When is the best time to ski and snowboard in Niseko, Japan?
The Niseko region receives its biggest snowfall during the months of December, January and February. Snow conditions for backcountry skiing and snowboarding are usually best with greater snow accumulation in the months of January and February. Christmas, New Year, and Chinese New Year are typically the busiest times in Niseko.
How do I get to Niseko, Japan?
Niseko is located just 68 miles from Sapporo’s New Chitose International Airport (CTS) and is accessible with direct flights via Tokyo from most major cities in the US, and Canada. Direct non-stop flights to Sapporo’s New Chitose International Airport are also available from Hawaii. Visit our Travel Page for more information on how to get to Niseko.
Do I need a visa to travel to Japan?
No. If you are a citizen of the United States or Canada you only need a valid passport to enter Japan as a temporary visitor. Temporary visitors are allowed to stay for up to 90 days.
Do I need travel insurance?
Japow Vacations highly recommends good travel insurance to cover you for unexpected travel delays, and unforeseen accidents, injury and loss. We have personally use and recommend World Nomads travel insurance for several years. If you are planning to participate in backcountry skiing or snowboarding please be sure to choose the appropriate level of coverage to cover these activities. You will be personally responsible for any medical costs incurred while in Japan. For more information and coverage options please see our Travel Insurance page.
How does the money work in Japan?
While Japan is a very technically advanced country its monetary system is a little more traditional. Credit cards are typically not accepted in many restaurants and traditional Japanese businesses so having sufficient cash on hand is highly recommended. Withdrawing money at an ATM in Japan will usually give you a better exchange rate than money exchange services. Credit cards are typically accepted at convenience stores, grocery stores, gas stations, and for purchasing lift tickets, lessons and ski and snowboard equipment. International ATMs with English instructions are located at Tokyo and Sapporo airports, at Hyatt House Niseko, and in 7-Elevens, and Lawson convenience stores in Hirafu Village, Niseko. Be sure to inform your bank or credit card provider of your travel plans prior to your departure to avoid having your international purchases restricted.
How do I get around once I’m in Niseko?
The village of Hirafu in Niseko is where most accommodation is located. It is the center of activity for the Niseko area and is relatively compact with many amenities typically just a short walk from your accommodation. The free Hirafu Village Grand Shuttle Bus loops the village every 15 minutes to assist you with getting to the slopes and around town. A route map and timetable can be found here. Shuttle buses also run from Hirafu to the nearby resorts of Niseko Village, Annupuri and Hanazono. These are free or free with a valid Niseko United ski pass.
Taxis are readily available in Hirafu village and can usually be hailed on major streets but may be harder to find during busy periods. Your driver may not speak English so it’s a good idea to have the business name or directions to your destination written down. A 10 minute taxi ride usually costs about US$25.
A rental vehicle is a convenient way to get around the Niseko area and nearby resorts and towns. If you would like to rent a car please see the next section Can I rent a car in Niseko? A number of our luxury accommodation options include a complimentary 4WD rental vehicle.
Can I rent a car in Niseko?
Yes. This is convenient way to get around the Niseko area and access nearby resorts, towns and other attractions. There are a number of car rental options with locations at Chitose International Airport (CTS) and in Niseko including Nissan Rent a Car and Toyota Rent a Car who cater to English speaking customers.
A 4WD vehicle with snow tires is recommended for winter driving in Niseko. These are available from reputable car rental companies in the area. The Niseko region receives significant snowfall during the winter so we recommend that you have a good comfort level with driving in winter conditions.
A GPS with English translation can also be very handy. Be sure to have the car rental representative show you how the GPS works and have them punch in your initial destination prior to your departure. If you have a data plan for Japan enabled on your cell phone you should be able to use Google Maps to get you to your destination.
In order to rent a vehicle in Japan you will require an International Drivers Permit (IDP) in addition to your own driver’s license. Your International Drivers Permit must be obtained prior to your trip to Japan and involves a simple process of filling out an application, submitting headshot photos and paying a small fee. US residents can obtain an International Drivers Permit for Japan from most AAA offices. Canadian residents can obtain an International Drivers Permit for Japan from most CAA offices.
What’s it like driving in Japan?
In Japan vehicles drive on the LEFT side of the road. Vehicles tend to be a little smaller than in North America as do the roads and parking spaces. The legal minimum age for driving is 18 years. Drinking and driving is strictly prohibited. Road signs and rules follow international standards, and most signs on major roads are in Japanese and English. Speed limits are posted in kilometers per hour not miles per hour. Speed limits are generally a little lower than what we are use to in North America however people tend to drive a little faster than the posted speed limit. Drivers are generally well mannered and considerate.
Gas stations in Japan are traditionally full service which means that an attendant will pump your gas for you. Payment is possible by credit card or cash. Getting gas at a full service station requires some simple Japanese. When you pull into the station, an attendant may direct you to a gas pump. Park, open your window and shut off your car. Tell the attendant what kind of gas (e.g. “regular”), how much (e.g. “mantan” for full tank) and how you will pay (e.g. “credit card”). Do not try to tip the attendant as this will surely lead to a lot of confusion.
Can I rent ski, snowboard and backcountry equipment in Niseko?
Yes. There is an excellent selection of high quality ski, snowboard and backcountry equipment available from our rental partners in Niseko including powder skis and snowboards, AT ski equipment, splitboards and backcountry avalanche gear. Let us know what you think you may need ahead of time and we will make arrangements for you to either pick it up or have it delivered to your accommodation.
Should I hire a Mountain Guide in Niseko?
You want to discover those amazing powder stashes, hidden tree runs and backcountry lines on your first day in Niseko, not your last. We therefore highly recommend hiring one of our world class English speaking Niseko mountain guides to safely show you all the great terrain. Contact us to book your personal mountain guide and discover a truly memorable Japan powder experience.