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Itinerary

The Japan Ski Safari

Niseko – Kyoto – Nozawa Onsen – Tokyo
15 days

Japan enjoys, each and every year without fail, the deepest powder snow. Skiing (and snowboarding) in Japan is without comparison and then when add the cultural interest of Japan and its many experiences, then this itinerary somewhat changes the paradigm when it comes to ski holidays.

We feature two radically contrasting ski resorts; Niseko, up on Hokkaido Island, is Japan’s ski Mecca – a sophisticated international ski resort, offering easy access to the best volcanic terrain (both on and off piste) in Asia. You’ll want for nothing, on and off the slopes. The ski village of Nozawa Onsen, in the Japanese Alps on Honshu Island, is a radically different proposition – smaller, an impossibly pretty and utterly authentic ski community, as famous for its onsens and snow monkeys as it is for its groomers (and, again, off piste terrain…this is Japan after all!). Then add in time in both Kyoto and Tokyo, bullet-trains, a stay in a ryokan and Japan’s amazing cuisine. Try beat that France, Austria, Italy or Canada!!

This itinerary, and the many variations thereof, is the bread and butter of our sister company – Different Snow

Content

WHERE WILL YOU STAY & WHAT WILL YOU BE DOING?

accommodation & activities

In the ski resort of Niseko, up on Hokkaido Island, then the accommodation options are limitless. We have access to private ski chalets, luxury apartments, five-star hotels and even one or two seriously upmarket ryokans. And the choice will improve further with the opening of the new AMAN in 2021. And we can organise everything you need for on and off the slopes - ski equipment hire, lessons, backcountry guiding, cat skiing excursions, catering in your apartment or chalet and local transport so you can access nearby ski mountains in Western Hokkaido.

 

The layout of Kyoto is most unusual for Japan, because in this instance the main railway station is not the hub around which everything revolves. Instead, a couple of miles further north are the districts of Gion, Shijo, Higashiyama, Karasuma and this is where we prefer to base our clients - neighbourhoods in which you can walk out the door and soak up the atmosphere of old Japan, close to the temples, shrines, geisha districts and markets. However, there are many hotels down by the station, indeed most, and tour operators without a clue would have you stay here. In Kyoto - not a high-rise city - you can stay in either in a ryokan, and Kyoto is home to Japan's most historic and finest, or in a stylish hotel, often with its own landscaped gardens. Or both. All that we insist on is that where you stay has a relationship with its surroundings - in style, in decor, in its sense of hospitality. This is Kyoto after all and every hotel or ryokan ought to have its essential character running through its veins.

 

However many days we have allocated to Kyoto in your itinerary, it won't be enough. There is simply so much to see and do in Kyoto and the more time to have to linger, the more will be revealed. And because there are so many 'must-see' temples, shrines and gardens we strongly suggest that we throw away the rule book and instead commit to explore at your own pace, not worrying un-duly about missing any one 'big ticket' sight. Consider turning left when everyone else turns right and our local guides know where, when and why you should do this. In Kyoto, they add so much. Here more than anywhere else in Japan does local insight, knowledge and personal relationships pay more dividend.  And your sightseeing should not be limited to only Kyoto - use the city as a base from which to explore the region. Arashiyama, Nara, Hikone and even Osaka itself and all with day-tripable distance.

 

You then head to Nozawa Onsen, a gorgeous and characterful ski village in the Japanese Alps. Most of the accommodation here is in ryokans, with tatami mat floors, futon beds and on-site onsen baths. This is a traditional unspoiled village and much of the accommodation sits around the 2 or 3-star level, though there are a handful of options which can be considered truly luxury options. Nozawa Onsen is located very close to the snow monkeys and we can organise afternoon excursions to visit the onsen-bathing macaques.

 

Tokyo is not the place for traditional ryokans or even boutique hotels - we'll tick these boxes elsewhere on your travels in Japan. This is a high-rise city and many of the luxury hotels occupy the top floors of imposing skyscrapers,  with amazing views across the urban sprawl. Therefore, the most important decision we need to consider is 'where?' - which district of Tokyo you choose to base yourself in making all the difference. We often prefer to base our guests over in the west of the city, Shinjuku or Shibuya, because these are the main entertainment districts, full of restaurants, bars and the neon-drenched nightlife synonymous with the capital. Alternatively, the hotels closer to Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace in east Tokyo  - Nihombashi - are well-located in an upmarket district, with some amazing shopping streets and many of the city's major sights close by. There are many luxury hotels in Shinagawa and Shiodome - several of them very nice - be we do tend to avoid these properties because...well, they are 'nothing' neighbourhoods, very business-orientated and lacking in character. 

 

It is perfectly possible to explore Tokyo by yourself - most of the signs are now in English, the overground and subway rail system is second-to-none and a decent guide book will tell you much of what you need to know. We also publish our own pragmatic self-touring notes, which also include many personal recommendations. But to have a local guide accompany you undoubtedly elevates the experience, at the very least getting you between the 'must-see' sights more efficiently or - more importantly -  explaining, adding context and showing you lesser-visited neighbourhoods which will no doubt form your most cherished memories of the capital. We can hire commuter bikes to explore the backstreets or head out of the city for day trips to Nikko, Hakone, Mount Fuji or Kamakura. Or perhaps you'd prefer that we weight the itinerary with 'experiences' as opposed to 'sights', such as cookery classes, sunset helicopter rides or visiting a sumo stable? In the evenings, head out with your guide to a buzzing 'locals' izakaya or yakitori stand, or to see show in the kabuki theatre...or robot café. It's Tokyo - the world's most exciting city and the possibilities are limitless!

 

Itinerary

Day 1
Depart from your local airport, and then fly direct to Japan from Heathrow or wherever is most convenient.
Day 2
Transfer through Tokyo Haneda and fly north to Hokkaido Island. You are met at Sapporo Chitose Airport and taken directly to Niseko. Check in to your hotel, apartment or chalet.
Days 3 to 6
Four days skiing in Western Hokkaido. Whilst you are based in Niseko, within easy striking distance are Rusutsu, Moiwa and Kiroro. We can organise ski equipment hire, lift passes, local transport, catering, ski lessons and – most importantly – the best local ski guides.
Day 7
Private transfer back to Sapporo Chitose and fly south to Itami Airport, where you are met and have a private transfer organised to bring you directly to your accommodation in Kyoto.
Days 8 & 9
Two full days in Kyoto, with or without an English-speaking local guide.
Day 10
Take the ‘Thunderbird Express’ train from Kyoto to Kanazawa and then you jump on the bullet-train to Iyama Station in the Japanese Alps. You are met at the station, from which you head off to visit the nearby snow monkeys bathing at Jigokudani Onsen. It is then only a short drive to pretty Nozawa Onsen, your ski resort for the next few days. Check in to your ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn.
Days 11 & 12
Two full days skiing (or snowboarding) in Nozawa Onsen, Japan’s prettiest, most atmospheric ski village.
Day 13
Private transfer back down to Nagano Station and from there it is a direct bullet-train in to Tokyo. Check in to your hotel in the Shinjuku district of the capital and then you have an afternoon / evening at leisure.
Day 14
Full day in Tokyo. We can organise a private guide, or we could leave you to your own devices (with our helpful and pragmatic self-guiding notes).
Day 15
Private transfer to either Haneda or Narita airport, in plenty of time for your direct flight home.

An indication of cost

An indicative per person cost for this two week itinerary would be circa £5,800 to £7,400, which would include luxury accommodationprivate transfers from and to airports, ski passes and premium ski equipment hire in the two ski resorts, bullet-train tickets in Green Car (first class), domestic flights up to Hokkaido Island, and international flights from the UK in the World Traveller Plus cabin (Premium Economy).

 

Obviously, the price you pay depends on the accommodation you choose (and room category), for how many days you would prefer to book a private guide, which cabin you like to fly in (if you'd like for us to include the international flights)...etc. Because all of our holidays are tailor-made, by altering the itinerary, changing the accommodation selections and/or taking another look at the inclusions we can usually adjust the total price – either down to match your budget or enhancing it further with upgrades.

 

If you were to move the dates in to peak periods (Cherry Blossom Season, Golden Week, New Year and the such), then the cost could potentially rise. And, of course, if you wanting the absolute finest, most prestigious accommodation - the Aman in Tokyo, or the Tawaraya Ryokan in Kyoto by way of example - then costs will once again head north.

 

We don't have to include international flights. However, by keeping it all within one package, your arrangements are protected by our ATOL licence which offers financial peace-of-mind for you.

 

Different Japan strive to offer the most competitive prices in all instances - just because you may have a larger budget at your disposal, this does not then mean that 'value' assumes any lower priority. We will always keep a keen eye on cost by using any promotions available and seeking the best value with every airline, hotel and/or service provider we use. We explore all the available options and monitor our costs against what you would be able to buy direct, ensuring we are always the better option.

 

However, we pride ourselves first and foremost on quality - we are an independent specialist tour operator and, therefore, are not beholden to any supplier. We make our decisions based only on who's best in each and every instance.

What our customers say

5 star rating

Our customers rate us 'Excellent'

I can’t rate Different Snow highly enough...

Different Snow put together a well thought out and carefully researched tailored three week trip. Their recommendations for hotels, sightseeing, entertainment and dining were spot on.

David  ·  TrustPilot (verified review)

Very happy honeymooners...

Wonderful experience from start to finish. The binder they send you is like your Bible when you are out there. It has everything in you will need, from hotel addresses to train times, to advice about what to do whilst you're there. Trust the binder! Definitely will be using them for my next Japan trip.

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