Freeride in Japan: on a budget


By Arjen on 12 September 2015 · 10

Japan is hip and happening. It seems like the land of the rising sun is on the bucket list of every European freerider nowadays. Bottomless powder and endless storms attracts riders around the world. But how do you organize a trip to Japan without going bankrupt? Well, Japan isn't as expensive as you might think. In fact, many things are cheaper in Japan than they are in the Alps and if you choose to go for two or three weeks, the costs of getting there (as in: airfare) aren't that big of a chunk in your budget anymore. In the end it all depends if you want to travel on a budget and the sacrifices you want to make.

Getting there

Obviously getting there by plane is the only realistic option. Too bad for the environment since planes aren't that eco-friendly. Expect to travel for at least a day, depending if you have a direct flight or not. You can spend around 900 euros on a flight to Japan (pretty much always with a transfer if you want to travel to Sapporo, but direct if you want to fly to Tokyo Narita), but it's possible to find tickets as low as 450 - 500 euros (and yes, that's two-way) with airlines such as Aeroflot or Turkish. You might have an extra stop-over and you'll be travelling maybe a day longer, but it saves a lot of money. Expect to pay extra for your gear with most airlines as well.

Getting around

If you really want to explore Japan, a car is your best option. You can rent a car from around 350 euros for a week, but if you want more space, more power, four-wheel drive, etc than prices go up as high as a 1000 euros. If you go for three weeks, expect to pay around one thousand euros for a fine Japanese MPV or van. Keep in mind that Japanese are smaller than the average European. It doesn't hurt to check how big the van or MPV really is, especially if you want to sleep in it. Winter tires aren't an issue. Especially on Hokkaido they are familiar with lots of snow, so your car is usually equipped with winter tires. You won't go bankrupt on gas either. One liter is around one euro. Do not forget you have to pay toll on some highways.

Public transport would also be a nice option to get around, but it's quite a hassle to get to the small and unknown areas, and you don't want to loose a lot of time when you can ride deep powder on the hill. If you want to travel long distances, the so-called Shinkansen (the bullit train) is amazing. We travelled from Kutchan on the island of Hokkaido to Tokyo Central Station and continued traveling on Tokyos amazing subway system. But for powder chasing, you need to as flexible as you can be, and renting a car is your best bet.

The costs of transport are quite comparable or sometimes even cheaper than in Europe. Don't forget they drive on the left side of the road in Japan.

Arjen in Japan

Accommodation

It's an option to rent a van and transform it into a camper, just like the guys in the video above did. It's by far the cheapest form of accommodation and you can wash yourself in a Japanese Onsen. Don't forget it can be really cold in Japan, especially on the northern island of Hokkaido. We prefer a warm bed on days like that and it's quite easy to book a place to stay last minute. Accommodation in Niseko, which is the most popular resort of Hokkaido with lots of Ozzies, is more expensive, but there are definitely good deals to be found. And even more if you look in other resorts. You can expect to pay prices starting around 30 euros per person up to over 200 euros, depending on your needs of course.

Internet

Internet is quite useful when you go on a road trip. Wifi is widely available in Japan, but our experience is that it's not available when you need it. Especially when you book your accommodation on the fly. You better make sure you have some data to burn! An option if your own personal WiFi Hotspot from 40 euros a week. If you have tips or suggestions about great deals from the carrier from your country, please let us know.

Snow is only frozen water according to MeteoMorris

Lift passes

The prices of lift passes are similar to Europe, in particular the small ski areas are usually even cheaper. Expect to pay between 20 and 45 euros for a day pass. You pay around 35 euros in Hakuba and around 50 euros in Niseko (which is one of the most expensive resorts in Japan, but still way cheaper than resorts like Zermatt or Vail). And for that price you can also ride Niseko during the evening, which is quite amazing when there's fresh powder.

Food

Japanese food is amazing and not expensive at all. Both in the ski areas and in the villages. Expect some lost in translation situations in smaller resorts and smaller restaurants, but that's definitely part of the experience. We often had no idea what we were eating, but it was amazing every time.

In short

When you are travelling with two people, you should budget around 2000 euros per person for two weeks. You're not travelling in a fancy style, but this includes flights, rental car, gas, accommodation, food and lift passes. Japan becomes cheaper if you ride in smaller ski areas, go touring or turn your van into a condo. If you want more luxury, larger ski areas, more mileage, bigger cars etc ... then it becomes more expensive, but you'll have less worries. If you budget 3000 euros you are good to go!

If you have more tips and suggestion about Japan let me know!

Comments


  • Swiz
    Advanced
    Swiz op 12 September 2015 · 18:27
    Nice! What's the chance of good snow (as in: deep powder) in Japan? What is the best month?
  • Soulrider
    Advanced
    Soulrider op 12 September 2015 · 21:59
    You should be okay in January. The temperature is okay (as in cold) and it's snowing like crazy.
  • Clarky
    Advanced
    Clarky op 13 September 2015 · 09:17
    Yep!

    I did 3 and a half weeks in Jan 2014 for around €3300 total - flights, accomm, week long guided road trip with BD Tours, insurance, beer, food, lift passes, a extra little travelling, etc.
  • Arjen
    Advanced
    Arjen op 13 September 2015 · 09:38
    @Clarky What was your experience with BD tours? Was it worth it?
    One day, they'll invent synthetic powder, ban all kinds of work and give you a free liftpass...
  • Clarky
    Advanced
    Clarky op 14 September 2015 · 15:20
    @Arjen, definitely.

    New resort every day, really excellent guides, and a very high standard of skiing across the three groups we were split into. Unless you have lots of time and a group willing to just hire a car and explore (I went alone), I think they're the best way to really get the most out of a Hokkaido trip.

    BD Lodge is also an excellent base, and can sort hire cars and give you solid tips if you do want to do your own thing.
  • Holzapfel
    Tourist
    Holzapfel op 14 September 2015 · 17:54
    I thought of doing a gap year over there. Unfortunately my Japanese isn't the best. So is there a chance of working in a big hotel near one of the ski resorts or something like this? Does anybody has experiences?
  • Arjen
    Advanced
    Arjen op 15 September 2015 · 10:23
    @Holzapfel I think that your best option is in a place like Niseko. There are a lot of Ozzies there and there is probably more English spoken there than in any other Japanese resort.

    Maybe @juulski can give you some tips as well!
    One day, they'll invent synthetic powder, ban all kinds of work and give you a free liftpass...
  • Arjen
    Advanced
    Arjen op 15 September 2015 · 10:24
    @Clarky Sounds good! I'm hoping to go back to Japan next season (not this season unfortunately) and renting a car to roadtrip around Hokkaido would be the thing to do.
    One day, they'll invent synthetic powder, ban all kinds of work and give you a free liftpass...
  • Clarky
    Advanced
    Clarky op 18 September 2015 · 16:21
    @Arjen, btw I write this article about where to find the most fresh tracks on Hokkaido; maybe it's useful for someone!

    http://www.luex.com/magazine/2015/02/13/notniseko-the-best-snow-on-hok...
  • ulaiwan
    ulaiwan op 30 June 2016 · 11:57
    Last time, I went to Japan, and spent almost only $30 a day. Couchsurfing saved a lot of budget. You can check here: https://www.couchsurfing.com/ and I spent $1.6 a day for my iVideo internet http://goo.gl/v6VsuZ FYI.

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