At the time of my last report a few ski areas around Japan were still bravely remaining open in increasingly pressured circumstances. That situation did not last too long as the Japanese government was forced to announce a country-wide ‘state of emergency’. Interestingly, the Japanese government is not actually able to legally declare a ‘lockdown’ like other countries have experienced over the last few months. The Japan state of emergency was essentially more of a strong request for co-operation, and it was one that most people and businesses complied with.

As of late May, the state of emergency has now been lifted in all regions of Japan.

There has been skiing and snowboarding available in May though.

The Yokoteyama and Shibutoge section of the Shiga Kogen resort area in Nagano Prefecture has been open – part of Yokoteyama was open until this last week and the Shibutoge lift will close for the season at the end of the day on Monday 1st June. There is not much snow left up there now as things warm up and the summer months approach.

Beyond that, and as far as I can tell, we will be left with just the Gassan ski area in Yamagata Prefecture remaining open.

Gassan has generally been closed through the month of May due to the state of emergency, though it did a special trial re-opening over the last few weekends. They were asking people not residing in Yamagata Prefecture to refrain from visiting.

From Monday 1st June though, Gassan is going to be open and will start welcoming people from outside Yamagata Prefecture. Residents of the Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba and Hokkaido regions are being asked to restrain from visiting through 18th June. There will be staff mask wearing, hand sanitizers and other measures, but other than that it looks like the area should be opening something like normal.

Gassan has one fairly long pair lift as well as two T-bar lifts. In contrast to most ski areas in Japan the season is usually from April to July and there is a general lack of trees on the hill side. A bit of an uphill walk is required from the car park to the ski lift, as well as from the top of the pair lift to the T-bar… all that walking makes for some particularly good exercise!

A lift ticket for the day costs 4,700 yen for the day, 3500 yen for half a day or 600 yen for one ride on the pair lift. A walk up to the T-bar lift takes you higher up the hill but the ticket is separate from the pair lift – 200 yen for one ride and 2000 yen for 11 rides.

Gassan is certainly not for everyone. For a start, you should not go expecting fresh snow. But if you want to get in a final ski before it starts getting really hot…

Gassan will be closed from 16th-18th June as the lift is changed over to summer operations (after which guests can get the lift back down) but it will be open daily before that date and, all being well, through to the end of July.

Sadly, some companies that operate ski areas in western Japan have recently filed for bankruptcy and it is looking like there are going to be some closures for the 2020-2021 season unless new owners can be found. I cannot find any firm numbers yet but a record number of ski areas in Japan were not able to open for one day during 2019-2020.

I will leave you with a few positive thoughts…

Firstly, I think it is worth commenting on how amazing the people living in Japan have generally reacted to the challenging situation over the last few months. The state of emergency was not an order, but most people heard the request to cut down on social contact and did just that, even when it meant closing businesses and all the long-term hardships that are going to result. An existing culture of wearing masks and not shaking hands has surely helped control the situation. The result appears to be that Japan has managed to avoid out-of-control numbers of cases. Let us hope that the general opening of businesses and society in general does not bring larger numbers with it.

The Japan Meteorological Agency has announced that the coming three months will likely be ‘hotter than normal’. Now while that unfortunately means that we are probably going to have to sweat out some serious heat, many tales are told that say that a hot summer points to a cold and snowy winter. I am happy to cling to that story – whether the data shows it to be true or not – and feel positive about next winter.

Hopefully by the time our lovely snow arrives, international travel will be happening and people from overseas will be welcomed into Japan.