Gliding Through Japan

Gliding Through Japan

The Essential Transport Guide for Travelling Snowboarders and Skiers or How to Move Through Japan like a Shinobi in the Shadows.
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Every Winter, travelers from all over the world make the the trip to Japan, some even leaving their local mountains in search of Japow - the phenomena that once experienced will forever have left its indelible imprint on your psyche. One of the burning questions for new pilgrims of the pow is “How to get from airport to ski field?”. Should we be using buses, trains or organizing our own transport? The answers are even more important for those of us with ski / board bags in tow. There are many options in Japan, and we have outlined them in this article to share the pros and cons and make it easy for everyone to organize their transport for the trip.

Luggage Delivery Services - Yamato & JAL

One of the best things about travelling in Japan are their luiggage delivery services. Supplementing the efficient local transportation these reliable delivery services can send your bags to hotels, ski resorts and airports anywhere in Japan. This is why you don't see locals dragging their heavy luggage through train stations. 

Yamato runs a service which is often called Black Cat because of the logo. JAL also has a similar service. Delivery only takes 1-2 days. Savvy travelers can plan their trips to make use of those 1-2 days for some side trips, shopping and sight seeing. When you land in Japan, you can approash one of the service counters at airports to arrange for delivery. You just need to have your desitnation details and payment ready, and the staff can help with filling out the required forms. It's usually under Y4000 to transport the lot which is worth every yen to be able to zip through stations and subways and past newbies dragging their bags through the stations like a camel train through the desert.

Hotels will usually keep your bags for a couple of days before your check in date. When you have finished skiing, you can arrange with the hotel to send your bags to the airport or next destination.

TIP! The service counters at airports are NOT 24 hours. Make sure you check the timings if you want to use this service.


Resort Liners

Resort liners are one of the easiest ways to travel in Japan. These are large coaches, with niceties like underside luggage compartment, sometimes toilets and reclinable seats. Most of the time you will need to reserve your spot ahead of time. Resort liners take slightly longer than trains, but not having to lug your luggage around train stations makes them a better option in our opinion.

Operating during the Winter season, they travel between airport to resort, airport to city, city to resort and resort to resort. If you plan it well, you can even visit a few resorts wit the liners.

Hokkaido Resort Liner

Runs a network of buses connecting the airports and cities to the major ski resorts in Hokkaido.

Nagano Snow Shuttle

Shuttle bus network linking Hakuba Valley to Tokyo, Tokyo airports, Nozawa onsen, Madarao,  Myoko & Shiga Kogen.

Myoko Shuttle

Shuttle bus services linking Tokyo airports to Myoko and Shiga Kogen resorts and Niigata airport to Arai and Myoko resorts.


Japanese Trains

Japan has one of the most efficient and extensive public transport systems in the world. Their network of shinkansen bullet trains and local trains service all of the country and are used daily by both locals and travelers.  Due to how efficient the transport is, skiers & boarders often hop on them for a day trip to the mountains. They weren’t however made for transporting bulky luggage items like skis and snowboards.

Rules for ski snowboard bags on the Shinkansen

You are allowed to bring your snowboards and skis onboard provided they are in a suitable cover and less than 2m in length. Finding a space for them may be an issue as the trains have limited storage for luggage.

Reserved carriages / seats

One way to solve the luggage problem is to book a reserved seat. Non reserved seating means passengers can jump on and look for a seat in the non reserved carriages. While reserved seats cost a bit more they are pre-assigned and roomier. Reserved seat train carriages usually have a section for luggage but not for tall bags. You can place board bags behind rear seats provided you have booked those seats. If they are taken, the next option is to place them in the storage above the seats. There is enough space for a board bag but they will take up the length of 2 seats. If you really can’t find a space for your gear you need to ask a train staff for help. They may be able to find you a space somewhere else on the train.

Local trains

Local trains connect Shinkansen stations to smaller towns. They are smaller, slower and don’t offer carriages with assigned seats. There is a lot of standing room so if you do have bags you can just keep them near you. They are also usually not as full, so hopefully you won’t be getting in anyone’s way.


The subways in Japan are short stop underground trains connectin stations within a city. Definitely avoid rush hour if you have lots of luggage. Japan has some of the busiest public transport and its a mad rush during peak hour. 

Other Transport

Local buses

Local shuttle buses like the Niseko shuttle and Chuo buses do not have any storage space and operate on a first come first served basis. Skiers and boarders have to sit or stand with all their gear. They let you bring your luggage onboard but it can be a pain if the bus starts to fill up.

Local Taxis

Taxis in Japan run by the meter and are quite affordable (compared to Western countries anyway). Consider taking one instead of lugging your luggage around the Sapporo underground. Drivers are fine with getting your snowboard bag in there if it’s possible. In areas like Niseko and Otaru you can find taxis with roof racks. The best way to book a taxi is to ask you hotel’s front desk to arrange one for you.

Be Mindful on Your Travels

Local Japanese are very conscious of personal space. And while they may be too polite to say anything about a conga line of travelers and their luggage, the onus is on us as travelers and guests of the country to be respectful of everyone’s space. For example, you are even meant to wear your backpacks in front so as to take up less space on public transport. This is also the reason why Japanese ski / board bags have backpack straps to minimize the space they take up.

The reality is we all want to maximize the number of days on slope and sometimes find ourselves in a situation where we will be dragging our gear through the system. If that happens, we just got to make sure to be mindful of everything around us.

I’ve been on the train to Niseko where traveling snowboarders have had their board bags leaned up against the train wall. But at every stop they would jump up and stand next to them making sure they didn’t get in anyone’s way. Respect!

Hope this helps someone heading over to Japan. May your journey be without events and your pow endless.

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