Getting to Japan & Travel Around

Getting to Japan & Travel Around

Japan Travel – There & Around

Here you’ll find Japan travel information on getting there and around, whilst more detailed information about how to get to specific ski resorts can be found on the relevant getting there page. Other information on travelling around Japan:

Flying to Japan

For advice on travelling to Japan, see our pages on getting to Honshu and travel to Hokkaido. You can use Skyscanner to search and compare flights to Japan. Be mindful that evening flights into Japan and early flights out of Japan may not line up with transport services to the ski resorts such as shuttle buses and trains, and a night in an airport hotel may be required. If you want to avoid this, it might be worth planning the ground transport before your flights.

Travel to the Japan Ski Resorts

How you choose to travel around to get to the Japan snow resorts may depend upon your budget, your time availability, and the size of your luggage, and whether you need the convenience of being dropped at the hotel door. See each resort "getting there" page for more detail.

For Hokkaido, check out our travelling around Hokkaido page which includes information on the Hokkaido ski buses.

Using Trains to Get Around

Trains are a fast, convenient and enjoyable way to travel around and to get to many of the Japan snow resorts. Train travel is also a great way to get into the culture of Japan. See our Japan rail travel page for more information. Use google, Japan Travel Navitime or Jorudan to search for train routes, schedules, and fares.

Luggage Courier

If you want to do a stop-over for a couple of days in Tokyo or another city, you may want to consider sending your luggage to/from the airport with a courier service. The most popular is Yamato (with the cat logo) who couriers luggage and provides temporary storage. They have service counters at airports and major train stations and your hotel can also assist with luggage pick-up. You don’t need to pre-book this, just do it at the airport for example.

You can look up prices and approximate courier times. It may take less than 24 hours to get there but as a general rule, allow 2 days, and have a contingency plan if it takes 3 days due to a major blizzard for example. To get specific delivery times, you’ll need to use google translate on the former link.

Luggage Storage

Or if you want somewhere to store your luggage whilst you go sightseeing, check out the Ecbo Cloak app, which shows you places to store luggage in shops or houses.

Using Taxis to Get Around

Taxis are readily available in cities and large towns and are reasonably priced. Taxis are generally small sedans, so fitting in a large ski or snowboard bag may sometimes require some problem solving. Some taxis may have roof racks and they might only have small straps to affix skis, but not large ties to secure a big bag to the roof. It’s probably wise to pack your own octopus straps, or take your skis/snowboard out of the bag to fit them inside the taxi.

Chuo Taxi can be a great option for door to door transfers from one of the Tokyo airports to ski resorts in Nagano. They offer private and shared taxi services, and don’t cost as much as a normal taxi and provide the ultimate in convenience.

Uber in Japan hasn’t got that far and only operates in Tokyo in a limited fashion.

Driving Around Japan

You can rent a car near airports, major train stations and cities in Japan. You can use this rent a car search function to compare prices and book a car.

Driving around the ski resorts in Japan is reasonably easy. You can use google maps by all means, or get a rental car with an English GPS or mostly in English. Make sure the car rental company has put the audio and display into English for you. Some GPS will have a few buttons in kanji but you’ll figure it out. All you have to do is enter the telephone number of where you want to go, and the GPS gives you options of routes including those that avoid the tollways. Also most of the road signs are in English so navigating is surprisingly easy.

Cars drive on the left side of the road in Japan and road rules follow fairly typical international standards. Speed limits are often very slow, but the locals seem to just ignore the signs and drive much faster (it’s possibly the only rule the Japanese don’t follow!). Driving in Japan is nothing like the crazy driving in some other Asian countries such as Vietnam or India, so don’t use your horn unless absolutely necessary.

In order to drive and rent a car in Japan, you require an international driving license which you’ll need to organise through an automobile association before you go to Japan. These licenses are only valid for 12 months.

Chains are not used on rental cars in Japan and cars with studless snow tyres are used for most driving on snowy roads. Of course, usual caution when driving on snow-covered or icy roads will need to be exercised. An AWD or 4WD is helpful but isn’t essential, although many rental cars in Hokkaido come standard as AWD and fully winterised, even many compact cars. Rental cars from most snowy cities (e.g. Sapporo, Aomori, Morioka, Nagano) will have snow tyres on them, but they do not come standard from car rentals around Tokyo. So either get a train to somewhere such as Nagano or IIyama and rent a car there, or pay the extra fees per day to get snow tyres put on ie do not rent a car that does not have snow tyres on it. Don’t expect roof racks to come standard with a car.

Some rental cars come with a brush and ice scraper. If the rental car can’t provide one, drop into a shop to buy one because clearing the car of snow with your gloves isn’t much fun. A shovel is handy too for digging the car out.

Consider the size of your rental car carefully. If a car says it’s suitable for 5 people, then it means 5 little people with absolutely no luggage, so it’s probably only fine for 2 people. It can be really difficult to get a rental car with roof racks, so you’ll also need extra space to store your skis or snowboard inside the car. Thankfully most cars have seats that fold down so you can put your skis/board in the back.

It is not possible to rent a car on one island (e.g. in Hokkaido) and drop it off at another (e.g Honshu), and taking a car on the inter-island ferry is expensive anyhow.

Japan has plenty of very impressive road infrastructure, and despite it being a very mountainous country, drive times are often reasonable considering the abundance of tunnels, bridges and expressways.

Many of the major highways attract tolls, which can get rather expensive if you drive long distances. The tolls around Tokyo are particularly costly. When you enter the destination in the GPS, most will provide information on the cost of the tolls, and alternative roads to avoid them. You can get an ETC (Electronic Toll Collection) card when you rent the car, but many companies charge a hefty daily fee for this. If you pay as you go, when you get to the toll booths, drive through the lane with the green sign or the combo green lane/ETC lane, and not through the pure ETC lane. The major toll booths take credit card, whilst there are a few rural ones that only accept cash.

Japan has a zero tolerance for drinking alcohol and driving. They don’t have booze buses or pull people over to breathalyse them, but if you have an accident and you’re under the influence, you’ll get put in jail.

Here are some tips about driving in the snow generally:

  • Turn your lights on even during the day.
  • If someone is driving painfully slowly in front of you don’t tailgate. Keep a safe distance from the car in front, because if you need to brake suddenly, stopping on an icy road takes longer.
  • That being said, try not to brake suddenly. Brake gently and evenly. When coming to a corner, try to brake beforehand rather than during the turn.
  • Rather than frequently hitting the brake pedal, consider using your gears to slow down when going down a hill.
  • Avoid sharp steering movements.
  • If driving up a steep icy pitch, keep a constant speed and try not to stop.
  • Check the forecast and conditions before you travel, and if there is a blizzard or heavy snow, and check if there are any road closures. Your GPS and google maps may assist with this.
  • If you can, try to drive during daylight hours.
And general parking in the snow tips:
  • If possible, try to reverse into the car park as it will make it easier to get out when it snows.
  • Where possible, park in a flat spot.
  • Don’t put on the park brake.
  • Lift the wiper blades up so they don’t freeze to the windscreen. If you forget to do this and they’re stuck, don’t force them off. Just wait for the heater to do its thing.
  • Once you’ve dug out your car and removed all snow from the headlights, bonnet and roof, then remove snow and ice from the windows. Snow shedding from your roof can be a major hazard when driving.
  • Don’t attempt to drive unless you have clear visibility through all the windows. If your car windows are iced over, don’t put hot water on them. Put the demister and heater on full bore and wait for them to clear or better still, use a scraper. Don’t use a shovel to clear the windows. If your lock or door jams have frozen over, then pee on them!
  • Don’t leave your shovel inside the car if there’s a forecast for lots of snow.

Japan Hosted & Guided Multi-Resort Ski Safaris

If you are a powder junkie, a multi-resort hosted and guided Japan ski safari could be the best way for you to get your powder fix. Once you have done one of these tours you will find it hard to ever go back to staying at one resort!

The high profile resorts get inundated with people chasing that elusive powder. Meanwhile there are hundreds of ski areas in Japan which most people don't visit as they are too small to visit for more than a day before getting bored; however they have some amazing powder skiing with little or no competition for the powder. A guide can get you to the good stashes quickly and safely and they can drive you from one location to another.

Various tours are designed to cater to different abilities of skiers and snowboarders. 

For an indication of dates and availability, check out the Japan Ski Tours schedule page.