So you finally did it and committed to buying that round-trip ticket to Japan. Awesome, you'll most likely get good snow and at the very least eat great food! Here are some things to help you, humble you, and hopefully fill you full of stoke.
I've been going to Japan to work as a guide for 5 years now. Through the generosity of other people and some crazy good luck, this country has given me more than I could ever ask for and some that I never did. Don't ask me for a job I can't give people jobs. Anyways this isn't about me, it's about Japow.
Some cultural things to know about Japan-
It is a very passive culture. You could be stepping on someone's toe and they will keep smiling at you while you cause them great pain. Don't worry if you disrespect their culture they will just take it out on those of us who try to live and work there, so please don't do that!
*Most ski tourism areas are not going to require you to take your shoes off, but the majority of Japanese people remove their shoes before entering ANYTHING considered to be someone's personal space. Sometimes, that is a small business, home, etc. Please be conscious of this at all times
*Yes, Japanese girls tend to be attracted to foreign guys. You know what Japanese girls aren't attracted to? Drunk foreign teenagers/tweeners belting out pick up lines in a language they can't understand. Don't be that guy.
*On that note, try and learn a bit of the language before coming. Most likely, you have a 20 hour flight. Learn the difference between Kawaii and Kowaii. People absolutely love it if you try, even if you butcher the words. Give it a go.
*Things are punctual here. If you tell a taxi to meet you at a certain time, be outside at that time. Maybe even 3-5 minutes early because the driver will probably be there, gloves on ready to assist you.
*All you can eat and drink does exist. Does it mean you should try to fit all the alcohol you can drink into 2 hours? I have seen many people do this and very few walk away with dignity or a memory of their last night in Japan. Don't you think of all the thousands you spend on a trip you would want to remember a fun night out on the town?
*You are not a novelty, especially if you are going for skiing. If I had a dollar for hearing about the times someone said that other foreigners in a place ruined their pure authentic experience of Japanese culture I would be a very rich person. Look, Japan is still a very unique place with a very undiluted culture, but you're not going to be the only ones there. If you want that, go check out Kyrgyzstan, Karakoram, or North Korea.
*The food here IS that good. Slopeside ramen, boat-fresh sushi, made-with-love sake, it all exists! It's also all there to enjoy at a reasonable price. Search high and low for places. Sometimes if you get out away from the mainstream enough, you will be turned away as a foreigner because the establishment can't speak English and doesn't want to play point the finger and bring out something you "didn't order" game. Don't take it personally, accept it and move on. Also, this can be racially motivated. Racism exists everywhere, even Japan. Although very rare, I have experienced a few occasions of it.
*Rules are still rules. If there's a sign (especially one in English), that says DO NOT SKI ON THESE AVY BARRIERS, guess what? Don't ski on the god damned avy barriers! The thing about these signs is they never existed until a couple years ago. People started to flood over the avy barriers, hanging out in the road that's iced over and dangerous for people who are driving. There are still lots of avy barriers that are off the busy roads or pillows in the forest to jib on.
*Although Hokkaido and most of Japan has a very docile snowpack when compared to that of Europe and North America, people still die here. Last year I watched one of the most experienced snow-science people I have ever worked with and a guide out of Canmore, Alberta, get ripped through some trees on a pretty serious slide. Luckily, our heli operation is in the area and we were able to assemble a 5 man team to DRAG this guy through a series of streams and chest deep powder with a shattered leg and elbow. After about 5 hours, we were able to get him out and by some miracle he didn't sustain life-altering injuries.
The same goes for a Canadian girl going out with a party, who was studying a PHD in snow science at the University of Calgary, on what we would rate a High danger day. They skied a slope that was so obviously ridden with depth hoar, it's a miracle that only the girl broke her back and lived when she got carried 1,000 feet down the face.
Think about this being you. Laying there probably not having a cell phone work in Japan. Nobody or maybe just one other person knows you're there. You have a broken leg and can't move and it's dumping snow on top of you. The weather changes here faster than most places in the world due to its proximity to the ocean and large volumes of rapid moving moisture. It can be bluebird on a peak one minute, and dumping snow the next. You always have to know where you are. Several times last year there were close calls with people of all nationalities in this area being lost overnight and caught in slides. Almost every time it's someone new to the area and unaware of the local terrain. I can't stress enough how quickly this happens and how easy it is to get lost in this very confusing terrain.
There is no reliable snow forecast in this area. You cannot go to UAC, CAIC, etc to receive a detailed forecast from a credible source. Every morning at Black Diamond Tours, we do an internal forecast. If you are curious and in the area please message me and I will try to relay the general information. Otherwise stay tuned to our facebook page as I do not check messages on here that often in the winter. Again, the weather is very micro-climated and fast changing. So what is true for Niseko isn't necessarily true for Kiroro.
Obviously, as a guide, I am a bit biased. I believe we know the ins and outs of Japan skiing better than most people. I realize this is not an affordable option for everyone, and a lot of people on here think they know better. That's great, and if I meet you out on the town, I will likely tell you true information that will make your trip better, because I don't ski in Japan for the money. I genuinely love to see people have a good time in a place that has given me many. Hopefully, some of these tips can help you have a more smooth interaction with the Japanese and you have all my well wishes on good weather and deep snow.
Japow Jah Bless! Enjoy your trip.