Snow Country Japan
Most people wouldn’t realize that Japan is one of the snowiest places on earth. Due to its location southeast of Siberia and the Russian Far East, the country gets slathered with snow in the winter months when the Siberian winds come down over the warm waters of the Sea of Japan, dumping prodigious amounts of powder on the slopes of the mountains that stretch across the Japanese archipelago. Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, gets 17 feet of snow each year. That’s 204 inches! Contrast this with Syracuse which vies with Buffalo as the snowiest city in America and gets 124 inches of snow per year. But the town claiming the crown as the capital of Snow Country is Toyama, located in a province of the same name on the main island of Honshu. Toyama gets 413 inches per year and is famous for the so-called “Snow Canyon,” along a rural highway.
I lived in Japan years ago, and have dear friends that live in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido. My family and I have been to see them on numerous occasions, and we always time the trips during the winter months. We love to go skiing outside Sapporo (which hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 1972); or even better, on the slopes at the world-famous resort in Niseko. Once when skiing at Teine, the former Olympic Center outside Sapporo, I rounded a bend on a steep slope and there, stretching in front of me, was a dramatic vista of the Sea of Japan. It was as if I could ski right down to the beach.
People come from all over the world to enjoy the deep powder and almost perfect conditions at Niseko (it snows there almost every evening in the winter, thereby ensuring fresh powder every morning). Mt. Yotei, which sits across the valley from Niseko is a perfectly formed, symmetric volcano, resembling Japan’s mythical Mt. Fuji. On the slopes you encounter South Africans, Austrians, Germans, Australians, Taiwanese, Chinese, folks from Singapore, and of course, Americans, who come to enjoy the skiing, the natural beauty, the wonderful food, and perhaps the best part, the outdoor hot springs. Each afternoon after getting off the slopes, a soak in a natural hot pool while the snow falls around you is one of the great experiences of Snow Country in Japan.
We had hoped to go there this past Christmas, but the pandemic changed those plans. So instead, view these photos and let’s all experience Snow Country in Japan vicariously, to the extent that it’s possible. Next year it will all get better.