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Japan Launches ‘Go To Travel’…and some Ski Area History

The rainy season ended later than usual this year, leading us into what has been a hot and humid August across most of Japan. In some central regions, temperatures have been nudging above 40C on some days and temperatures above 35C have been commonplace. Heat in August is of course not entirely unexpected, but I don’t think I will ever get used to it!

As we approach the end of August it is still hot, but it usually starts to cool off somewhat by mid September. And then we can get to enjoy the comfortable autumn months – one of the highlights of the year, and of course pleasingly scheduled just before the snow arrives.

Go To Travel Campaign

In an effort to get the economy moving over summer, the government launched a campaign to encourage travel within Japan in late July. The somewhat controversial (mostly due to questionable timing) ‘Go To Travel’ campaign offers discounts of 35% on accommodation with other local discounts forthcoming in September. The campaign is scheduled to continue into sometime next year, so theoretically visitors from overseas should be able to take advantage of it. That is, if the borders re-open in time.

Unfortunately, I do not have any significant news to convey on that front just yet. We need to remain patient over the coming weeks and months. For the record, the number of confirmed daily covid-19 cases reported in Japan increased to a peak of around 1,500 a day in the early part of August, but the numbers seem to be decreasing once again now. People are generally going about their lives in the ‘new normal’, but tourism is one sector that continues to be struggle – the Go To Travel campaign does not yet seem to have been as popular as was hoped, but that would probably change with brighter news.

Over the next few months, ski areas will likely be announcing their plans for the season – including what adjustments might need to be made to operations, etc. Next time I write there should be some more confirmed information to share.

Something like normal, please!  

Before we look forward though, I would this to take a quick look back into the past…

Old ski areas in Japan

Japan has a long and interesting history of skiing. There are many aspects to the story, but one major feature is the sheer number of individual ski areas that have been created across the Japanese mountains over the years. It was a while before the first ski lift appeared, but the first official private ski area – Goshiki in Yamagata Prefecture – dates back to 1911.

Iizuna Kogen, Nagano

Right now, there are around 500 ski areas operating in Japan, but over the years there has been at least a few hundred more. The majority probably appeared in the 1970s and 1980s, building up to the heady ‘ski boom’ era when some of the ambitious plans that were rumoured were, at times, mind-boggling.

One consequence of so many ski areas popping up around that period is that there are now quite a lot of ageing facilities out there. And generally, much less cash available for required maintenance. Other major reasons often heard for ski areas closing include there simply being too many ski areas (too much competition), decreasing snowfall worries (in some regions, particularly in western Japan) and the increase in alternative leisure pursuits. The introduction of snowboarding in the 1990s and the recent increase in ‘inbound’ market has thankfully helped keep numbers steady.

It just so happens that a website has recently been created to introduce the world to the past ski areas of Japan. SnowJapanHistory.com (www.snowjapanhistory.com) comes courtesy of the creator of SnowJapan.com, the independent website introducing the world to current Japanese ski areas since 1999. Andrew has been putting this new website together since January, and you can tell it is a real labour of love. With nearly 30 years of knowledge about Japanese ski areas, he recently told me that he had been thinking about doing something like this for a while. It took events of 2020 to encourage him to get started!

SnowJapan History already features detailed information on 111 ski areas. Each listing includes ski area data, location info, an archive aerial photograph, maps, and other background information. Some also feature recently taken photographs.

Kanbayashi, Nagano

While this subject may not be of interest to everyone, there are some truly fascinating background stories to some of these ski areas. When I spoke with Andrew to prepare this piece, he mentioned how the process of researching and putting all this information together had given him a renewed appreciation as the work begins on updating the 2020-2021 season details for current ski areas on SnowJapan.com.

One quote from the About page on www.snowjapanhistory.com:

“Of course, it is sad that these ski areas are no longer with us. But this website is not meant as a downbeat look back at ‘better times’. In fact, quite the opposite. It is meant as a thank you; a fond look back to some different times; earlier chapters of the same story. A celebration of how amazing the ski scene in Japan has been through the years.”

Highly recommended reading as we wait for bright news and snow!

Next time: some proper news on the 2020-2021 season. Hopefully.

1 Comment
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