I “heart” Niseko, Japan

Pua 07 January 2010 17 comments

Mount Yotei

I’ve just returned from two blissful weeks of respite from Hong Kong’s urban chaos spent in Niseko, Japan—which has become a holiday tradition of sorts, insofar as tradition in today’s hyper-paced world constitutes something that happens more than twice.

I love Niseko—and not in the trite way people often “love” the million and one things they casually gush this phrase at. I mean I really love it—in the same way I will always love the visual spectacle of Fall leaves in the Carleton Arboretum in Northfield, Minnesota, and as distinctly as the smell of coal burning furnaces on a crisp day in the high deserts of Paonia, Colorado (a waft of smoke I hold near and dear), and with nearly the depth of emotion stirred while watching Mauna Kea’s colors burn bright and then fade at sunset.

View from the Hirafu Ski Area

Maybe it’s the sea of deep snow that stretches miles to the coast, tugging on my Nordic heartstrings, or perhaps it’s Hirafu Village’s intensely welcoming vibe—the fragrant kane ramen prepared at Hanazono 308 with ritualistic and rhythmic care by at least 3 pairs of local hands is definitely part of it, as is the virgin powder waiting patiently 20 minutes uphill in Strawberry Fields; and the epic knee-deep runs, weaving in and out of trees, across scenic ridges and down through long white ravines. The day’s end, spent stripping away muscle fatigue in the serene Yukuro outdoor onsen (said to contain the spirits of Mount Yotei and Mount Annupuri), under snowy and steamy skies, and the rare and potent Japanese whisky you sip afterwards in the cozy and hip Bar Gyu—from wide glasses fitted perfectly with house-made spheres of ice—are also critical components of the love affair.

Yokuro Onsen

But it’s more than that. It’s the gracious Western window Niseko gives you into Japan—that inspires you to whip out your English to Japanese dictionary and invokes an involuntary bow and wide smile when entering or exiting local establishments. It’s the sleek minimalist architecture, hinting at the culture’s coveted modesty—that has been entirely lost on the Vails and Aspens of the world. Not to mention the phenomenal overflowing of locally sourced fare, cleverly woven into buttery and deliciously dirty curry burgers (Lumberjack’s), Spanish caviar & snow egg tartare of Hokkaido salmon (Kamimura), grilled pork belly skewers (Rin), crispy fried octopus (Senchou) and fresh hotate on the half shell simmering in butter and its own sweet juices over a candle burner (Abucha).

Ice Bar

And yet, none of this quite gets at what it really is about Niseko that I love. Perhaps it’s the deep connection between Japan and Hawaii (my real home when I’m not playing expat). Or that it reminds me of one of my other favorite places in the world, Crested Butte, Colorado. Or maybe it’s simply the intangible—a feeling without a name that a certain crossroads of longitude and latitude gives a person, for both explicable yet deeply inexplicable reasons.



I am a writing and traveling enthusiast based in Hong Kong, with a weakness for all things related to the culinary arts and healing modalities (like yoga), and a passion for sustainable living. I was born and raised on the Big Island of Hawaii, and have been greatly influenced by the Islands' brilliant cultural and gastronomic diversity.

17 Comments For This Post

  1. akoh77 akoh77 Says:

    Nice pics. i haven’t gone this season yet but now i feel i must! bring on strawberry fields and Abu Cha!

  2. mjrosen3 mjrosen3 Says:

    I encourage everyone to head to Niseko in the summer as well. Great hiking, cayaking and surfing (beach isn’t far). It’s a bit of a ghost town, but I actually liked that aspect…very chill and serene.

  3. pow1976 pow1976 Says:

    Give me a Niseko powder day and lumberjacks curry and i will be a happy man

  4. kricord kricord Says:

    Enjoyed this post! I felt as if I took a mini-Vacation….beautiful photos Love to the tiny author…

  5. ggberry ggberry Says:

    I am not a winter sport fan and I always tried to avoid winter holidays but I guess that Niseko is “a must” for skiers who travel in Hokkaido? Mount Yotei at night in Niseiko should be very lovely. It’s good to know that there’s not only Sapporo. Yeah mjrosen3, summer and autumn in Niseko should be also great! Think, this place should be famous for flashpackers?

  6. cdkelley cdkelley Says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Discovered Niseko for the first time back in 2000 while studying in Sapporo for the year before it was on most folks’ radar. Great piece. Now itching to go back. . .

  7. Aor Pichayanee Aor Pichayanee Says:

    Heard that it’s “Capital of Powder” ;)

  8. ccnw ccnw Says:

    Oh Niseko, I miss you. I miss Strawberry Fields, I miss hiking to the summit on bluebird days, I really miss Kani Ramen, I miss Van Houten hot chocolate out of the vending machines, I really miss the co-ed onsen w/ ice-cold Asahi beers, and I miss crazy times with Hong Kong friends on and off the slopes. Thanks for the memories Pua!

  9. sbinch sbinch Says:


    Absolutely adore your descriptions and feel captivated.
    I believe Sherri and friends must make the journey!

  10. DDM DDM Says:

    Great read…think this may be the story that finally motivates me to make that trip to Japan that i have delayed forever.

  11. Monsicha Hoonsuwan Monsicha Hoonsuwan Says:

    @DDM, I cannot agree with you more. I’m going to Japan this spring, finally. I already have a list of places I should visit, but now Pua just adds Niseko to my list. I don’t know if I’ll make it, but it sounds like an inspiring place to be.

  12. Jean Pierri Jean Pierri Says:

    Dear Pua,

    I am so glad to read this blog written by you. . I felt the connection with Niseko, and As Half japonese, I am looking forward to vitit Niseko .. Keep the snow Alive. Please come to Brazil to write about this wonderful country . Best Wishes,

    God bless you all.

    Jean Pierri Magario

  13. RJtravels RJtravels Says:

    Great shots and a nice post! Really makes me want to go there! Looking forward to more travel reports soon!

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