Working a winter snow season in Japan

Everything you need to know about planning and doing a ski season in Japan


Japan is home to some of the best powder skiing in the world. If you’ve been considering working a snow season in Japan, now is a great time to start looking for a job (July!). Employers are hiring and jobs are filling up fast. If you want to work in Japan and have an awesome ski/snowboard adventure, check out this guide to get you started!


Mt Yotei in Niskeo Japan
Photo by Alexa Hohenberg for Niseko Photography. Taken at the cat ski terrain where Alexa is a guide.


Working holiday visa for Japan

If you’re Australian aged 18-30, it’s relatively easy to get a Japanese Working Holiday Visa. The visa can also extend up to 18 months if you return 6 months later and do another, consecutive winter season. You can also get a visa if you are from New Zealand, Canada, Korea, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Norway and for residents of Taiwan and Hong Kong. When applying you need to be in your country of residence, have funds in your bank account and be in good health.

For Australians, visit this page to find out more.

Also note that you will need to physically go to the Japanese consulate in your country to sort the visa. Allow loads of time to do this as it can take weeks-on-end. There is an option to collect it on arrival in Japan but this must be arranged beforehand on application.


Read: 10 things you must see and do in Hakuba Japan


Cat skiing in Niseko with Niseko Photography
The day I went cat skiing. So much powder!


Getting sponsored to work in Japan

For those of you over 30, or from a country that doesn’t offer a Japanese working holiday visa, you will need to get sponsored. This is much harder than it sounds and carries large fees for your employer. Every industry will have their own rules but for ski instructors, you need to have 36 months solid experience on your resume, a University degree, plus references to back up your employment dates. Do your research as every field/subject is different. Work directly with your potential employer and immigration lawyer to see if you qualify.


Powder skiing in Japan
Powder days…. for days.
Cat skiing with Niseko Photography.


How to find a job and accommodation in a Japanese ski resort

The best time to apply for a working a winter snow season in Japan is June and July. Organising a job before you arrive will also make it easier to find accommodation. Many companies will offer shared accommodation which is within walking distance of the slopes. You might have to share a room, but that’s a great way to make some new friends! In Niseko expect to pay about 65- 80,000 YEN a month rent.


It’s quite tough to find accommodation on your own, especially from overseas. Don’t be afraid to rock up without a job. You’ll make contacts, find work and a place to stay (again, much easier when you are there talking with people face-to-face). Many people get injured during the season or go home midway through, so jobs become available. Just ensure you have enough reserve funds to support yourself or you might have to go home early.


Get a $50 free travel credit for AirBNB to use when you arrive (or at home!)


Check out some of these websites to find a job in Niseko:


Jobs for ski instructors:


Niseko tour and accommodation companies:


Niseko Bars, restaurants & retail:


Doing a ski season in Japan - expect to have a shot ski!
Brace to yourself to have A LOT of fun on your season


Getting a Japanese bank account

This isn’t as easy as other countries and can only be done when you are in the country. Your employer will organise if it is an option for you.

One other great option is to get a free Borderless Account with Transferwise. You can have 28 currencies in one account, with bank details assigned to each account in each country (to receive wages in Japan, for example). Then you can transfer money between accounts (currencies) in seconds, at the market rate you will find on Google (set up alerts so you do this on the best exchange rate days). They only charge a small % commission for transfers ($5 of a $1,000 AUD transfer to YEN for example). For £ and Euros, they will also give you a debit card. It is the first multi-currency account of its kind, and just came out halfway through 2018. I highly recommend it.


How to get to the Japanese ski resorts

There are many flights daily to Japan from the major cities in Australia so keep an eye out for good deals from Jetstar and Air Asia, to both Tokyo on main island Honsu and Sapporo on the northern island Hokkaido. Search for the best flight prices on Expedia.


Once you arrive in Japan, public transport will be the easiest way to get around and also get to your seasonal accommodation. Japanese public transport is almost always on time, so make sure you’re onto it or you might miss your train. If you have a job organised, find out if your employer can help you get from the airport to where you’ll be staying. If not, you can catch a bus, train or rent a car from the airport. The train from Sapporo to Kutchan (the big town near Niseko), is very highly recommended as it goes along the ocean and is beautiful.

Check out this Japan transport site for all the info you will need.


The content of my backcountry snowboard bag when packing for a winter in Japan
That’s a s**t load of baggage! Send it with SendMyBag before you leave, so you don’t have to deal with it on the plane.


Sending you baggage to Japan from home

This is also a great idea if you want to do some traveling before or after your snow season. Or you want to avoid the extra cost of oversized baggage on your flight. SendMyBag is a company that ships your bag from anywhere in the world. For example, at the end of the snow season, I shipped a 15kg wheelie-bag from Niskeo to Australia for $300, arriving within a week. Use this link to get a discount added to your account.


Sending your baggage to your accommodation, on arrival in Japan

You can also have your baggage sent ahead of time to your accomodation if you want to do some sightseeing before the winter season starts. This is a great service and really inexpensive. Drop it off at the Black Cat counter in the arrivals of the airport and make your way to yoaccommodationion without dragging your stuff on the train or through the cities. Check out Black Cat Japan. Needs to be arranged in advance i.e. before you arrive in Japan.


Ski Mt. Yoeti with Niseko Photography & Guiding


Travel insurance for skiing in Japan

Travel insurance is essential for a ski season in Japan. There is always the risk of injury when on the slopes. Although it’s very unlikely that you will get robbed in Japan, there are some sneaky foreigners that pickpocket ski jackets and some annoying drunk people that take the wrong jacket in the bars. It is also not uncommon for airlines to lose luggage, so do yourself a favour and buy some travel insurance! Make sure the travel insurance covers you for skiing and snowboarding.


Need travel insurance for backcountry skiing without a guide? Get your travel insurance from Insure4Less (Australians only). They are the only travel insurance provider for backcountry without a guide. This means you are covered if you want to go ski tour with your friends one day out of the resort boundaries.


If you are not going backcountry, I recommend is World Nomads. They cover many nationalities, and you can buy and/or extend it after you have left home. You don’t have to pay the money upfront for any medical bills and all the physios in town deal with them directly.


The Fridge Door Niseko


Cash vs card in Japan

Japan is still a cash country and ATMS aren’t that easy to find (they can be found in every post office!). Arrange Japanese YEN cash before you leave, and definitely, do not convert your money at the airport! Make sure you have debit or credit card in your wallet and a backup card just incase, that you keep in a different place. Keep a few thousand dollars in your bank account for backup and reserves to get you through a month without income.


A shrine on the shores of Lake Toya, Hokkaido Japan
Lake Toya on the north island of Japan, Hokkaido.


Getting a Japanese SIM card and WIFI

There are a few good sim card options in Japan, however, it’s almost impossible to get your own Japanese number (employers have to get it for you), so the best thing to do, is to get a data-only sim. A 6-month data sim from B-Mobile will give you 5GB a month. It was incredibly easy to purchase on Amazon Japan and get delivered.


Cat skiing in Niseko
Cat skiing is a great way to get around!
Photo by Alexa for Niseko Photography


Getting around the ski resort

Ski resorts are generally known to have little villages that surround them.  Some are more spread out than others (like Hakuba and Niseko), but buses and taxis link up the main hubs. Get a bus timetable in the local area guide and utilise your employer’s transportation if possible.


Hot Tip: You will need sturdy winter boots with a good grip on the soul. See our Japan packing list for essential items for your season.


Cat skiing in Niseko
Alexa’s cat machines from 1984.


Driving in Japan

You will need to get an International driving license before you leave your home country if you want to drive in Japan. You will not be able to rent a car without one. A comment below from Michael tells a story of always having your passport on you when driving in Japan. I believe in the absence of your residency card (only given to foreigners of employemnt visas), this is a very wise idea. Read his comment below for more info.


Skiing in Japan in snowy Hokkaido
The snowy sunsets over Hokkaido


Buying / Renting a car in Japan

You can do this if you have a residency card (you only get this with a valid work visa). To buy a car in Japan, you need to prove you have somewhere to park it. Someone will literally come round your house and measure the space to confirm! If you can, do this through your employer or with a Japanese-speaking friend as there is quite a lot of paperwork. Car rental for the season is also an option and far less stress.

If you are in Niseko and want to rent a car, contact Ross at


The whisky is also very good in Japan!


Where to do your grocery shopping

If you don’t want to spend your monthly paycheck each week in Lawson convenience store, go to the local large supermarket and stock up (Max Valu tends to be the cheapest). You will find amazing fresh produce, Japanese cooking essentials, and some International foods. The Daiso 100YEN shop is great for basics, cooking utensils, nuts, snacks etc. Shopping is an experience in itself!


Hot Tip: You can also order loads of food on Japanese Amazon including organic health foods. They also have Costco in Japan which is great for a large shop (it is near Saporro if you are on Hokkaido).


Read: 10 lessons to be learnt from Japanese culture


Japanese temples and powder skiing
There is nothing more magical then a winter in Japan



Language and culture in a Japanese ski resort

In ski resorts throughout Japan, it will be very uncommon to find a Japanese person who doesn’t speak a little bit of English. Step outside of the ski resort and it can be a different story all together! If you are interested in learning a few phrases while you’re working your snow season in Japan, get a phrase book or watch a few YouTube videos that cover the basics. The only advice I can give, is be friendly and polite and anyone will help you.


Packing List: 13 essential items to pack for a winter season in Japan


Packing essentials for working a snow season in Japan


Realities of getting a job/being overseas

Working at a ski resort can be a big commitment as you will be away from your friends and family for at least 4 months. But, you will always be able to make new friends for life. Everyone working in a ski resort has one thing in common, they love skiing, snowboarding and that perfect powder day! It isn’t for everybody and I sure know a lot of people who have cut their working holiday short because they missed home.


If you’re reading this and you’re at university but don’t think you can do a season in Japan, think again. You have at least a 3 month window to get some good riding, make a little bit of money and have an amazing time in Japan all before semester 1 starts.



So in summary: Do your research, get a visa to work, sort a job and accomodation, get travel insurance and have a great time!


If you want to go cat skiing in Niseko drop Alexa a message and she can give you all the info you need as well as be your guide on the day!



Have we missed anything? Would you like your business added to this list of employers? Comment below and give us a heads up or just say hi!


Hey I'm Aurora and I am a skier from the Gold Coast, Australia. For the last 6 years Ive been living, working and travelling between the Snowy Mountains in Australia and Hokkaido, the north island of Japan. Im an adventurer with a love for food and skiing and I make YouTube videos for fun. I cant wait to share my adventures with you!


  1. Hi there. It seems to be exciting and adventure! I’m also interested to have time for skiing in Japan. Thank you very much for your informative post it can be my guide for planning trip. By the way, I have to buy many items for skiing such as a Ski Jacket. But it’s my first trip so I have no ideas about necessary items that I need for skiing. could you please give me suggestions? Thank you in advance for your suggestion.

  2. Thanks so much for the info! I just graduated and am thinking about going this season. I wonder if you can give me a rough idea of budgeting? Obviously need funds for first month without income, but how much do I need to be earning to cover living costs and do people generally finish the season with excess (for travelling)

    Graduated but unemployed

    • Hey Gloria, thanks for reading!
      Budget about 65-80k YEN a month in rent. You can survive on about 1,500YEN a day for food. Drinking and partying will blow any budget! Hope that helps. Have the best time!!

  3. Love this! Having taught English in South Korea for 3 years, I’m a huge advocate for spending some time working overseas- it’s the best way to see the world. I can imagine that working as a ski instructor in Japan would be lots of fun and this is so helpful for anyone who wants to pursue this career choice. Thanks for sharing your insider info! :)

  4. I would love to do this! Maybe after I finish grad school : ) Thank you for posting such an informative article about it. Also, your photos of the area are gorgeous!

  5. Hi Alexa, great blog and very informative. I have been a regular in Niseko for 10 years or so and thought I knew the ropes. Last trip the wife and I were in Sapporo and an old lady clipped us at the traffic lights. Seemingly only a minor problem except the cops kept us for 6 hours in seperate rooms and the detective Inspector treated us like we were terrorists. The reason was not made obvious until late in the event but it turns out that you need to carry your passport everywhere in Japan or you commit an offence against the immigration act.We had to get someone to go to our house and take our passports to the police station in Kutchan for faxing to Sapporo. We had international licences and lots of ID with us but no passports.
    We ended up signing confessions about how naughty we were and promised never to do it again.
    In light of this it would be great to include this as a warning in your blog about the necessity to take your passport everywhere. The detective told us that in Tokyo they will put you in Jail for the same..
    Maybe not such an issue in Niseko/Kutchan area but Sapporo is a must for Passports.

    • Yeah right! That’s kind of crazy but really good to know, thank you! I’ll add this in the driving section. I always carry my resident card with me everywhere (you only get this when you are employed). Definitely a good idea to carry your passport. Thanks!


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