Japan Travel Hints & Tips

Japanese Onsen
Japanese Music Concert
The Bullet Train Cleaners Bowing
Japan Nightlife, Asahikawa City
Train Travel
Asahikawa Izakaya
The Japanese and Australian Cultures Unite!?
Japanese Onsen
Zenkoji Temple Nagano
Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
Japanese Dining
Comfortable Train Travel
Shiga Kogen Ski Resort Japan

Japan Travel Hints & Tips

Japan Travel Tips

The Japanese are an incredibly polite race, so it’s important to embrace this culture whilst skiing in Japan. Of course it’s rude to push into lift queues in any country (except Austria!), but the politeness needs to extend to appropriate behaviour in the streets, restaurants and bars. “Please” and “thank you” in Japanese are essentials words to learn.

Japanese Onsen Etiquette

There are many onsens (hot springs) in Japan, which is not surprising considering the degree of geothermal activity in Japan. Onsens are the perfect remedy for sore muscles. They’re generally gender segregated, but occasionally you’ll find a mixed onsen or a private onsen. Many onsens are indoors, whilst some will also have an outdoor onsen with screening for privacy. Japan also has some a la naturale onsens out in the backcountry where there is no attached infrastructure.

Typical onsen facilities have various sections to them. The entrance way will have a raised part where it’s essential onsen etiquette to remove your shoes before you step up onto the wooden floor. In the changing room you’ll need to take off all your clothes and put them in one of the baskets or compartments along with your big towel. No matter how bashful you may feel, do not put bathers on as this is really bad onsen etiquette. Get your shrubbery or man-fro in check if this helps you deal with your insecurities, and use your little modesty towel. And don’t look in the mirrors in the changing room, otherwise you’ll figure out how you look in your birthday suit!

The next room on from the changing room has the washing area and onsen. Sit on one of the plastic tubs or stools (probably rinse it first!), and use the hand held shower to wash yourself. You wouldn’t be alone if it took you a minute or two to figure out how to use the shower! Some onsen aficionados would say that you have to wash yourself three times, but as a bare minimum, make sure that you scrub and rinse yourself very thoroughly. Don’t spray any other onsen guests during the process. Some old traditional onsens (e.g. sotoyu at Nozawa Onsen) don’t have chairs or hand held shower hoses, so you’ll have to sit on the floor or crouch and use a small bucket to wash yourself.

Now it’s time to enter the hot bath. Most of the onsens are much hotter (approx 40 degrees) than your standard spa, so you might not be able to stay in for long. You can wear your modesty towel on your head, but do not put it in the onsen water. The onsen is a place of relaxation for the Japanese, so rowdy behaviour is not appropriate which includes drinking copious amounts of alcohol or performing snow angels! Nevertheless don’t be surprised if you hear some of the locals making a few grunting noises, which seems to indicate their pleasure of sitting in the onsen!

Some onsens have onsen flowers, which are mineral deposits that look suspiciously like floaties. Apparently these signify the quality of the onsen!

Some of the Japanese are inclined to stare at your naked body (particularly the women), so you’ll just have to get used to it. Needless to say, don’t gawk back!

After you exit the hot spring bath, have another wash and then try to dry yourself as much as possible with your modesty towel. If you head into the changing area (where your real towel is) dripping wet you won’t be very popular.

Most ski resort areas have onsens, and Japan has lots of onsen resort towns. Particularly good spots for onsens that are associated with a ski area include Nozawa Onsen, Zao Onsen, Kurodake (Sounkyo town), Asahidake and Niseko.

Other Japan Travel Tips

Accommodation at the Japanese ski resorts can vary significantly from western lodging that you may be used to. See the Japanese ski resort accommodation page for tips on Japanese rooms versus western rooms/beds and other things to expect. When staying in a hotel in one of the Japanese cities, be aware that the hotel room could be tiny (especially after you try to get your ski/snowboard gear into the room!!).


In regards to security, there are negligible issues in Japan and it’s one of the safest countries to travel in. Theft or violent crime is very rare, as it’s the Japanese culture to obey the rules. Nevertheless, it always pays to be careful with your personal belongings, particularly in areas where there are lots of Westerners.

Banking Facilities & Money
Yen is the Japanese currency, and the cash form will get you a long way in Japan. For a country that is so developed is some ways, the contradiction in their reliance upon cash is quite surprising. Credit cards are not accepted for many things, yet access to cash is not easy, so you’ll need to be careful with your budgetary planning. As examples, you’ll sometimes have to pay cash for lift tickets, and budget restaurants rarely accept anything but cash (except in Niseko where credit card payment is more common). ATMs that accept international cards (Maestro/Cirrus) are sometimes hard to find, but thankfully these are slowly becoming more common because most 7-Eleven stores now have international ATMs. Post offices are another common location for ATMs.

You shouldn’t tip at a Japanese restaurant; it's considered taboo.

Drinking Water
All tap water in Japan is fine to drink.

2-Way Radios
Non-Japanese walkie-talkies are strictly prohibited by Japanese law because they have the potential to interfere with emergency communications and broadcasts.

Mobile Phones
It is possible to hire a phone or a SIM card for most standard phones at Narita Airport (Tokyo – terminals 1 and 2) and New Chitose Airport (Sapporo). There are a few different outlets with Softbank being one example. During peak periods (e.g. Xmas) it would be wise to pre-book a SIM card.

Electrical Plugs
The electrical plugs have two vertical pins, so a Japanese (or USA with only the two vertical holes) adaptor is required. If you’re from Australia, check how many pins your Australian appliance has, because for some strange reason, the Korjo Japan adapter has been made with only two pin holes on the front. If your appliance also has an earthing pin, you may need to purchase an USA adapter and break off the bottom pin.

Time Zone
The Japan time zone (Asia/Tokyo time zone) is UTC/GMT + 9 hours. For Australians there’s a 2 hour time difference between Japan and Australian Eastern Standard time during winter. As Japan is 2 hours behind Eastern Australia, you’ll find it easy to get up early for skiing, but will feel a need to go to bed early.

You’ll need to take your shoes off before you enter many hotels and some businesses. If there’s a step up to a wooden platform that’s covered in shoes, chances are that you have to take your footwear off. Many places provide slippers that you should then wear, even if they don’t fit! When you go to the bathroom, swap these slippers for the toilet slippers.

Or if the hotel allows you to wear shoes, if you are staying in a Japanese room with tatami flooring, take your shoes off before stepping onto the tatami (the woven straw flooring).

In restaurants you need to take your shoes off if you’re sitting on the floor on the tatami. So pack lots of socks because no one is going to appreciate it if you wear stinky socks!

Tourist Assistance
If you need some assistance whilst travelling in Japan, there is a free telephone help line for information in English (0088 22 4800 or 03 3201 3331 if calling from Tokyo). This is open during standard business hours.

Ski Gear to Take to Japan Skiing is Japan is not too dissimilar to many other parts of the northern hemisphere with regards to the temperature, although Hokkaido is bitterly cold at times. You’ll definitely need a neck warmer, but may also need a face protector or a thin hood. If tree skiing you’ll need a helmet, but you may also need the jacket hood, a thin merino hat, or a headband underneath to keep warm.

Shoes with good grip are highly recommended, as it is common for people to fall over on the slippery streets. It’s possible to purchase chains for your shoes which will improve the grip, but won’t pass the glamour test.

Goggles are essential as there’s not too much sunglass weather in Japan, particularly in resorts such as Niseko, Rusutsu and Hakkoda.

Powder Skis
If you plan to venture off the groomers you’ll need to consider the skis you’re on because the powder can be very deep in Japan. It is possible to ski on your slalom skis in shallow powder, but if you want to float in the powder, fat skis with a waist wider than 91mm are required. See our powder skis page for more information on the difference between standard and fat skis.

Don’t assume that all Japanese ski resorts will rent out fat skis, and if you don’t have your own ski boots, don’t assume that the rental shops will have boots for big feet!

Snowboarders will get away with a standard board in Japan, but real powder enthusiasts may consider a longer powder snowboard, or a short board that has width and taper instead of length to achieve flotation.

Other Essential Ski Gear Accessories
If skiing in powder deeper than your shins you may want to consider powder straps or ribbons to ensure you don’t lose your skis if they release during a fall. A powder ribbon is a long colourful ribbon attached to the ski or binding via a caribiner, which is stored up the gaiter or in the front of the boot. Powder straps attach the ski to the boot and can be purchased at large ski stores. Powder straps are not recommended for the backcoutry, as in the event of an avalanche you don’t want your skis to stay attached to you.

Some Japanese ski resorts have electronic lift ticket systems where you put a small token in one of your pockets, but others have small cardboard tickets, so pack a lift ticket holder to go around the arm, or a wallet style holder attached to the hip if you don’t have one built into your jacket. If you don’t already have a lift ticket holder, there are plenty of opportunities to buy one in Japan.

We’d highly recommend a ski or board bag on wheels, particularly if you’re doing some train travel, and octopus straps to keep the bag in place. Octopus straps can also be useful when travelling in taxis.

Powder hound essentials also include avalanche safety equipment.

For tips on what to pack on an overseas ski holiday, have a look at the Powderhounds ski holiday packing checklist.

Language & Customs

Many websites about skiing in Japan cite that all Japanese people study English at school and therefore most Japanese people can understand basic English, but this is not the case. The degree of English spoken varies widely across the ski resorts of Japan. The highly Westernised Niseko is at one end of the spectrum where Japanese is barely spoken! At the other end of the continuum there are small off the beaten track ski resorts where not a word of English is spoken or understood. This scenario is somewhat more common in the remote areas of Hokkaido.

Most large Japanese ski resorts have some restaurants that have English menus. Less “discovered” places may only have photos on the menu or food models, whilst the really interesting places only have a Japanese menu! If you don’t speak fluent Japanese it will be incredibly handy to carry a phase book, even if only to ensure that you don’t order eel or horse sashimi for dinner!

Even if you can’t read Japanese kanji it’s easy to find your way around Japan. Road signs commonly use the Western alphabet or roads are numbered, and the major train stations have signs in English. Shop fronts also commonly display signs using the Western alphabet.

The Japanese love people who make an effort to communicate in their language and indulge in their culture. The following are some of our favourite phrases:


Japanese Phonetic Pronunciation








thank you


THE most important word to learn

thank you very much

arigato gozaimas

The 2nd most important phrase to learn

you're welcome

doitashi mashitay


good morning

o hi yo gozaimas

Add the gozaimas to be extra polite

good afternoon (or "hello")

kon nee chee wa


good evening

kon ban wa








please (as in "go ahead" or “after you”)


The towies will say this a lot to you

excuse me






I'm sorry

 Gomen nasai




You might use this one a few times!


gen ki



oy shee








wait a moment, please

chotto matte kudasai


where is the toilet?

toilet wa doca desu ka?

They’ll understand the Western word “toilet”

Let’s go!

ickie ma-shaw!

A favourite for skiing



Plenty of opportunity to use this word

The numbers are different depending upon the context. The use of “ichiban” (number one) is different to when ordering one beer – “biero hitotsu”. Numbers 1-4 are probably the most important to learn, as it’s too difficult to carry more than 4 beers anyway!

Number in English

Japanese Phonetic Pronunciation