Stop the Steal! You Vote Japan’s Best Ski Town

What’s Japan’s best ski town? Tough choice!

The votes are in (thanks everybody who voted!) from our Japan’s Best Ski Town poll: we offered a pre-selection of 4 contenders or the option to add your own selection if you didn’t agree with any of our 4.

In a tight 3 way contest Hakuba beat out Nozawa and Myoko who tied for second; Niseko trailed back in 4th spot.

Of the write-ins, Madarao and Sapporo were the most favoured.

As we write this they are ALL set up for an amazing season, with record snowfalls some places already. Lucky locals will cash in powder wise even if there’s almost no cash coming in for their businesses.

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The Niseko night view has changed a lot since we took this one © Snow Action

What goes into making a great ski town anywhere?

Obviously good skiing and riding are a given. A lot of snow is also essential. Most places half decent in Japan delivers that no problem. But best snow doesn’t equal best ski town. Five essentials for our Top 5 Japan ski towns contenders are:

  • Aprés ski It can be hard to find in Japan, but not at any of our choices here
  • Great food options the more variety and value the better
  • Accommodation to suit a wide range of budgets and tastes
  • Real village vibe Somewhere you can stroll around and be happy just looking at stuff. Especially ‘only in Japan’ stuff.
  • Japanese culture is after all what sets the place apart – onsen, temples, Japanezy-ness etc

Japan’s Top 5 Ski Towns

In no particular order of preference our 4 contenders:

#1 Nozawa Onsen Who doesn’t love Nozawa? It doesn’t get more historic than when the owner of your ryokan shows you where 18 generations of his family are buried. Lots of onsens, great food, some funky bars, plenty of western/westernised businesses to make things easy without affecting the Japanese character. For accommodation the only drama is it fills up early for main winter.

#2 Hakuba OK, you a lose a bit on the Japanese character and historic sides of the equation, but the exploding popularity has made it the complete all-rounder. What you lose in Japanezyness you gain on the services and business sides with great ski shops and superb guiding/ski schools etc, great accommodation and eating options and party on as much as you want.

#3 Myoko Akakura Is this the perfect ‘goldilocks’ sweet spot? Not too big and westernised, not too small and totally Japanese, but a ‘just right’ mix of Japanezyness and western influences? Hopefully the main drag won’t get bulldozed for mega apartments anytime soon.

#4 Niseko Hirafu The original Japanese ski town to make it big with western riders, Hirafu has changed hugely in the 25 years since ‘Japow’ hit the radar. Inevitably a lot of the original funkiness has been bulldozed for new and shiny. Fine dining, 5 star apartments, and upmarket shops abound. No need to speak a word of Japanese. Hokkaido was only settled by Japanese in the later 19th century, so you simply don’t get the history up here anyway, not Niseko’s fault. You do get the snow though.

#5 Over to you Japan fans! Yes, we get a bit stuck picking #5. Could be Furano? Nice, but still a way to go on the village front. Something mainstream for Japanese but less so for visitors like Yuzawa? Offers plenty on all fronts, does get hectic with direct shinkansen services the 70 minutes or so from Tokyo. Something left field like Sapporo? Maybe a bit big to call it a ski town, but it sure lacks nothing in all other departments. Conversely, is Madarao too small. Or not?

Update: One that got a mention we forgot to add here is Zao, so thanks for mentioning that; as someone else pointed out, there are so many great places to ski there. But we won’t argue with the results – you will have a great time at any of those that made it.

Plenty of great snow is a given at all our best Japan ski towns – it’s the other factors that make the call on which is best ski town © Snow Action