Highlights from a century of skiing in Japan
1911 THE BIRTH OF SKIING IN JAPAN
A demonstration of skiing down Mt Kanaya, Niigata Prefecture, by visiting Austro-Hungarian army officer Theodor von Lerch in 1911 is credited as the birth of the sport in Japan. For many locals of Japan’s snow country, skiing changed winter forever from something they endured, to something they looked forward to with excitement. Lerch was promptly invited to instruct the Japanese army in skiing technique, and began teaching members of the public from 1912, when he also toured Nagano and Hokkaido prefectures.
1923 THE INAUGURAL ALL-JAPAN SKI CHAMPIONSHIPS
Competitive skiing in Japan started in the snow of Otaru, on Hokkaido’s Sea of Japan coast, with the inaugural All-Japan Ski Championships of 1923. A testament to the instantaneous popularity of skiing around Japan after having arrived just 12 years earlier, by 1928, Japanese skiers were racing at the second Winter Olympics in St Moritz, Switzerland. In 1956, alpine racer Chiharu Igaya became Japan’s first Winter Olympic medallist, with silver at Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy.
1972 THE SAPPORO WINTER OLYMPICS
To commemorate Japan’s first Winter Olympics at home, Sapporo’s snow festival showcased a 25 metre-high sculpture of Gulliver, comprised of some 1,300 truckloads of snow. The event was a memorable one for local athletes, who were awarded gold, silver and bronze medals in ski jumping events. It also transformed Hokkaido’s largest city with 14 new winter sports facilities, new rail and metro lines, and new roads, opening up access to the great winter sports areas nearby of Teineyama, Okurayama and Miyanomori.
1998 THE NAGANO WINTER OLYMPICS
As host of the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano Prefecture put itself on the map as a new global snow sports destination. This year featured the debut of snowboarding in the competition, which was held with alpine racing in the Shiga Kogen resort area; meanwhile, the villages of Hakuba and Nozawa Onsen provided steep, deep powder for ski events. Also making its debut for this Winter Olympics was the new Nagano Shinkansen bullet train service, which halved the previous-best travelling time by train between Tokyo and Nagano City to a record-breaking 79 minutes.
2012 HOKKAIDO COMMEMORATES A CENTURY OF SKIING
In the 2011-2012 season, resorts around Hokkaido commemorated a century since 1912, when Theodor von Lerch brought skiing to the island. The Austro-Hungarian army officer made tracks down Mt Yōtei, Niseko’s famous peak, and visited the central Hokkaido city of Asahikawa to provide instruction in skiing technique. This saw the on-going popularity of snow sports in the area: Niseko Grand Hirafu opened in 1961, with what was then Japan’s longest lift, and unveiled an upgraded gondola and new Mountain Center in 2011-2012, looking ahead to the next century of snow sports on Hokkaido.