Satoshi Oka, a recreation specialist at Yokota Air Base's Outdoor Recreation.

Satoshi Oka, a recreation specialist at Yokota Air Base's Outdoor Recreation. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Skiing and snowboarding in Japan aren’t much different from in the States, says Satoshi Oka, a recreation specialist at Yokota Air Base’s Outdoor Recreation.

The Japanese, however, have something of their own après-ski tradition: onsens.

“Coming back from a resort, a lot of Japanese hit the hot spring,” Oka said. “They have dinner after the hot spring, it makes the beer taste much better.

“We all enjoy the sport, and we all think we’re the best.”

For U.S. military personnel living in the Kanto Plain near Tokyo, about 400 ski areas are within driving distance.

Almost all provide beginner, intermediate and advanced trails; more than 90 percent permit snowboarding.

Oka said in Japan, snowboarding is more popular than skiing.

Skiers who try snowboarding “don’t go back, myself included,” he said. “There’s lots of explanations, but that’s the trend.”

The average lift ticket in Japan costs 4,000 yen (about $32). Equipment rentals are available at most recreation centers on base or post. Skiers and snowboarders also may buy medical insurance from local agencies. “You don’t need it, but it’s highly recommended,” Oka said.

The average cost is 2,000 yen ($16) for the entire season. The insurance, available at local insurance agencies off-base, covers one’s own injuries, as well as those of others involved in an accident.

Coverage also may be purchased with a lift ticket or at the resort for same-day skiing or snowboarding.

It also can cover loss or damage of equipment. Many resort first-aid stations and hospitals do not recognize U.S. insurance or military ID cards as a form of payment, Oka said.

The slopes are almost empty on weekdays. Sundays and Saturdays — in that order — are usually the most crowded.

“Check your calendars for a Japanese holiday,” Oka said. “Parking and traffic on the way home can be very aggravating.”

Ron Stark, recreation program director at Misawa’s 35th Services Squadron, said there are few cultural differences between how Americans and Japanese approach skiing and other winter sports.

“Compared to the U.S., all-day lift tickets with discounts are cheaper in Japan than at comparable slopes back there,” he says.

Also, he said, good deals can be found at Japanese sporting good stores when end-of-season sales offer deep discounts on skis, poles, boots and clothing.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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