Coloradans participating in traditional Japanese New Year festivities, as many Japanese cultural offerings are available across the state. Image: Japan America Society of Colorado.

Colorado Celebrates New and Historic Ties to Japan


As a landlocked state with a cuisine that is more apt to include corn and beef than rice and raw fish, it would be easy to assume that Colorado and Japan have little in common. While Japanese- Americans make up less than 1% of the state’s population, bilateral ties and exchanges in fact run quite deep. One geographic similarity the two areas share is high, snowy mountains – a fact not lost on the owners of ski resorts in both countries.

Vail Resorts Company’s ski passes includes skiing at Colorado’s Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Arapahoe Basin, and Keystone ski resorts, and as of the 2014-2015 ski season, their Epic Pass also includes five complimentary days of skiing at Niseko United ski resort in Japan. Similarly, Niseko United Pass holders are also entitled to five days of complimentary lift tickets to any of Vail Resorts’ locations. With daily direct flights from Denver to Tokyo Narita, these reciprocity agreements should help winter tourism on both sides of the Pacific.

Ties are not limited to winter recreation, however. Denver also hosts several Japanese cultural events throughout the year. This past January, Denver was one of the few cities in the United States to host a Kōhaku Uta Gassen. Translating as “red white song battle,” it is traditionally a singing competition between two teams, red for women, and white for men. The team with the most points wins a trophy. Denver’s Kōhaku tradition goes back 40 years, and now includes a variety of songs, including Japanese rock and American pop standards, as well as taiko drumming and Japanese dancing. Denver also hosted its first Japanese Kite Festival last summer.

In Colorado Springs, the Japanese America Society of Southern Colorado hosts a mochitsuki ceremony to ring in the Japanese New Year. Mochitsuki involves making glutinous rice cakes, known as mochi, to symbolize health and prosperity for the upcoming year. Each January, visitors to this event can participate in the traditional mochi making process, and over 200 people participated in 2014.

With seven sister city partnerships to locations in Japan and one sister state partnership shared with Yamagata Prefecture, the Centennial State’s connections across the Pacific are clearly robust, and still growing.

Nina Geller is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a recent graduate of the Monterey Institute of International Studies.