovey, a course guide working at the Prince Hotel. Scott made the move from New Zealand to Furano after being captivated by the ski area in the town. He now lives there with his Japanese wife and child and goes skiing with his child every opportunity that he has. I followed closely behind Scott as he deftly skied around the slopes and obtained a general understanding of the ski field layout. Furano Ski Resort is huge and is separated in two areas – the Furano Zone and the Kitanomine Zone – with ropeways and gondolas operating in both of them. The Furano Zone has fresh snow slopes and many advanced courses for more experienced skiers and is also where the New Furano Prince Hotel is located. The Kitanomine Zone has hard courses in its the upper region and numerous spacious courses aimed at beginners at the bottom, mostly targeting family groups. At the bottom of the ski slope is the Furano Prince Hotel which offers, comparatively, more reasonable accommodation options. By the time I’d had a quick look around the ski resort, it was already lunchtime. “The Furano Ski Resort is great because it has a lot of off-piste and backcountry routes which we don’t take because we’re employees but, you’re free check them out at your own risk, of course.” Scott told me as we had lunch. He showed me, on a map, all the areas I could ski in and then left me to go back to work as soon as we finished lunch.

Scott left me with the impression that, though he could not go with me to the off-piste and backcountry trails, I was more than welcome to explore them myself if I saw fit. The backcountry trails would require registration of sorts so I’d only be exploring the off-piste trails on the outskirts of the slope. I headed towards the Downhill Romance #3 chairlift in the Furano Zone. I could see the wonderful off-piste trails as well as skiers and snowboarders dotted around the place as I rode my way up. Though the powder snow had been disturbed in some areas, there were still some places with untouched snow, granted the right course was chosen. After hopping off the chairlift, I tried to contain my excitement as I leapt straight into an off-piste trail. I felt as if I was floating as I skied down the powder snow slopes. Being able to experience such high quality powder snow directly off the chairlift was amazing. I skied through the powder snow over and over again to my heart’s content. Satisfied after a full day of skiing, I took a dip in an onsen and then set off for “Ningle Terrace”, a shopping district inside of a forest right next to the New Furano Prince Hotel. Inside of the area surrounded by trees, were various accessory and craft shops which were gently lit up when the sun set, bringing a romantic atmosphere to the place. There were also illuminated courses and snow tubes to shred as well as ice bars amongst the numerous attractions for people young and old to enjoy. There was plenty to do at night around the hotel to pass the time.

Afterwards, I decided to venture out to the town of Furano as well. The Prince Hotel at the bottom of the Furano ski slope is the most dominant, eye catching hotel in the area. However, there are various inns, businesses, restaurants and bars in town which line the mountain, bringing character to the area and making it popular amongst skiers with extended stays. Many people choose to base their trip in the well serviced city of Furano and take day trips to the surrounding areas during their stay. Furano is not a big city by any means, yet it still boasts a bustling entertainment district lined with numerous bars. Of these bars, “ROBATA” is a particularly popular izakaya known for its authentic Japanese style. Seats surround the fireplace in the middle, giving off a truly traditional Japanese atmosphere. ROBATA has gained popularity in recent years amongst foreigners looking to experience Japan in the most authentic sense. Its reasonable menu options also help to feed its popularity. There’s a lot of potential to be had in the Furano nightlife. On the other hand, getting too caught up in all things Japan can be exhausting to some, so there is also a western-styled pub for those who need a little taste of home. “AJITO” is a pub located not too far from the Furano Ski Resort which comes complete with billiard tables. On the day of my visit, it was filled with foreign tourists having a good time. The variety of after skiing entertainment options is one of the many reasons for Furano’s popularity.

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After a hearty breakfast at the Furano Prince Hotel, I said my goodbyes to Scott and reluctantly left Furano. My next destination was Tomamu. Tomamu is an independent ski resort operated by Hoshino Resort, a renowned resort company in Japan. It is an enormous resort spanning 1000 hectares within beautiful natural surrounds housing; a hotel; up to 20 seasonal restaurants; The Church of Water – one of the three churches designed by renowned architect, Tadao Ando; Japan’s largest indoor wave pool – Mina-Mina Beach; and an outdoor hot spring – Kirin-no Yu, amongst its myriad of facilities. Tomamu can be reached by taking a simple route south, however, it is a fair distance away and took me over 2 hours by car. I’d spent all morning driving so I wanted to set off for the ski fields in the most efficient way possible when I reached Tomamu. Norio Kamibayashi, PR representative for the Hoshino Resort ski areas, must have read my mind as he came to greet me on his snowboard when I reached the resort. During my conversation with Norio, I learnt that although Tomamu may have less chairlifts than Furano, it is certainly not inferior in terms of scale with its huge ski slopes. I was extremely happy to hear that the off-piste areas of the ski slopes aimed at advanced skiers had been officially opened. Courses outside of the control of the ski resort had no limits bound on them as long as you registered at the “Powder Area Registration Desk” beforehand. No fees apply either, which is an extra little bonus. Not many ski resorts provide this kind

of service. So, after I’d had a general run of the ski slope, I spent the rest of my time looking for untouched powder areas. Since I’d started my day of skiing in the afternoon, many powder areas had already been skied on by other people, but there was still so much left over. I had my fair share of brilliant powder snow runs that day. Even my guide, Norio, was in high spirits from being able to ski all he wanted that day. I spent the whole day skiing until the chairlifts stopped operating. As per my experience, there were plenty of courses to satisfy the needs of an advanced skier but at the same time, Tomamu has various different activities and facilities to keep even least enthusiastic skier occupied. This is something you could only expect from an independently run resort like this. As you alight from the gondola, you will arrive at the "Unkai Terrace" or "Sea of Clouds Terrace" and, as the name suggests, you will be treated to a spectacular sea of clouds. Many tourists flock there for the view rather than the ski experience. The Unkai Terrace is one of very few places on a snowy mountain top where you can experience such a view. Many tourists from Asian countries come just to stay in the mountain resort with no intention of skiing. According to Norio, a large portion of visitors don’t ski at all. I couldn’t imagine going to a ski resort with such magnificent powder snow and not skiing but, that only goes to show how excellent of a resort Tomamu is. There are two hotels located within the resort – The Tower and the Risonare Tomamu.

The Tower stands at 121 metres tall with 36 floors housing a total of 535 guest rooms which can accommodate up to 5 people. There is WiFi throughout the building as well as a coffee lounge – Yukkuyukku, and other facilities to keep you busy. The Risonare Tomamu offers a more luxurious experience for those so inclined. It stands at 112.5 metres tall with 32 floors housing a total of 200 rooms. This means that there are only 4 rooms on each floor, extravagant to say the least. Fitted in each of the 100 metre square all-suite rooms of this gorgeous hotel is a jacuzzi with a view and a sauna. I happened to stay in one of these rooms on my trip and it truly was an incredibly luxurious experience. At night, you can treat yourself to a buffet filled with delicious foods made with Hokkaido-sourced ingredients at the forest restaurant surrounded by brilliant greenery, “Nininupuri”. For breakfast, you can stop by “Platinum” on the 32nd floor of the Risonare Tomamu and enjoy the wonderful views as you wish yourself a good morning. While there are plenty of other things to do outside of the hotel, such as a visit to the wave pool, I believe that the “Ice Village” deserves a special mention. This is one of very few places where you can visit a bar made completely out of ice amongst other icy structures. Tomamu is the perfect place to go if you’re looking for a lazy holiday at a resort. I sat in the jacuzzi of my luxurious hotel room as I reflected on my trip thus far. jSnow issue 1 │ 25

HOKKAIDO The last day of my stay in a ski area had finally arrived. I have a lovely breakfast at Tomamu Resort and then set off for Asahidake. I started my trip in Kamui, heading south to Furano and then further south to Tomamu. This time, I went straight up north towards Asahikawa. As I neared the city of Asahikawa, I turned and headed east towards Daisetsuzan. Daisetsuzan is a volcanic mountain range stretching across central Hokkaido with Mt. Asahidake standing as the highest peak in the range. Mt. Asahidake is the tallest mountain in Hokkaido and is known amongst some skiers and snowboarders as a holy ground for backcountry trails. I knew I had to see it for myself and put all of my focus into driving but, the closer I got to the mountain the more violent the blizzard winds became. Although my sight was frequently obstructed by the snow, I somehow managed to reach the foot of Mt. Asahidake. From a general point of view, Mt. Asahidake is a rather small ski slope with only two ropeways operating. But the view from the lift stop, accentuated by the plumes of smoke dotted along the place, was absolutely captivating. The main attraction to this ski slope was none other than the backcountry trails. In order to completely enjoy backcountry trials, you need do a little hike from the lift stop, so a guide familiar with the courses is essential.

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My guide, who also happened to be a model, for the day was Michiko Aoki. She worked in the area as a mountain guide and the minute I arrived she asked me if I really wanted to climb that day despite the difficult conditions. She told me that the mountain was completely blanketed in white so I wouldn’t be able to see the view I was looking forward to and the snow conditions weren’t the greatest either. Michiko went on to explain that because the best powder snow is so light, it gets blown around the place when exposed to strong winds. Furthermore, the strong winds then cause the fine particles of snow to stick together creating dense conditions which make the snow feel heavy for skiers and snowboarders. I came to a sad realization after hearing this for the first time but, since I’d driven all the way there I decided to climb the mountain anyway. I barely saw a single Japanese person when I rode on the ropeway which could seat up to 101 people. Most of the visitors appeared to be from Australia, New Zealand and Europe. Upon arrival at the ropeway stop, there was practically no visibility in the direction of the summit. It was also extremely cold at minus 21 degrees Celsius. Though there were a small number of people hiking towards the peak, we decided against it. According to Michiko, there were plenty of areas to enjoy the powder snow which did not require a hike so I headed straight to the places she recommended to me. Though the winds were rather strong and the courses rather difficult, skiing through the fluffy powder snow felt fantastic. The snow had apparently gotten dense and heavy but, it didn’t bother me at all. I told Michiko my thoughts on the snow and she laughed suggesting that perhaps she had been spoiled by too much good snow. We spent the day riding up both ropeways and finished off our runs. If you were to ask me if I had a satisfying ski experience, then I wouldn’t be able to truthfully say that I did. It was numbingly cold, the wind was fierce and I wasn’t able to hike all the way to the peak so I could do was look forward to my next trip there. However, I was able to get a true feel for the potential of Mt. Asahidake. I told Michiko that I’d see her again someday and left the slopes.

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Though short, I enjoyed my jampacked trip around the ski resorts of Central Hokkaido but I still had one last mission. That was to spend time in Asahikawa. Asahikawa lies in the heart of Hokkaido and is the second largest city after Sapporo. Aside from ski resorts, it is filled with various other sights to see and forms a great base for a stay in Central Hokkaido. After leaving Mt. Asahidake it took me an hour to reach Asahikawa by car. The scenery changed from mountainous natural surrounds to a residential area and, before I knew it, I’d arrived at a snow covered city. I’d spent the last few days driving through unfamiliar mountainous areas that the sight of a snow covered city was somehow refreshing to me. While Asahikawa is a popular base for

travels to nearby ski fields, it also has plenty of sights to see, making it a great tourist spot as well. However, because I had a midday flight to Tokyo the next day I could only enjoy the night time sights of Asahikawa. The beautiful, quiet view of the snow covered town completely decorated in lights juxtaposed with the lively skaters in front of the train station left a lasting impression on me. Asahikawa is well known as the distribution point for seafood caught in Hokkaido as well as fruits and vegetables grown using the delicious water from Daisetsuzan. Sake is also another famous Asahikawa export. Scores of izakayas and restaurants using these fine ingredients line the streets of the entertainment district. The food at the place I dropped by that night was no exception – the food was exquisite.

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Although I wasn’t able to truly experience Asahikawa’s delights in just one night, I still had a great time. The next morning, I had two things I wanted to do before I flew out. One was to eat Asahikawa ramen. As previously mentioned, Asahikawa is renowned for producing famous and popular ramen, so there was no way I was going to leave without having some for myself. I visited an old, popular favourite – AOBA. The soy sauce flavoured ramen soup made from a pork and fish broth was very delicate and complex yet had a significant kick to it 28 │ jSnow issue 1

making it a highly delectable bowl of ramen. I thoroughly recommend it. Asahikawa is also known for producing great sake, so the last place I visited was a famous sake brewery – Kokushi Muso. I wanted to make the most of this trip and since sake produced in Hokkaido has built up a good reputation in recent years, I figured that a brewery visit would be enough to satisfy my curiosity. Breweries often offer tours and generally provide tasting opportunities as well. If you’re ever in Asahikawa it is definitely worth your while to do some sightseeing of the city.

My trip to Central Hokkaido was, above all, very exciting and fulfilling. In fact, I want to go back many times over so I can discover more of what the region has to offer. My driving trip around an unfamiliar place was made possible thanks to advances in GPS technology such as those offered in car navigation systems and Google Maps. In fact, it might have been near impossible for foreign visitors to navigate the roads in the past because of their inability to read signs in Japanese. So now is the time for ski and snowboard junkies alike to pick up their navigation devices and tour the ski fields of Japan!

Powder snow, sightseeing and delicious food with the convenience of an urban city - the place to be up north




Unforgettable Experiences Up North



Asahiyama Zoo

Here in Japan's northernmost Zoo, visitors can observe animals carrying out their natural instincts through the special enclosures. The penguin walks, night viewings and snow exhibits are just a few of the many exciting experiences on offer.

Fraleet Alley

The warm lanterns line the alley which will take you back to Japan of yesteryear. The alley is lined with yakitori and ramen restaurants loved by locals through the generations, as well as izakayas and restaurants where you can eat the local specialty - shinkoyaki.


International Ice Sculpture Competition

This is the only official international ice sculpturing competition held in Japan. The creation of the delicate works of art are only possible because of the cold winters in Asahikawa. The event will run at the same time as the Asahikawa Winter Festival. (7 - 12 February 2018)

Asahikawa, located in the centre of Hokkaido, is easily accessible and can be reached in under 2 hours from Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.



T h e F U K U YO S H I C a f ĂŠ o c c u p i e s a repurposed establishment originally built in 1925. Its specialty pastry, the Tokiwa-yaki, is shaped like Hokkaido's oldest heritage bridge - Asahibashi. The Tokiwa-yaki is made of a crispy, buttery puff pastry and comes in 7 different fillings including red bean paste and curry. It goes particularly well with the Fukuyoshi latte, which has three distinct layers of whisked matcha, milk and red bean paste.


Asahikawa Airport Kamui Ski Links Furano Tomamu Asahidake Asahikawa city

Asahikawa Ramen

Asahikawa Ramen is known for its unique soy sauce flavoured double soup comprised of pork, fish and vegetable broth. Asahikawa boasts approximately 250 restaurants which serve only ramen as well as a "Ramen Village" serving specialty ramen from 8 different locales. The city is located in an area filled with high quality ingredients with access to fresh water from the Daisetsuzan mountain range making it the perfect place to make ramen.

Asahikawa Touring Promotion Council

Easy access from Tokyo with 7 flights (approx. 1 hour 40 min flight time) operating daily.


Asahikawa Food Terrace Bldg 2F, 5-7 Asahikawa, Hokkaido, Japan kankou@city.asahikawa.hokkaido.jp +81-(0)166-25-7168 http://www.city.asahikawa.hokkaido.jp/foreign/d059268.html


K usatsu Japan’s undiscovered hot spring and skiing paradise Powered by Kusatsu Now Resort

There is one hidden resort in Japan that, despite being home to one of the most famous hot spring regions in the country and to skiing fields whose history spans over a hundred years, still awaits discovery by the western world. That resort is the Kusatsu Onsen of Gunma Prefecture next door to Nagano Prefecture. To understand what makes Kusatsu Onsen so special, you need look no further than its hot spring fields. These fields are facilities where the water of the hot springs is drawn out to flow freely across the ground and on wooden flumes to collect hot spring mineral flowers (the mineral component of hot spring waters that are stored in a dried, powdered state that resemble a flower, turning hot water into hot spring water when mixed) and adjust the temperature of the waters. Although similar fields can be found across Japan, those in Kusatsu are so large in size and so great in renown, the term ‘hot spring field’ is almost synonymous with the area. Kusatsu Onsen is one of, if not the most famous hot springs in the country, frequently coming out on top in hot spring rankings in Japan. Its history reaches back to the age of legend itself, although its first appearance in written record is in the year 1472. Even then, the hot springs here were well known throughout Japan for the quality of their water, securing the region its place as a popular hot spring health resort. The quality of the hot spring water is of particular note. The mineral components of the water grant it a strong aroma of sulfur and are quite potent in nature, being effective in treating ailments such as skin conditions and nerve pain. The town of Kusatsu itself spreads out in a large circle around the giant hot spring fields, which are lined with numerous restaurants, tourist shops, and more. And while it is common for guests to dine at the facilities their accommodation provides, many prefer to walk about the town in search of a restaurant that suits their mood. In Kusatsu, you are spoiled for choice. At night, looking out over the hot spring fields as they are lit up in the evening light while dipping your feet into the foot spas before heading off to a restaurant for dinner is also a treat. Another great attraction can be found in the hot spring water handling shows. Hot spring water handling is the tradition of mixing together water with a wooden ladle while slowly bringing down its temperature and softening it, a traditional technique used since the Edo period. Kusatsu offers just such a glimpse of some of Japan’s ancient and fascinating traditions. SNOW & SPA RESORT KUSATSU

Another of Kusatsu’s attractions are the ski fields. Although a multitude of tourists from Australia and elsewhere across the globe have come to visit the ski fields of Japan in recent years, this is one that has escaped the spotlight of Australians and other skiers from abroad. The reason is much like that of the hot springs themselves - their popularity within Japan has been enough to sustain them. The Snow & Spa Resort Kusatsu is one of Japan’s most historic ski fields, and the first in the country to have ski lifts installed. At an average elevation of 926 metres, the mountain’s peak sits at 2171 metres above sea level. The 30 │ jSnow issue 1

Gunma Prefecture

KUSATSU Gunma Prefecture Tokyo Osaka


Narita Airport

quality of its snow is among the best in Japan, and its ski slopes range up to a length of 8 kilometres. The ski fields are starting to see a gradual increase in tourists from outside Japan who have come to realise the region’s attraction, and with the range of attractions for your post-skiing stay, this is one area whose potential is undeniable.

"A hidden resort for Aussies, but the No.1 most popular, historical hot spring and ski resort in Japan"


While the ski fields and hot springs are both some of Kusatsu’s greatest attractions, one of the largest barriers to tourists from abroad is access. Most travellers come to the area from Tokyo, having to move from the trains to the bus, or making a reservation for the direct bus service. Even then, however, making it from the bus terminal to your final destination is no easy task. Kusatsu Now Resort Hotel provides the answer with a direct bus service leaving daily from Shinjuku in Tokyo. (See the hotel’s homepage for conditions, such as the requirement for bus travellers to stay in twin rooms.) The Kusatsu Now Resort Hotel welcomes travellers from abroad, and is known for its high level of service for overseas visitors. Its handy location a mere walk away from the ski fields and hot spring town alike make it a handy spot, and the ability to take shuttle buses every day from morning until night also make for an attractive addition. The hotel itself is host to a store with premium ski equipment for hire, and to four high-quality restaurants serving Japanese and western-style buffets, French, Japanese, and Chinese cuisine, and the accommodation plans with meals included are a hit. Those who prefer to dine in the hot spring town itself have the choice of a breakfast-only plan. In the hotel is a joint bathing area known as the ‘big bath’ where you can enjoy outdoor and indoor bathing areas supplied by the hot spring waters of Kusatsu to your heart’s content. If a joint bathing area is not quite your taste, however, there are also private outdoor bathing areas with a multitude of styles including traditional Japanese cypress and Shigaraki ceramic baths. The combination of private bathing areas and Japanese-style rooms let you relax in your room after a long dip in the hot waters. The hotel is also offers pools, table tennis tables, tennis courts, putter golf spaces and other recreational facilities such as karaoke, bars, and other activities, and massage and other relaxation facilities. With so much on offer, why not choose Kusatsu Now Resort Hotel for your first adventure in Kusatsu?

KUSATSU NOW RESORT HOTEL 750 Kusatsu, Agatsuma-gun, Gunma, 377-1711 Tel: 0279-88-5111 Web: http://www.kusatsu-now.co.jp/ Japanese Style Room 7 Twin, Double Bed Room 147

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With the recent spike in popularity of ski fields in Nagano and the surrounding areas, Echigo Yuzawa has also become a hot spot for international skiers. Echigo Yuzawa is known for its heavy snowfalls in Japan and is also famous for being the backdrop of Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata’s novel, Snow Country. Its easy accessibility from Tokyo means that convenience is also another factor which helps to maintain the location’s reputation. In fact, it only takes a mere 1 hour

and 20 minutes by shinkansen from Tokyo, so travellers can base most of their sightseeing and accommodation in the city with the option of ski trips to the surrounding areas. If this option appeals to you, then GALA Yuzawa Ski Resort is the place to go. It is the only ski slope in the world directly connected to a shinkansen station, making it popular for its incredibly easy accessibility. GALA Yuzawa also stocks a total of 5,500 rental skis and snowboards, so you can drop by without

any gear at all – a highly convenient perk. The changing rooms and the spacious powder rooms are also bonuses for the fashion conscious. There are very few, if any, other ski resorts that can be reached via a short train trip from Tokyo where you can arrive without any gear on hand. It is also linked to Yuzawa Kogen Ski Resort and Ishiuchi Maruyama Ski Resort which means you have a total of 3 ski resorts to enjoy while you’re there. There are a total of 14 ski resorts in Echigo

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Yuzawa. Naeba Ski Resort is the most central of all ski resorts in the area. While it boasts a long course stretching over 4km, it is also known for holding the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup in 2016, making it a world renowned ski resort. And, of course, all eyes will be captivated by the sight of the expansive Naeba Prince Hotel at the base of the ski slope. Inside the massive hotel, housing a total of 1,224 guest rooms, are various restaurants, shops, as well as even an onsen – a traveller’s paradise all under one roof. The ski slope is right at the footstep of the hotel, providing a pleasant ski-out, skiin experience for all visitors. After a full day of skiing you can treat yourself to a range of different foods inside the resort and enjoy what the night life has in store. Nothing could be more accommodating than what the resort has to offer. Other massive ski areas, Kagura, Mitsumata and Tashiro, can also be accessed from Naeba by taking the world’s longest gondola lift – the “Dragondola” (a combination of the words ‘dragon’ and ‘gondola’). Both areas combined make for one giant ski resort with 35 chairlifts and gondolas and a total of 44 courses for all ski lovers to enjoy.

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For those who are after a more hardcore skiing experience, then tackling the top of the mountain by starting at Wadagoya in the Kagura Ski Resort hillside is the thing to do. You can also enjoy the huge powder snow fields in the upper regions of the mountain and dabble in some off-piste skiing. Backcountry skiing can also be done as long you register beforehand. It is often lauded as “the closest powder snow heaven from Tokyo” and its title is well deserved. If you are looking for a luxurious place to stay in Echigo, then the NASPA New Otani hotel at the base of NASPA Ski Garden comes highly recommended. The hotel provides many luxurious rooms and serves delightfully delicious meals. Though the ski resort itself is rather compact, it offers a variety of different courses, making


it a great place to bring the family. They also cater to English speakers, so drop on by if you get the chance to. Skiing isn’t the only form of fun to be had in Yuzawa. Exploring the various restaurants and stalls in the area around JR Echigo Yuzawa station is also another fun drawcard. There are izakayas which serve seafood freshly caught from the Sea of Japan as well as an enormous shopping area inside of Echigo Yuzawa station itself where you can find local ingredients and souvenirs. The place is unique in that you can find vending machines which allow you to taste a variety of sake. Because of what the area has to offer, it is not only popular amongst overseas tourists, but Japanese visitors as well. A visit to the town of Echigo Yuzawa should definitely be on the cards if you’re ever in Yuzawa.




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Words and photography: Kazuya Baba

THE POWDER SNOWS MEET THEIR MATCH WITH THE CORN SNOWS OF SPRING When it comes to the skiing fields of Nagano popular with overseas skiers, you need look no further than the likes of Hakuba, Nozawa, or Shiga Kogen, each of which sees their greatest peak in popularity in January and February. In particular, these areas see a great boost in popularity during this time thanks to the large number of Australians who take longer holidays in January and come to visit Japan. No doubt, a great many of our readers also visit these regions around this time as well. But as the explosion in overseas skiers lasts throughout these first two months of the year only to die off suddenly in March, many Japanese skiers continue to visit these skiing regions in the weeks that follow. In fact, many schools enter their spring holidays around this time, drawing students and families out to the slopes. Japan’s heavy snowfall means there is plenty of snow even in the spring, and the turn of the seasons brings a warm climate that creates a more pleasurable environment for skiing than the harsher winter months. In particular, the period from spring to early summer is the best time for backcountry skiing, and Japanese skiers who learn they can now enter the depths of the mountains that were previously sealed off, begin to stir as the seasons change. Indeed, the coming of spring heralds greater daylight hours, and along with it the chance to enjoy skiing without having to change into heavy cold-weather gear. It also brings a corn snow that is a match for the powder snows, a type of snow where it is difficult to lose control and gives you the chance to try out some new techniques. Skiing in the springtime offers a host of other highlights unavailable during the colder winter months such as the start of helicopter skiing, which is unsuited to the stronger winds of winter. In this special feature, one of our reporters shares their experience travelling to three areas where you can enjoy the delights of skiing as only spring can offer.

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Nagano Prefecture




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It was in March 2016 that I set out to visit three skiing areas in Nagano Prefecture. From Tokyo, I headed out by bullet train for an hour and a half to Nagano Station before changing over to a bus for just under another hour again. My destination - Hakuba. The village of Hakuba is located in the northernmost reaches of the Japanese Alps, the collective name for three ranges in the middle of mainland Japan with breathtaking views and natural scenery that have earned the village the title of the best in the country. The name Hakuba itself comes from the characters for ‘white’ and ‘horse’ in Japanese, and stories surrounding its origins abound. Some say it comes from the beautiful white line of peaks that looks like a white horse, while others say it comes from the patterns of the rocks and snow instead. Whatever the origin, you have but to lay your eyes upon the beautiful white lines of the mountains to get a sense for just how hauntingly befitting a title it is. Hakuba is actually the collective title for a multitude of skiing areas in the region. While advanced courses are in abundance here, the largest being the Hakuba Happoone Winter Resort that draws advanced skiers from across Japan, there are also many unique skiing areas

such as the Hakuba Goryu Ski Resort and Hakuba47 that offer tree run courses, non-compacted snow courses and parks, and the Iwatake Snow Field where you can enjoy a full 360 degree view out over the northern alps and the basin between the peaks of Hakuba itself. My destination, however, was the Hakuba Tsugaike Kogen skiing area, which is home to more beginner-friendly courses and a hit with families. What drew me here this time was the start of helicopter skiing. The unstable weather of winter puts a halt to all flights out of consideration for safety, making this one treat you cannot enjoy in the winter. Helicopter skiing here usually starts around 10 March each year, and is a popular service limited to only 400 people a day. In the early hours of the morning, I headed out to Tsugaike Kogen and hopped on board one of the gondolas. Arriving at the other end, a part of the skiing fields had been turned into a heliport, and soon enough, the sound of rotors could be heard on the winds. Before I knew it, a dark spot in the sky gradually grew into the shape of a helicopter as it drew close, the force of the winds stirred up by the props almost palpable. I put my ski gear in the helicopter, and got on board.


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TEL: +81-261-72-6716 Reservation: https://hakuba.rental-yoyaku.net/english jSnow issue 1 │ 39

NAGANO skiing area. Continuing on down from there to the base brings the course down from the peak to a total of 17km! When you get back from the slopes, why not settle down under the warm sun of the terrace for a beer, another pleasure of the warm spring weather. For those who have only enjoyed Hakuba in the winter, this is one place to mark out for a visit in the spring. ENJOY A WALK ABOUT THE TOWN OF HAKUBA AMIDST AN EXPLOSION OF NEW SHOPS

We were up and off the ground in an instant, gliding through the skies above the snow peaks with an uninhibited view of 360 degrees out over the alps. After a flight time of some five minutes, the helicopter began to wheel through the sky, the G-force pushing me into my seat as I gazed out over the mountains spread in front of me before coming to land at the 2,200m mark. This experience itself was well worth my visit. While you can ski more than 14km from the landing site down to the foothills, today I chose to hike on up to make the peak of Mt. Norikura my starting destination. Fixing a protecting climbing skin to the soles of my skis, I made my ascent up the wide, open snow plains, arriving at the top in an hour and a half despite running into some challenging spots along the way.

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There at the peak, everything was still, everything was quiet. The view out to the Sea of Japan made for a breathtaking sight, as there I stood on top of the world in my secluded wonderland. And now, the time had come to make my descent along the skiing fields in a spray of snow, a sensation made all the more precious for the long journey that had brought me to the top. Along the way, the snow began to give way to the start of the treeline, turning my descent into a tree run. Even though it was springtime, the snow was still very light. Skiing over corn snow with its featherlight coating of ice is an unusual experience that can only be enjoyed at this time of year. Nearing the bottom of the slopes, the buildings of the skiing area came into sight, and I arrived out of the forest to the base of the lifts at the top of the


Many new and interesting stores have opened up in the Hakuba area in the past few years. Close to the bus terminal that serves as the main hub of the village when you come to visit via bus, stores dedicated to snow-related brands such as Patagonia and The North Face have been opening up one after the other, and are causing quite the stir. The North Face also comes complete with a café space that is popular among the many Aussies who visit in the afternoons. The Australian skiing shop, Rhythm Snow Sports, can also be found here, and is also home to the company, Evergreen, that holds backcountry skiing tours, and you can find the equipment required for this type of adventure on rental. Come take a look! Another hot spot is the recently opened brewery in the Hakuba Iwatake area that is a bustle with patrons in the evenings. My personal recommendation is the original Hakuba beer. From the skiing to the township at its foothills, Hakuba continues to grow and evolve, and will no doubt continue to draw acclaim as a popular skiing destination from here on as well.


Nagano Prefecture




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NAGANO There is a period known as Golden Week in Japan, a time of the year in early May where several public holidays are grouped together and usher the country into an extended holiday period. It is at this time that many skiers and snowboarders head for Shiga Kogen in search of their last chance to enjoy the skiing season. Because early May heralds the end of spring and the start of summer, it may seem an odd time for skiing, but the overall elevation of Shiga Kogen, characterized by peaks such as the Yokoteyama and Shibutouge skiing area that offer the highest elevation of any skiing area in Japan with standard lifts, grants it snow even in these warm months. And if you can go skiing even at this time of year, it’s no leap of faith to believe that the conditions of March and April in spring are easily a match for the cold of winter. So it was to Shiga Kogen that I headed in search of these wonderful conditions after my helicopter skiing adventure at Hakuba. Shiga Kogen is a combined body of 19 previously separate skiing areas and the largest skiing resort in Japan with 52 lifts and gondolas that you can access all via a single ski lift pass. Some areas cannot be reached by skiing in between them, but for those there is a shuttle bus that connects all skiing areas and allows you to enjoy the full range on offer.

Needless to say, taking full advantage of such a wide range of skiing areas demands its fair investment in time. In terms of timing, however, the mountains here are deep, and with the majority of skiing areas reaching an average elevation of over 1,500m, the weather is often quite unpredictable and cold in the winter. The option of a spring visit is, therefore, an attractive alternative with its warmer, more stable climate. A trip of some 40 minutes along the road from the foothills of the mountains up to Shiga Kogen first brings you in contact with the Maruike, Sun Valley, and Hasuike skiing areas. From here to Okushiga Kogen at the very heart of Shiga Kogen, you can travel through the 15 skiing areas in between via the skiing fields themselves. Sun Valley and Hasuike are comparatively easy courses, but the Giant skiing area that continues on from there is a challenge even for experienced skiers, and is known as a famous barn. The areas characteristic of central Shiga Kogen such as Ichinose and Takamagahara offer steep slopes for more experienced skiers near the top and comparatively easy slopes near the bottom, offering a layout that is incredibly well balanced. It was through these courses that I made my way without


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THE OPTION OF A SPRING VISIT IS, THEREFORE, AN ATTRACTIVE ALTERNATIVE WITH ITS WARMER, MORE STABLE CLIMATE. issue as I headed for the Terakoya skiing area known for its springtime conditions. Of the skiing areas in Shiga Kogen, Terakoya in particular boasts a reputation for excellent powder snow, and there was still a frost in the trees even amidst the soft sunlight of spring. Arriving at Terakoya in the midst of this beautiful scenery, I was further greeted by wonderful conditions out on the slopes where skiers and snowboarders hit the well-packed snow in little more than a parker. Now this is what it’s like to ski in spring! The foothills of Terakoya offer a terrace space where you can enjoy a meal, sitting back for lunch and enjoying the outdoors. The Higashitateyama Ski Area is another popular spot that boasts the longest runs of all the skiing areas in Shiga Kogen, and a variety of courses ranging from to gentle to steeper slopes and mogul slopes. This is one spot you can’t afford to miss!

Hotel Villa Ichinose, Shigakogen ★We locate at center of “Ichinose Village”, and “Ichinose Tanne-NoMori ski area” is just behind us. ★We have Chinese & Japanese restaurant and convenience shop “Yamazaki Shop”. ★There is fire place and sofa at our lobby. Free Wi-Fi access. ★Japanese tatami room, spa shared public bathroom. 7149 HIRAO, YAMANOUCHI-MACHI, SHIMOTAKAI-GUN, NAGANO, 381-0401 JAPAN Tel:81-269-34-2704 e-mail:info@villa101.biz URL:http://www.villa101.biz

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NAGANO After enjoying the central areas, I decided to make for the Okushiga Kogen skiing area known for its good springtime conditions. I passed through several other skiing areas along the way, each of the courses I traversed offering its own attraction and making for a good journey. Here in the sun, each slope you hit is different, and each slope is good. The Diamond skiing area I passed along the way with its kids area complete with conveyer belt was popular with families, as were the sleds at the separated skiing areas at the foothills of Mount Yakebitai that I passed further on, the look of happiness on the children’s faces a reminder of Shiga Kogen’s family-friendly side. At last, I arrived at the Okushiga Kogen skiing area. And even though this area is a part of the greater Shiga Kogen area itself, the change in atmosphere was immediate. With superb powder snow the likes of the Terakoya skiing area and boasting a large, open space of its own, there are few visitors and you have all the space you need. One of its key attractions is one of Shiga Kogen’s most eminent long courses. It’s enough to make you understand why the Okushiga Kogen area is a familiar name to those who seek springtime skiing. The Okushiga Kogen Hotel, at the

foothills of the skiing fields, is a highly refined western-style accommodation. Its mascot, a St. Bernard kept on site who is loved by all who come to visit, and, it is said, can even go out for walks on snow shoes. The hotel also offers the opportunity for an outdoor BBQ, making a stay here a popular option. Shiga Kogen is also home to the famous Sugiyama Ski & Snowsports School, which incorporates methods from the home of skiing itself - Austria. All you need do to take a lesson is turn up and make your presence known. SHIGA KOGEN’S SPRING BEER FESTIVAL

One event that is a huge hit with skiers from abroad who visit Shiga Kogen in March is the Snow Monkey Beer Live that offers more than 100 different types of craft beer and live music performances. It was held in mid-March this year, and is quickly gaining ground as an annual fixture for the region. I made my way there one evening this year, and what a surprise! I had a fun evening choosing from among a myriad of craft beers on tap while live performances play on stage. I highly recommend a visit should you make your way to Shiga Kogen in the spring.

Nagano’s Best Kept Secret

Okushiga Kogen Resorts Hotel & Ski Resorts www.okushigakogen.com www.okushiga.jp Shiga International Ski School www.shigaskischool.com 8209OKUS

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Nagano Prefecture




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Nozawa Onsen is a destination so popular with Australians and other overseas skiers that the bars and restaurants of this hot spring village are filled almost entirely with these venturers during peak season. The reason for its popularity is none other than its compact combination of skiing areas and a hot spring village. Not only does Nozawa Onsen boast expansive skiing areas, the hot spring village that lies at the foothills offers incredible convenience with a great many stores that you can visit by foot, all set amidst the atmosphere of a traditional Japanese village. The hot spring waters of Nozawa Onsen are known for their quality, and hot spring stops

can be found throughout the town, visited by people walking through the town in their traditional Japanese yukata, lending it an air of sophistication. I visited Nozawa Onsen directly after my trip to Shiga Kogen, and was surprised to find that here in March, there were much fewer travellers from overseas than in the peak season, another sign that springtime skiing has yet to gain in popularity. The Nozawa Onsen skiing area is an expansive one that feels like a mountain in and of itself whose average elevation exceeds 1,000m, reached by taking a long gondola from the foothills. The Yamabiko area there at the topmost reaches changes dramatically in the spring.

“ From the peaks of the mountains, the Yamabiko area breaks out into three main courses. In between those courses, however, is a sidecountry area that skiers can enter at their own risk. In Japan, entering sidecountry areas such as these is generally prohibited out of concern for safety, but some skiing areas have recently begun to open these areas up in response to demand. Most tend not to stray too deep, but the sidecountry areas that you can enter here at the Yamabiko area are popular for allowing skiers to enjoy tree runs over powder snow on a scale available in true backcountry areas. That course, however, changes completely with the spring. Nozawa Onsen is an area known for its heavy snowfall, so it comes as no surprise that there are heavy snows even


in the spring, and the high elevation of the Yamabiko area allows the groomed barn here to retain a consistency that is perfect for carving while the sidecountry areas are covered in corn snow typical of the springtime. The amount of snow does gradually fall in comparison to the harsher winter months, however, as the days grow warmer they unveil the natural formation of the wilderness around. The Yamabiko area is normally well known for its natural half pipes and kickers that make for an exciting course, but the receding snows that uncover the wilds beneath bring an added layer of strategy to the slopes. Gliding down the slopes across this ever-changing terrain amidst the warm weather, the rustling sound of the wind through the trees greets you as you come to rest. It is here, in this wonderful oneness with nature, that Nozawa Onsen shines.


The village of Nozawa itself is beginning to evolve as new stores open to meet the boom in popularity among overseas skiers. One example is a new brewery that has opened up in front of the large outdoor bath that is one of the symbols of this hot spring village. Another gift shop in the center of the town has turned into a café that uses coffee beans and equipment popular in New Zealand and Australia to serve authentic espresso coffee. When I visited, there was a customer from Melbourne who was sitting down to a cup. The older soba noodle and other shops are also still alive and well. This jumble of eastern and western cultures in the midst of an old hot spring village is one of the reasons that gives the area its charm, and is sure to secure its place as a hotspot in the springtime for those that come to learn of its appeal. Last but not least, Nozawa Onsen is a place from which many national skiing representatives have been born, some of which have gone on to become former world champions and olympic competitors. During my travels this time, I happened across a social get together between some olympians, and had the chance to join them for a drink, a rare opportunity that few other locations can provide.



Hotel & Jam Haus St. Anton

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jSnow issue 1 │ 47


Made in Japan Quality

OGASAKA SKI Words and photography: Kazuya Baba

Have you ever heard of the ski gear brand – OGASAKA? It is a deep rooted popular brand amongst Japanese skiers, however, it is relatively unknown internationally other than in some Asian countries. A plethora of Japanese skiers swear by the brand, so there is a high chance that many travellers flying over to Japan to ski have seen the brand around before. OGASAKA is a popular Japanese brand that has been recognised nationally for its high performance. Within the Japanese market, many are of the opinion that, “For shredding the

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Japanese mountains, none can beat OGASAKA’s made in Japan quality.” In fact, OGASAKA branded gear is often given outstanding reviews in ski magazines. But why is it so beloved in Japan? OGASAKA SKI’s history walks hand in hand with the history of skiing in Japan itself, dating back approximately 106 years ago. In 1911, Major Theodor Edler von Lerch, taught young army officers from Takada in Niigata how to ski as a means of travel through snowy mountains whilst visiting

Japan from Austria. This is said to be the beginnings of skiing in Japan. The following year, the ski making brand, OGASAKA , was born. The brand got its start when prominent furniture maker at the time, Hamataro Ogasaka received a request to make skis. After much trial and error, Ogasaka finally successfully produced Japan’s first 40 pairs of skis. From then on, Ogasaka continued to improve his manufacturing techniques, increase his ski production rate and through sheer hard work and perseverance, cemented his position as a ski maker. These days, the brand’s motto – the ability to ski to your heart’s content is precisely what makes skiing fun – is what spurs on further product development. As the motto suggests, the brand is known for its easy to maintain products which produce a smooth and flexible glide. We spoke to a representative of OGASAKA, Yasuo Tomii, about how meticulous the brand is about

OGASAKA choosing the perfect materials and the amount of time and energy it takes to produce such quality products. “Even to this day, we use natural woods which are especially light, flexible and strong to make the cores for our skis. By combining this wood with reinforcing materials which utilize the latest technology, we are able to produce the best skis possible. Also, through undertaking many processes carefully by hand, you end up with a product of such quality that is only obtainable when handmade. Most skis do not have flat ski bases when they’re sold so they recommend that you tune them up before you use them but, this is not necessary with OGASAKA skis. Much like other Japanese made products, OGASAKA skis are made very cleanly and precisely. We strive to make skis that you’ll be proud to wear.” He also had the following to say in regards to why Japanese skiers choose OGASAKA for their snowy mountain adventures: “I think the main and most obvious reason is because we test our skis on Japanese ski slopes. For example, European ski slopes are at high altitudes so they would probably do a lot of their testing 1500-2000 metres up on compacted, icy ski fields. However, in Japan we can get heavy snowfall at altitudes of just 200 metres high and the quality of our snow is also different. So I think it’s only natural for our skis to suit Japanese slopes because we conduct our tests under those environments.” Competitive skiing and Japanese demonstration or exhibition skiing has been the centrepiece of the ski season in Japan for many years and OGASAKA also developed skis for such events over the years. With the increased interest of backcountry skiing in recent times, OGASAKA has also added a good selection of wide skis to their line up as well. So have a look at some “Made in Japan” skis to accompany you on your next run down a Japanese ski slope if you get the chance!

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Go beyond the surface Japan is ďŹ lled with endless discoveries. Behind every icon is a whole other side waiting to be explored. Think you know Japan? Think again. jnto.org.au