Snow Search Japan is an excellent guide book, targeting more than just the individual Japanese resorts. It will help you choose the region and resort based on what you’re hoping to get from a trip to Japan. Which town best services that resort – where to look for accommodation. What to expect in terms of off-piste and backcountry. How much of a culture shock will the destinations on your trip be? It really does provide a lot. And when it comes to the meat of the guidance, the ski resorts, it doesn’t disappoint. Highly recommended.
A note about the reviewer: I haven’t been to Japan. I’ve written this review as a snowboarder who wants to go to Japan – does it answer the questions I have? If you’re interested in a Japan-guide, you’re probably in a similar position…
Who’s it for?
This guide is ideally suited to anyone who wants to snowboard in Japan, but doesn’t yet have all of the answers. E.g.:
- Where do I start?
- Where can you snowboard in Japan? Are there many resorts to choose from?
- Is it all just powder, or are the resorts normal?
- What about beginners, is it suitable for them too?
- And where should I fly to, how will I get to the resort?
- When is the best time to snowboard in Japan?
- About the resort, is it a town in its own right, or do I need to stay nearby?
- Food. How much of a culture shock is this going to be? I’m picky, am I going to starve?
Get the picture? Even if you’re not intending your very next snowboard destination to be Japan, the guide is still very interesting. And when you start reading it, your next destination may well change…
What does Snow Search Japan cover?
70% of the book is devoted to resort, town and region coverage. There are a lot of resorts to choose from! That leaves a healthy number of pages dedicated to information that goes beyond the individual resort. Considering that for the majority of snowboarders, Japan, as a snowboard destination, will have many unknowns and questions surrounding it, this extra information is a good thing:
- 42 resorts spread over 4 regions.
- Background information on Japanese culture, history, do’s and don’ts, Onsen.
- How to get there, the ‘gateway’ cities to chose from, and getting around.
- The truth about Off-Piste and Backcountry in Japan, with advice on how best to access it.
- Tips on working a season.
- Quick language guide.
Why is it good?
The fact that the guide is dedicated to Japan only, means that all of the information is relevant to a Japanese snowboard trip. This shouldn’t be underestimated, there’s a lot of extra detail in there… Tip: carry cash. What’s the deal with taking your shoes off? The difference between Mishukus and Ryokans for accommodation. And four pages with advice about working a season in Japan.
How about bowing etiquette, or gift giving? Not to mention the mini-guide devoted to Onsen, which could be both an integral and interesting part of your visit. The 8-page language guide isn’t going to make you fluent, but some basic pointers on the language along with some slope-, travel-, food-, and hotel-specific vocabulary could really help you out. Lots of tips, advice and guidance, all specific to Japan. Just what you need.
Getting there and getting around. Snow Search Japans pays good attention to travelling to Japan, and getting around once you’re there. Which city to fly into? The “gateway” cities of Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo and Kyoto are considered. Should you expect to see signs and menus in English, or is this city traditionally Japanese? What about the Taxi drivers, will they understand me?
Food. It’s important. The guide looks at Japan’s staple foods, its traditional meals, drinks, and at the different types of restaurants, including what to expect in each. There are also useful pointers regarding items such as service charges (be aware of “charm charges”), vegetarianism, correct protocol in restaurants and tips to avoid making any cultural faux pas!
The photography throughout the guide is excellent. Great pictures with good variety. They’re inspiring and they really help to give an idea of what Japan and its resorts are like.
There are two key features of Snow Search Japan that I’ll cover in more detail: the guide has good information regarding off-piste in Japan, and there’s excellent breakdown of resorts, towns and regions…
Off-piste and backcountry in Japan
The guide addresses off-piste and backcountry in Japan very well. Starting with some good, general safety advice: the use of guides, what equipment you need, and some insurance considerations. As well as the low down on weather in Japan, for example:
“Water content in Japanese snow is often as low as 4%, compared to Utah’s usual 7%”
We all know that Utah is renowned for its powder appeal. Japan has lots of powder, and it’s dry!
What of the confusion surrounding Japan’s off-piste? Are the trees sacred? Is it because of National Park areas? Avalanche risk and general safety? Or is it meeting the requirement to have a qualified avalanche patrol team to run the resort? And what do the resorts class as off-piste anyway? These questions are all covered.
As for what to expect from individual resorts, you’ll encounter a scale of varying stances, ranging from a resort flat out disallowing off-piste, to a resort allowing some access, to some resorts being very forward thinking. The individual resort reviews later on in the guide add more specifics.
Accessing backcountry – outside of a resort:
“If you’re a high-intermediate powder skier/rider heading to Japan, think about incorporating a real backcountry mission into your next trip.”
In addition to resort-specific off-piste, Snow Search Japan considers accessing the backcountry in Japan. Places you can access on foot, or even using lifts. What about sleds, cats and helicopters? As well as picking out a few different backcountry operations from different areas, the guide looks at what to expect in different areas. Is the terrain suitable for intermediates off-piste shredders, or for more advanced riders?
It’s definitely a good place to start; you’re going to want to plan this around your resort and town choice, or visa versa perhaps…
Resorts, towns and regions
For individual resorts, the guide is broken up to cover four regions: Chubu, Kanto, Tohuku and Hakkaido. There’s a good intro page for each region: general information and an enlarged map with all of the resorts and towns, including where the region sits in Japan as a whole. It’s handy for getting your bearings.
Within each region there are resort and town reviews. In typical WSG style, the resort reviews start with an introduction to the ski area and then focus on: Powder, Park, Piste, Beginner suitability, Off the slopes and Access. Snow Search Japan has used independent snow data where possible, to supplement the figures of how much snow has actually fallen in a resort. That’s a good thing considering that the amount of snow is one of the key selling points drawing you to Japan.
Town reviews also start with an introduction to the area, and then focus on: Accessibility, Evening entertainment, Culture shock, Accommodation and Sightseeing and other opportunities.
Both review types have an excellent “summary box”, drawing on the key features. For the resort reviews, you may find yourself going straight to the rating for Powder, I know I do. With the town areas, the culture shock indicator is very useful, particularly if Japan is an entirely new concept for you.
As you’d expect, there’s a connection between the towns and the ski areas. Within a region, a town is reviewed followed by the resorts that are close by. “Accessibility” for a town will cover how to get to the town itself as well as how to access the resorts around it. When it comes to accommodation – there’s more choice from a town, but the individual resort reviews will point out accommodation options at the ski area, as well as highlighting how to get there from the “service town”. The mix works well.
There are a lot of resorts to consider. It’s nice just browsing through: looking for a place that has loads of powder, or somewhere quiet, maybe an area with backcountry options or a town that has the Japanese feel that you desire. To help, there’s a handy Quick Reference summarising all of the resorts, with their ratings for Powder, Park and Piste, as well as the start and end of their season. When it comes to the meat of the guide book, Snow Search Japan doesn’t disappoint.
Summary – is it worth it?
Snow Search Japan is a great guide book for anyone interested in snowboarding (or skiing) in Japan. It goes beyond individual resort reviews, providing you with well rounded knowledge for many aspects of your trip. It’s full colour throughout, great pictures, it’s a nice size – it’s nice to use.
If you’re completely new to snowboarding in Japan, this guide book is perfect for you! If you’ve been once or twice already, there’s still a lot on offer. I hope I’ve covered that stuff in the review above; Snow Search Japan is probably still worth checking out for you.