What's it like doing a ski season in Japan?
Japan is fast becoming the world’s most popular ski and snowboard destination. Until recently, the ski scene in Japan had been one of the country’s best-kept secrets. But each year, more and more people from across the globe congregate in the Japanese mountains to enjoy the champagne powder snow and the cultural experiences on offer.
If you’re considering becoming a ski or snowboard instructor, then you can’t go past a ski season in Japan. The mountains here offer consistent snowfall, fluffy powder and terrain to suit all abilities. Not only that, but Japan’s surging popularity means that there is plenty of work available for instructors.
With its alluring mountains, enchanting culture, distinctive cuisine, and demand for instructors, it's easy to see why so many EA Ski and Snowboard interns choose Japan for their ski instructor course.
Here’s what it’s like doing a ski season in Japan.
When is the ski season in Japan?
Typically, the ski season in Japan runs from mid-January through to early-April. But depending on where you are and the weather conditions, the season may run longer or shorter. For example, the winter season in Niseko usually starts earlier as Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands, is colder than its southern counterparts. Regardless of where you go in Japan, the best snowfall usually occurs between the months of December through March.
Peak season in Japan is during the Christmas and New Year period. But Nozawa Onsen’s Fire Festival in January, the Sapporo Snow Festival in February, and Chinese New Year can all be hectic periods on the slopes. Weekends are generally busier than weekdays, and the crowds generally begin to wane in early March.
Where to go?
Being a mountainous country with more than 500 ski resorts means Japan offers something for everyone. No one resort is better than the rest, and each resort tends to provide something different depending on the kind of experience you’re looking for.
If you’re considering becoming a ski instructor in Japan, it’s important to think about what experience you want to have. If you’re a backcountry skier, you’ll likely love working at Rusutsu. A little tight on money? Club Med offer their instructors a guaranteed salary. Looking to live in a resort town where there aren’t too many Westerners? Perhaps you should consider Shiga Kogen. Or, if you’re looking for a winter gap year and a bit of a party-vibe, you can’t go past Niseko.
If you need some advice on where to go, get in touch to chat with one of our training consultants.
Qualifications and pay
If you decide to become a ski or snowboard instructor in Japan with EA Ski & Snowboard, you’ll gain international qualifications from an International Ski Instructors Association (ISIA) body, such as APSI or NZSIA. While it is possible to work with your level 1 qualification, we generally recommend doing your level 2 if you’re considering multiple winter seasons. This is usually the minimum qualification standard around the world.
Your pay as a ski instructor will depend on your qualifications, resort, and levels of work available. Most resorts pay more than the Japanese minimum wage for first-time ski instructors. The average level 1 instructor wage in Japan ranges from 1400 yen per hour - roughly USD 12.90 to 2000 yen per hour - approximately USD 18.40. Most ski resort jobs in Japan also include subsidised staff accommodation and meals.
As you become more qualified, gain more experience and start to build your own clientele, your pay rate will increase.
Working hours will depend on the specific job, but it will usually be a 3-6-day work week. Foreigners on a Working Holiday Visa in Japan pay a non-resident tax rate of 20%.
Japanese powder (Japow)
Have you ever had someone say to you “Japan has the best snow in the world."? Well, they weren’t kidding. Japanese snow, adoringly known as Japow, is something else. Light and fluffy, Japan’s weightless snow is the result of cold, dry air that travels from Siberia across the Sea of Japan to the mountainous west coast of Hokkaido picking up moisture along its way. These conditions create huge snowfall and powder that can last more than 100 days each winter. Niseko is blanketed by about 20 metres of champagne powder annually.
If you’re planning on heading to Japan, remember to pack your powder skis. You’ll need them.
Après ski Japanese style
A ski season in Japan gives you the unique opportunity to immerse yourself in experiences only offered in this part of the world. Ski towns are smaller, lively and authentic. You won’t find the same thumping nightlife on offer in resort towns in Europe or North America, and it may be difficult to see restaurants serving western cuisine as good as home, but the culture on offer in Japan is what makes it such an excellent place to spend a winter.
Après ski in Japan often consists of visiting Izakayas (Japanese pubs), local bars specialising in craft beers, sake or whiskey, soaking in an onsen, and on the rare occasion, visiting a karaoke bar or nightclub where 80s ballads roar from the speakers.
Izakayas (Japanese pubs) are a lively and fun place to get some food and have a few drinks with a group of friends. While drinking is a big part of it, you’ll often sit and enjoy a constant stream of shared dishes such as chicken karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken), yakitori, edamame, grilled fish, sushi, ebi-mayo (fried shrimp with mayo) and nabe (Japanese hotpot).
Traditional après-ski in Japan is entirely different to the alcohol-imbued version that has become synonymous with the term in other parts of the world. One of the most popular après-ski past-times in Japan is relaxing in the local onsen (hot spring).
Onsens use naturally hot water from geothermally heated springs and are different from sentō, indoor public bath houses where the baths are filled with heated tap water.
Almost all ski resort towns have outdoor onsens available to visit, but there are a couple of things to be aware of before taking a visit:
- Most onsens don’t allow bathing suits. You really do have to be naked
- You are expected to wash before and after your soak
- In some less touristy places, tattoos are strictly forbidden
- Don’t dip your head under
Japan is the perfect place for foreign cuisine lovers where you can try traditional delicacies such as natto (fermented beans) and uni (sea urchin). Most ski towns are brimming with little restaurants offering soba (buckwheat noodles), tempura, udon noodles, oyaki (filled steamed rice cakes) and other authentic Japanese dishes relatively cheap.
Entering a Japanese supermarket or convenience store for the first time can feel like entering a parallel universe. You’ll find hot coffee available in cans out of vending machines and a range of weird and wonderful flavoured snacks to try. While you don’t always know what you’re getting, it does make grocery shopping in Japan experience of its own.
- Resorts in Hokkaido receive an average of 15 metres of snowfall per season.
- There are more than 500 ski resorts across Japan, a country which is 80% mountainous.
- Communal bathing hot springs are known as onsens and are traditional in Japanese culture.
- There are over 500 ski resorts in Japan. EA Ski & Snowboard partner with 9 of the top resorts.
- Make sure you carry cash with you. Japan is a cash country. Sure, there are ATMs, but most places don’t take credit cards.
If you’re interested in joining EA Ski & Snowboard in Japan on a ski or snowboard instructor internship, see if you qualify.