Two words go far in Japan's ski towns, finds Kieran Nash

Oishi means 'delicious'. Saying this magic word turned us into instant celebrities ... Powder hounds from all over the world make the journey to Japan every year to get a taste of the snow on offer in the land of the rising sun.

But though the snow is some of the world's best, the language barrier can make or break the experience.

Some larger Japanese ski towns are notorious for their apres-ski shenanigans. Hirafu ski village in Niseko, on the northern island of Hokkaido, is the place to go for those who don't automatically go to sleep after two beers following a hard day's skiing.

Niseko's popularity with Aussies has made it less a cultural experience and more like any pub crawl you'll find in Ohakune or Wanaka.


For those wanting a more authentic experience, the quieter ski town of Myoko Kogen is a good option.

Myoko Kogen is about three hours' train ride north of Tokyo on the main island of Honshu. It's built around two fields, Akakura Kanko and Akakura Onsen, a short walk from most of the hotels.

Being a small town, it offers dinky little places with excellent traditional food. The hotel receptionist said my girlfriend, Jacqui, and I should check out an underground noodle hut in the centre of town. At the bottom of a flight of stairs, the restaurant was crammed with all manner of old photographs and memorabilia, which paid tribute to the town's history as Japan's first international mountain resort.

The elderly couple who ran the place didn't speak a word of English. I needed only to see the words Squid Ink Udon and I was sold. The salty black broth was delicious and stained everything it came in contact with, including my teeth, my shirt and my jeans. If you're only going to bother to learn a few words of Japanese, make one of them "oishi", which means "delicious".

Saying this magic word turned us into instant celebrities, the owner rushing around to shake our hands profusely at our limited grasp of the language (but vast appreciation of the meal).

From there, it was a short wander up the main street to the town's liveliest bar, Shusho Kantei.

A small, bright thicket of snowboards grew in the snow outside, indicating the main vehicle of choice for the patrons. Inside, the bar was small, with a low roof and long tables. A poster of a snowboarder blasting a huge backside air took pride of place on one wall. A skateboard ramp took prime position to the left of the bar, just daring people to give it a go. And as soon as the patrons drank enough Asahi, off they staggered to attempt to skate it.

As can be expected, when the would-be skater inevitably slammed into the plywood below, it was another excuse to toast his good health.

After giving it a good go myself, I made a few new friends, and spent the rest of the evening using one of the few other words I'd learned - kanpai! (cheers).

And it's this - the language barrier - that makes a small ski town such as Myoko Kogen so unique. Taking time to learn just a few phrases can be the difference between sitting at the bar by yourself or drinking Asahi with the locals, united by a single word. Kanpai!