Dreaming of a ski property in Japan? Read this before you buy

Niseko property

Ski resorts in Japan are found from Hokkaido in the north down to Kyushu in the south. This means much of the population is a mere hour or two away from a ski resort and that perfect powder snow that Japan is so famous for.

After the 1972 Sapporo Olympics – the first in Asia - skiing became hugely popular in Japan. This popularity continued through to the late 1990s with figures showing up to 18 million active skiers in a single season. Skiing was big news and this had a huge impact on resort development. Growth was rapid, with a heavy focus on developing modern high speed lifts, better ropeways, and improved gondolas. Innovations such as night skiing proved irresistible, and the late 80s saw tales of businessmen jumping on the Shinkansen to the mountains, cramming in a few hours on the slopes before heading back to their day at the office. Bigger, better, faster was the order of the day and the excitement created by this rapid development meant visitor growth was stratospheric.

Niseko Ski property

As with many booms, this rapid development brought its own complications. Resorts became crowded and less enjoyable – actually skiing was sometimes a challenge. Fashion is fickle and a combination of over-crowded resorts and economic downturn in the late 1990s meant a drop in visitor numbers. This brought an opportunity for resorts to reflect and focus on considered development, and a new focus on the overseas markets. 

"It was around this period, as the domestic numbers were starting to flatten, that people we talked to said that ski resorts and businesses began looking to target skiers from overseas, pivoting their operations to appeal more to international customers, particularly people from Australia"

Francesco Bassetti in Japan Times

Where are the main ski resorts in Japan?

The largest ski areas in Japan are mostly in Hokkaido Prefecture, Nagano Prefecture and Niigata Prefecture. Hokkaido Prefecture is home to Niseko United which is made up of Niseko Annupuri, Niseko Grand Hirafu, Hanazono/Niseko Village, and Rusutsu. Nagano Prefecture hosts Shigakogen Mountain Resort, Nozawa Onsen and Hakuba Valley Hakuba Valley is made up of 10 resorts including Hakuba Happo-One, Hakuba 47/Goryu) and In the Chubu region, Nigata Prefecture features Gala Yuzawa, Ishiuchi Maruyama along with Mitsumata, Kagura and Tashiro. Other large resorts are Zao Onsen in Yamagata Prefecture and Appi Kogen in Iwate.

Mountain property in Japan

Ski resorts in Japan develop international appeal

Figures from the International Report on Snow and Mountain Tourism show Japan attracts 30 million skiers each year and whilst the mega-growth of the 80s is consigned to vault along with garish designer ski gear the downturn in domestic visitors is combated by an upturn in international tourists, albeit to a lesser extent.

While the end of the twentieth century was devoted to the domestic market, the new millennium saw increased interest from overseas. Following 9/11, Australians chose Japan over North America and they now make up around 30% of overseas visitors. Visitors from other parts of Asia are on the increase and this is reflected in adaptations such as producing trail maps in several languages including Chinese, Korean and English.

Impact of Covid-19 and climate change

International travel was restricted during the pandemic and this had an impact on the whole of the Japanese tourist industry, including ski tourism. Combine this with the downturn in interest from domestic skiers and the impact of Covid-19 has been significant, but not insurmountable.

Climate change poses another challenge. The unique selling point Japan has to offer is Japow – the powder snow experience. As the mountains change, then this experience changes and the USP becomes moot. Climate change is at the forefront of the improvements and changes being made and many resorts are working hard to build a more sustainable, less damaging ski experience.

Where could I look for ski property in Japan? 

With so many resorts to choose from deciding where to focus can be tricky. Hokkaido is one of the most popular at the moment, and its northerly position means the precious powder snow is pretty spectacular. 

As ever, choosing your ski property depends on how you want to use it. Anyone looking for an investment that has sound potential for holding its own in the rental market will have an eye to resorts that offer year round appeal.

For people who want a second home in the mountains, or somewhere to live for extended periods, then considerations around family infrastructure and long-term livability will come into play. 

Niseko ski property

Seek out resorts that offer a year round experience 

The resorts that seem to be holding up best are those that offer more than the winter experience. Take somewhere like Furano – known for fabulous skiing in winter and glorious lavender fields in summer. Simple measures like keeping the famous Furano Ropeway in operation all year round mean that Furano has appeal for a wide range of visitors beyond the slopes and beyond the ski season.

In Niseko, the green season brings whitewater rafting on the Shiribetsu river, a trip to the top of Mount Annupuri on the Hirafu gondola, with the chance of seeing the elusive Hokkaido red fox. More and more ski resorts are developing their reputation as foodie paradise too, a trip to enjoy Soba noodles or the famous dairy produce at Takahashi Farm are as much on visitors’ wish list as a spot of night skiing is in winter. 

Seek out resorts that focus on environmental responsibility

Measures are also in place to mitigate the impact of the ski industry on the environment. Illumination for night skiing in Goryu, part of Hakuba Valley, comes from renewable energy, lifts in Happo-One are largely powered by renewables and Iwatake Resort aims to begin next season as a plastic free zone. Small steps, but each one will help to alleviate the impact of climate change.

Seek out resorts that offer long term livability

A longer term mountain property is a very personal decision. Your search might include consideration of schooling (Hokkaido International School is well established) or you may want somewhere that has a solid international community. You may want somewhere to use as a retreat, far from any semblance of resort life, or you may want a home in a vibrant year round resort. 

Wishlists and research are your friend in this circumstance, and using a property portal like SnowOnly means it’s easy to pinpoint your ideal home, once you’ve decided on the best location. 

Beautiful Japanese mountain town

Find your perfect Japan ski property

Our property alert service makes it easy to find your perfect Japan ski property. You can tailor your search to your exact requirements and location. SnowOnly is a property portal which means we have access to a huge variety of properties, agents and private sellers which saves you time trawling through countless different websites.

Whether you’re looking for an investment in a Japanese ski resort that has strong appeal for the rental market, a flexible space to enjoy with family and friends, or something that is a little bit different, SnowOnly can help you find the perfect ski property in Japan.