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Sakura – The Symbol of Spring

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Japanese cherry blossoms, or sakura, have been regarded as a symbol of spring since the Heian Period (794-1185). The charming flower symbolises renewal, vitality, and beauty and is deeply ingrained in the art, literature and culture of Japan.

When the blooms arrive it’s time to indulge in one of the nation’s favourite pastimes; hanami, or flower appreciation picnics. Every year, crowds of people flock to parks, gardens and riversides to eat, drink, and be merry underneath the blooms.

During the short period when sakura is in bloom, you can find spring limited edition ice cream, chocolate, sweets and drinks all inspired by sakura!

When to visit?

Japan’s sakura season for 2019 has been recently released by Japan Meteorological Corporation (JMC). According to the forecast, cherry trees are expected to be in full bloom in Tokyo on March 31, Kyoto on April 3, Hakodate on May 6 and Sapporo on May 8. Stay up to date with JMC’s Cherry Blossom Forecast here.

Sakura at Shinjuku Gyoen. Photo Credit: Tatters at Flickr

Tokyo

One of the nation’s most stunning gardens is undoubtedly Shinjuku Gyoen, a large park located a short stroll away from Shinjuku and Shibuya. Originally built for the Imperial Family, the park features beautifully maintained gardens divided into Japanese, French and English sections.

Another lovely spot is Ueno-koen (Ueno Park), one of the oldest and most famous public spaces, cherished amongst locals for their 1000-plus blossoming cherry trees. After dark, you can enjoy a nocturnal hanami experience as the blossoms are lit up with a thousand lanterns.

When to go: Late March

Tetsugaku no michi. Photo credit: fastjapan.com

Kyoto

The ancient capital of Kyoto makes the ideal backdrop for cherry blossom appreciation.

Tetsugaku no michi (Path of Philosophy) is a lovely stone walkway that meanders 2km along the bank of a cherry lined canal through the northern part of the city’s Higashiyama district. Other famous hanami locations include Maruyama Park, known for its weeping cherry tree, Heian Shrine and the Arashiyama district on the outskirts of the city.

When to go: Early April

Hakodate

The best place to experience the beautiful colours of the sakura in Hokkaido would have to be Fort Goryokaku – a star-shaped, Western-style citadel which was built towards the end of the Edo Period. Since then over one thousand cherry trees along its moats were planted, making it one of Hokkaido’s best hanami spots.

When to go: Early May

Former Hokkaido Government Office. Photo credit: www.sapporo.travel

 

Sapporo

The prime cherry blossom viewing spots are Maruyama Park and the adjacent Hokkaido-Jingu (Hokkaido shrine). The shrine grounds hold 1,200 cherry trees as well as 250 plum trees which bloom at the same time.

If you’re looking to get away from the crowds, head to the former Hokkaido Government Office, which offers aesthetically pleasing photo-ops!

Located on the outskirts of Sapporo, Moerenuma Park is a unique and playful public park designed by renowned sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Containing an art gallery, kids playground and sakura forest where you can see over 2,300 trees in bloom.

When to go: Early May

Ski Resorts

With many northern Japanese ski resorts such as Niseko and Kiroro scheduled to stay open until Golden Week (first week of May), spring visitors have the chance to hit the best of Japan’s spring and winter both at once! Read more on spring skiing in Niseko.

If you’re visiting Niseko resort, one of the best places to see the sakura is on the south side of Mt. Yotei in Makkari campground. There’s also the Makkari Shinto shrine nearby, with an avenue lined with beautiful sakura trees.

Near Hakuba there is the ancient Matsumoto Castle, which is surrounded by beautiful cherry blossoms. During the bloom, the stark black and white of the castle offers an elegant contrast against the soft pink of the sakura petals.

If you’re dreaming of a hanami and ski holiday this springtime, contact us today.

Kyoto – Where Tradition Meets History

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Japan is a nation full of rich history and fascinating tradition. The ancient city of Kyoto is home to some of the most stunning temples, shrines, streets and castles in all of Japan, and is one of the best places to soak in the traditional Japanese culture.

ACCESS

Getting to Kyoto is easy with many trains and buses going straight to the centrally located city. From Tokyo, it’s just three hours on the shinkansen (bullet train), and from the much closer city of Osaka, it’s only one hour.

TRADITIONAL SITES

Because Kyoto is such a hotspot, the temples in Kyoto are kept in great condition and are among the most vibrantly coloured. The gates and temples are typically painted a classic red to symbolise the expelling of demons and illness. The striking colour makes quite a sight, and lends itself well for photos.

NATURAL SITES

The city of Kyoto also has beautiful forests that run alongside wide and calm rivers. It’s easy to see why ancient Emperors called this place home for so many years. As many of the trees in the area are deciduous, the views along the rivers and forests can be enjoyed in any season.


Shinto priests still man most of the temples and religious sites, and many locals come to the major temples to pray – especially during special times of the year. As you walk around, you will see a mix of locals and tourists, both from overseas and Japan. The priests in Kyoto take great pride in their work but are always happy to help visitors to understand local traditions.


FOOD STALLS

One of the great things about visiting temples and shrines in Kyoto are food stalls; there are so many diverse and tasty Japanese street foods to try! As you approach major sites, you’ll know you’re getting close as the smell of delicious food gets stronger.

ACCOMMODATION

Staying in Kyoto is the best option if you want to take in as much of the culture as you can. Kyoto has some amazing ryokans (traditional Japanese inns), business hotels, and more recently, self-contained apartments. Shinobi House is a newly renovated house in Kyoto, which is perfect for families or groups.

To stay in Kyoto and make the most of your Japan trip, contact our team of experts today.

Hello Hakuba! The Best way to enjoy Hakuba and Japan

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If you’re planning to visit Hakuba, we recommend some research to help you make the most out of your trip. Being in Honshu, and just a few hours away from Tokyo, there’s so much to see and do in and around Hakuba, so it can be hard to plan your time efficiently to get the most out of a Japan skiing holiday. 

Tokyo

Japan’s biggest city, and the most common place to fly into Tokyo; it has everything you could want to do in a Japanese city. There’s near-infinite restaurants, shopping districts, Disney Land, Studio Ghibli Museum just to name a few.

If you plan to spend a few days here, once you land in Tokyo, find the luggage services area in the airport terminal and send your ski bags straight up to the ski resort hotel you’ll be staying at. Cost is usually about ¥2,000 per ski bag, but it will save you a lot of effort on trains and transport in Tokyo. Find out more about luggage transport services in our beginners guide to Japan.

Tokyo has a huge variety of hotels, but one of the best is the Tokyo Hilton. It’s right next to the Imperial Gardens, which are definitely a must-see. The gardens are especially nice in the spring-time with flowers and sakura starting bloom. Make sure to try some of Tokyo’s famous restaurants as well as retro arcades, karaoke and more. Check out our top 8 things to do in Tokyo here.

Getting To Hakuba

Getting to Hakuba from the city or the airport is very easy. The most popular method is to get the Nagano Snow Shuttle which runs to and from both Tokyo airports as well as Shinjuku downtown area. The bus can be booked through SkiJapan.com, and is best reserved at least a few days in advance to ensure there is space.

The second option is the train to Nagano station, then a bus to Hakuba. If you’ve got luggage with you, this can be difficult – but is definitely doable. There’s also the option of a private shuttle to take you directly from Tokyo to your accommodation in Hakuba.

Once you have booked your accommodation with SkiJapan.com, be sure to let us know your preferred method of transport or and/or your estimated arrival time to Hakuba, so that we can best advise you on what to do when you arrive and ensure a smooth transfer to your accommodation.

Staying in Hakuba

There’s a wide range of accommodation options in Hakuba, but two of the best choices are The Hakuba Gateway Hotel, and Hotel Hakuba Goryukan. Both are economical and in great locations with facilities inside the buildings. Hakuba Gateway Hotel has NBS rentals, a physiotherapist and a restaurant, while Hotel Hakuba Goryukan has a restaurant, souvenir store, onsen and more. For the ultimate in luxury Hakuba accommodation, there’s the Grand Phenix Hakuba, which offers one of the most comfortable stays in Hakuba.

The Hakuba Valley is made up of a number of resorts – the biggest being Happo One, Tsugaike Kogen, and Goryu 47. There are free shuttle buses that run between the village areas and the resorts that run every day till the resorts close for the day. There are also shuttle buses that run at night to get you around the village and to restaurants.

The Hakuba Valley lift pass is ¥6,000 and allows access to most of the resorts in the area. Holders of the Epic Pass can also redeem five consecutive days of skiing in Hakuba Valley. More info about the Epic Pass in Hakuba here.

What to do in Hakuba

Hakuba is very close to the famous Matsumoto Castle – which is one of the best preserved castles in all of Japan. This historic building is considered a national treasure, and can be easily visited on a day trip from Hakuba. Read more on Matsumoto Castle here.

Nagano’s snow monkeys are an iconic part of the Japanese mountainous landscape. The monkeys sit in the hot pools of water to keep warm during the winter, and are relaxed enough to pose for photos!

Make sure to visit our team in Hakuba Gateway Hotel to find out more about tours in the area.

If you want to visit Hakuba, make sure to talk to our experienced team – we can book every part of your Japan ski holiday so that you get the best deal and service. Contact our team today!

Rusutsu Joins the Epic Pass

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The award winning ski resort of Rusutsu, in Hokkaido’s west, has joined the Epic Pass for the 2019/20 season! Holders of the Epic Pass will receive a total of five unrestricted consecutive days at the powder ski haven of Rusutsu Resort. There’s great news for holders of a Kamori pass too, with 50% off lift tickets at Vail owned resorts in North America and Australia.

To claim the free lift passes, Epic Pass holders just need to go to any lift pass cashier in Rusutsu Resort and present their valid Epic Pass and a valid photo ID. More information about the Epic Pass in Rusutsu can be found here.

Rusutsu Resort is located about 30 minutes drive away from Niseko, and 90 minutes away from New Chitose Airport. This popular, ‘all-in-one’ style resort has a wide variety of ski runs including powder tree runs and great on-piste runs as well as a terrain park and ‘super natural park’.

Rusutsu accommodation options include the Rusutsu Resort Hotel, which is ski-in ski-out and features a shopping and entertainment district as well as restaurants and retail stores. There’s also The Westin Rusutsu Resort – a high-rise hotel offering stunning views across the entire area. The Shirokin Chalet Rusutsu is great for large groups, and the Rusutsu Lodges – Lilla Huset is a great budget option.

We can book every aspect of your holiday, so for the best deals and info, talk to our team today! Contact us for a Rusutsu ski holiday today!

 

Beginners Guide to Japan

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Japan is a stunning country with a rich culture, history and of course amazing ski resorts, but it can be daunting for first-time visitors. Don’t worry, because we’re here to share our top tips and handy hints to get you through Japan like a pro.

These are just a few of our top tips, and our team has even more great advice and info to make sure you have the best trip ever. Contact us today for the best deals and service.

Luggage Transport

One of the biggest question visitors ask is “how can I move my luggage around?” Well, Japan is the land of convenience, and there are a range of luggage transport and storage services available. The main one is called “Yamato Transport”, also commonly known as “Taku-Bin”, and “Black Cat” named for their mascot which is a black cat. With this service, you can send your ski bags or luggage anywhere in Japan from almost any convenience store, luggage office at airports, or hotel desk. The service usually costs around ¥2,500 per ski bag, and less for regular luggage. It’s perfect if you’re going to stay a few days in a major city as part of a stopover, and don’t want the hassle of lugging around skis and boots through the city to a resort such as Hakuba.

Food In Japan

There’s so much food in Japan and it’s all so good! Here are some tips to enjoy food just like the locals do.

Ramen: Commonly available in three main flavours – miso, soy and salt. They’re all delicious, so don’t worry too much about which one you choose. You’ll get roast pork, noodles and some vegetables. Try to get the noodles onto the large spoon, and then slurp away! It’s not rude or impolite to slurp, it’s just considered the normal way to eat ramen!

Sushi & Sashimi: Sashimi is simply very fresh fish that has been sliced into small portions. The price varies per species and cut, with the fattier cuts more prized, more delicious and more expensive. Sushi is when the cut of fish is placed atop a small portion of rice and commonly served with a hint of wasabi. Both sushi and sashimi can be enjoyed with special soy sauce for dipping, but make sure to try it without the sauce first! Niseko even hosts some of the best sushi restaurants in Hokkaido.

Yaki-Niku: BBQ meat is a favourite, no matter what country you’re from. In Japan, BBQ meat can be found at Yaki Niku restaurants, and are often available in timed sessions where you can eat as much as you want for a certain period of time – only in Japan!

Sake: Sake is undoubtedly Japan’s most famous alcohol, and there are many different varieties available. In the bigger cities there are even dedicated sake bars where you can try sake from different regions, and sample all kinds of different flavours and styles.

Phrases

The Japanese language is very difficult to master, and it doesn’t make sense to learn it for a holiday a few weeks a year. BUT there are some great phrases which every visitor to Japan should know!

Arigatou: (Ah-ree-gah-toh) – “Thank you”. Probably the most important word to know in Japan. You can say this at any time you would thank someone.

Sumimasen: (Sue-me-ma-sen) – “Excuse me”. If you’re at a restaurant, you can yell this one out to get the attention of a server, or if you bump into someone on the street you can say this as.

Onegaishimasu: (On-ne-guy-she-muss) – “Please”. There are a number of ways to say this, but this one is the most commonly used. You can say this when you order food or for that all-important Japanese beer.

Daijoubu: (Die-joe-boo) – “It’s alright”. You can say this if you fall down on the snow and people ask if you’re alright, or if you’ve had enough fried chicken for the night.

Konnichiwa: (Ko-ni-chi-wa) – “Hello”. You can use this anytime you meet with someone, or even when you check in at your hotel.

Mou Ippai: (Mo’-ip-pie) – “One More”. If you’ve finished your drink, or need another plate of sushi, just say this (followed by “please”), and you’ll be served one more of whatever you just pointed at.

Sugoi Yuki: (Sue-goy You-key) – “Amazing Snow”. If it’s dumping with snow (a common occurrence), you can point to the heavens and yell this out!

Douzo: (Do-zo) – “Go Ahead”. Lift operators at ski resorts will say this to you once they sweep the chairlift of snow. When you get on the lift, you can respond with “arigato”!

Public Transport In Japan

Getting around on Japan’s public transport is super easy – especially in the cities. The subway systems might look big and scary, but they are easier to navigate than you think.

Tip #1: Use Google Maps or Hyperdia on your phone! This saves you so much time and effort. Get yourself a data sim, download one of these apps, and relax. The public transport maps in Japan can be pretty big, and using an app will save you a lot of time and effort when you need to get from place to place. They’ll give you times, routes, fares, platform numbers and up to date info.

Tip #2: Get yourself a public transport card! Instead of having to calculate and purchase a new fare every time you got on public transport, you can just tap your card and go. The two major brands are Pasmo and Suica, and both can be used on public transport across Japan. To get a card, just go to a branded machine at the station, choose the card, fill it up with cash, and then start tapping! Don’t worry if you fill it up with more than you needed, you can use these cards to pay for items at convince stores as well.

Tip #3: Plan your day in advance! This might sound obvious, but you’ll probably want to be maximising your time doing activities rather than being on trains all day, so make sure to plan your day as best you can before you leave the hotel. Sometimes the things you want to do are only a stop or two away!

Tip #4: Etiquette! Line up for trains and subways – this makes it easy for people to get off, and easy for you to get on. Don’t talk on the phone – it’s considered very rude to speak on the phone, so if you get a call, let them know you’ll have to return their call. Don’t speak loudly – it’s considered very rude to speak loudly on public transport, especially trains. Always give up your seat to the elderly or less mobile.

Tip #5: Taxis! When you check-in at your hotel, make sure to take a business card with their address. If you do get lost somewhere in Japan, you can take a taxi, show them your hotel’s card and be safely returned to your room without worry.

If you’re not sure how to get from resort to resort, or want any more handy hints for getting around, talk to an expert from SkiJapan.com today.

Onsen – Hot Pools And Bath-houses in Japan

Getting in an Onsen for the first time is an awkward mental struggle for just about every guest to Japan. Don’t worry though, because once you get into that steaming, healing water, you’ll forget all about how awkward the naked dash just felt!

When you enter the building, check if you need to remove your shoes – if there’s a step up, you probably will have to remove them. Head to the counter or ticket machine to pay the entry fee. If you don’t have a towel with you, it’s usually possible to rent one. It’s often possible to rent either 1 large towel, or a large towel and a small towel. The large towel is to dry yourself after your soak and should be left in the changing area, and the small towel can be taken inside to wash your face or use as a ‘modesty’ towel (don’t put it in the water though!). If you’re in a more traditional resort you may be asked if you have any tattoos, so be prepared to cover them.

Once you’ve paid the fee and then head into the gender-specific change rooms. Find a basket or locker to put your clothes into and then it’s time to get naked! If you’re using a locker, take the key with you which is likely to be on an elastic wristband.

Inside the next room will be a number of showers with stools to sit on. Find a free shower, sit on the stool and then wash your entire body and hair with the provided soaps. Once you’re all clean, then you can head through the next door where you’ll find the onsen! It’s going to be a cold walk and it’s tempting to run between the wash-room and the onsen, but don’t rush – you don’t want to slip here.

Some onsen have multiple baths with indoor and outdoor areas and varying water temperatures, so try to explore all the different options. Don’t worry about feeling awkward when you move between the baths; it’s worth it to experience each option. Most people will soak for about 20 – 45 minutes, but just go at your own pace and enjoy the scenery.

When you leave the onsen, it is recommended to give yourself a quick wash in the shower again, just to wash off the natural salts and minerals from the water. After a shower, dry yourself off and put your clothes back on. There’s usually a basket to put your used towels in as well.

Many onsen have relaxation areas, massage chairs, vending machines and spaces to lie down and nap. This is the perfect opportunity to just chill out until all your friends are done.

If you’re heading to Niseko, check out Niseko.com’s onsen guide here.

So that’s some of our best advice for beginners, but of course, there’s always so much more to talk about! Contact our team of experts for everything to know about skiing in Japan.