As part of this month’s series on ski season work in Japan, Ski Asia had the pleasure of interviewing Lily Terepai, a psychology student and retail worker from Australia, who spent last winter season working as a receptionist in Nozawa Onsen with property management company Nozawa Hospitality.

After a successful first season, Lily will be back again in 2023/24 – a journey that you can follow on her Instagram account. For those who are interested in joining Lily at Nozawa Hospitality, check out their general staff, cook or front desk listings, or see all listed positions here.

Lily, Nozawa Hospitality

Lily Terepai spent last winter season working as a receptionist in Nozawa Onsen with property management company Nozawa Hospitality

Ski Asia: What made you decide to take a job in Nozawa Onsen?

Lily: I wanted a dose of Japanese culture and there is no better way than to immerse yourself in the language and culture. Yes, Niseko and Hakuba are two main tourist destinations that we Australians hear about – but their snow and slopes have become popular and more commercial as a consequence.

I wanted to look for a place off the beaten track, so I applied for a number of places in Nozawa and found a great place with work-life balance. I also wanted to enhance my understanding of the Japanese concept, ikigai [a sense of purpose].

One of the other appeals of Nozawa Onsen is that you can access all areas of the village by walking. My home was a 7-minute walk to the ski slopes and a 10–15 minute walk from work.

What was the job application and induction process like, and how did Nozawa Hospitality support you through this period?

The job application process was not too hard for me mainly because I took the initiative to personally reach out to companies. People have their own way of entering a ski season. Some go through recruitment agencies, which makes it convenient, however I didn’t choose this path mainly because I wanted to save money and build on core skills like networking, problem solving, personal communication, and professionalism.

Once I came to the conclusion that I wanted to do it on my own, I locked in the area in Japan I wished to settle. Two-thirds of the jobs I applied for were in the area which piqued my interest the most: Nozawa Onsen. From there I was able to interview with a few companies and get an understanding of benefits of the job and the company culture.

I started my application process in July when the Japanese borders weren’t completely open to tourists, which made things a little challenging. Many businesses were not sure how the season would pan out, mainly because tourists entering the country at the time required a scheduled itinerary from their travel agent.

It wasn’t until September that Japan announced an relaxation of travel restrictions from October 11, making way for the 2022/23 ski season.

From there, companies ramped up their hiring efforts to cater for the impending wave of visitors keen for a taste of Japanese culture and powder! After getting a few offers, I locked in my role with Nozawa Hospitality, which provided benefits that aligned with my goals: career growth and time on the slopes! I booked my tickets to Japan on the day of the announcement and before airlines raised their prices due to demand.

Nozawa Onsen

Tourists flocked back to Nozawa Onsen last season after almost three years of border closures

And your Working Holiday Visa application?

My visa application process was quite easy. The Japanese embassy here in Australia has a web page stating all the documents you need to fill out. Australians are eligible to apply for a Working Holiday Visa and can extend it up to 18 months, which allows those who are keen to do a second season.

It takes approximately two weeks for the visa to come through, however I’d recommend leaving a minimum of three weeks in case there are any hiccups.

I left Australia at the end of November to explore Tokyo and Fuji for a week and a half before heading off to start work in Nozawa Onsen. For those who are scared of getting lost, I highly recommend Google Maps as it overviews different travel options, travel time, and the price of the commute. Nozawa Hospitality were kind enough to pick me up in Iiyama, the closest Shinkansen stop to Nozawa.

One thing that I wish I had known is that you can send your luggage from almost anywhere in Japan for a reasonable price via a “Ta Q Bin” service, rather than lugging your suitcase and snowboard around. It was a real workout navigating some Tokyo stations with all my gear, as they don’t all have accessible lifts or escalators. For those who travel with a snowboard, I recommend sending it to where you’ll be staying and asking your employer to hold it for you.

What did a typical day look like for you last season?

The beauty of Nozawa Onsen is that there’s so much to do, and therefore, for myself at least, it’s difficult to describe a typical day. Since I was in reception, I’d sometimes start at 10am, allowing me time to grab an oyaki (a stuffed bun which are popular in Nagano prefecture) at St. Anton for only 250 yen (about AU$2.50), which would fuel me until lunch.

I’d occasionally leave enough time before work to explore the village or venture into a local onsen. On powder days, I could hit the slopes for 30-45 minutes and get in a couple of runs.

On days my shift started earlier, I was more than happy to wake up to the sunrise before the village was awake and open. There’s a calming feeling to it, especially before taking on a busy day at a work. After work I would have dinner with colleagues, and on occasion we’d venture out to local restaurants.

A convenience store trip in the evenings was always a non-negotiable. We’d head to Yamazaki (similar to 7-Eleven or Family Mart) where we would buy snacks and all hang out that night. Sometimes, we’d also go to a bar, or join for a drink and tacos at Juntos on Taco Tuesday!

On my day off, I would hit the slopes with those of my friends who weren’t working. Peak season was from January to February, when we would leave early to line up for the powder. Riding it felt so smooth and light, like riding a wave. The feeling of gliding through powder is unmatched.

Nozawa Onsen sunset

Nozawa Onsen sunset

After a few hours we would head to Craft Room for some gyoza or a panini, followed by a Chūhai. On some days, we’d ride until 3, finishing our day with a burger at Genki [Burger] or by enjoying happy hour at Winterland – renowned for their gyoza and the perfect vantage point for a stunning Nozawa sunset.

On other days I would venture to a local onsen before catching up with others at a bar or someone’s home. There is so much to do in Nozawa and most of the fun comes from exploring the food, the slopes, and the culture with the people around you!

How did you find Nozawa Onsen like as a ski resort?

I loved Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort, and one of the first things I noticed was wide range of food options. You have many options located at the top of the two gondolas at the resort: Hikage and Nagasaka. I typically would board or ski to Buna for a warm, cozy meal which was located a short ski or board down from Hikage station. Buna offers an amazing view, table service, and dishes ranging from pancakes to curries and kastudon.

On-mountain dining in Nozawa Onsen

On-mountain dining in Nozawa Onsen

Further down, there’s Popeyes for a good chicken schnitzel, lots of Western options and a pool table for some extra fun. For those who are looking for options near the bottom of Nagasaka gondola (the gondola located in the middle section of the mountain), you can enjoy amazing gyoza at the Craft Room, a katsudon at Kawahiro, or card games, pizza, hotpot and crêpes at Neobar!

As for the slopes, there is a good range from beginner to intermediate to expert as well as options for nordic or back country skiing with Experience Nozawa. For me, as a beginner to intermediate snowboarder, Nozawa had many slopes for me to progress.

I recommend those starting out to take a lesson or two from Canyons to get the ball rolling! They are extremely helpful and have English speaking staff and instructors. They are employed by Nozawa Onsen Ski School, located at the bottom of Hikage station, and you can enrol yourself online or upon arrival.

A challenging mogul run in Nozawa Onsen

A challenging mogul run in Nozawa Onsen

For more advanced riders, there are some tree runs at the top of the mountain, underneath Yamabiko chairlift, where skiers and boarders were allowed to venture at their own risk. There’s also a terrain park, which was accessible from Uenotaira. Later in the season, the resort even created a half pipe.

If you could pick one stand-out memory from last season, what would it be?

It would probably be the Dosojin Fire Festival. It is a traditional festival that takes place on January 15 every year, and although the event itself occurs over just the one night, it was definitely an experience watching locals gather the wood and build the tower over the week leading up to it. During this time, the bond between locals is incredible. It was one of many highlights of the season, and I look forward to experiencing it again next year!

I also took the opportunity to be a Rotary International Exchange student in 2020. It involved meeting a group of other students on a similar path, but experiencing things differently through our own lens. Through this we became pretty close.

Riding with friends

“The more you travel and the more you connect and reconnect, you come to realise that it’s not just the place but the people that make it.”

One of the students spent a few days visiting me in Nozawa Onsen and we both loved it. We hit the slopes, adventured to different food destinations, and enjoyed each other’s company. The more you travel and the more you connect and reconnect, you come to realise that it’s not just the place but the people that make it. I truly believe that humans desire connection. Isn’t that why we all travel?

What was the reason you chose to return to do another season?

I chose to return to the village for the experience, culture and people. My choice to return to Nozawa Hospitality came through a desire to grow new skills and improve existing ones. I was really pushed outside of my comfort zone last season, thanks largely to the support from one of my front desk managers.

As someone new to reception work, I was able to grow and also apply my skills from telco, psychology, hospitality, and retail. It also helped that as a past exchange student, I came to the job accustomed to being around different cultures.

What advice would you give to someone looking to follow a similar path

Know your options and seek out experiences to help you explore your understanding of the culture. At the end of the day, you are looking for a great place to settle for the season, not just location-wise but work-wise too. I would definitely seek multiple options so you know what’s available and choose the one that suits you best. Of course, it’s also best to be transparent with your potential future employers.

Travelling in Japan

“Having a taste during my first hostel experience definitely opened my eyes a bit more to the spontaneity of spending time with strangers in the same boat as you…”

You also want to know your options and travel before and after employment. The major cities are amazing, but there is so much more to Japan than Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. I recommend leaving time to explore at least either further north or south. It definitely helps to travel based on your interests, however so much of the joy comes from meeting other people along the way, often in hostels.

I can’t wait to explore this option [travelling in hostels] a bit more upon my return. Having a taste during my first hostel experience definitely opened my eyes a bit more to the spontaneity of spending time with strangers in the same boat as you, and also wanting to explore the destination you have both stumbled upon! There’s a certain level of excitement exploring it together!