It is no wonder why tourists from all over the world flock to Niseko during winter. For children, it’s like a scene from the movie Frozen – it feels like they are in a constant snow globe, with snow as light as air. Adults on the other hand, are thrilled with a powderlife break – getting fresh tracks of world-class powder with half-meter dumps daily.
Niseko has definitely come a long way when the only sort of accommodation was the chambre-d’hote style offered by the local farmhouses and one restaurant every other kilometre. It is becoming a destination of choice, and tourists throng this vibrant village.
But what if we told you that you could escape the constant tourists chatter, and live like a local? It’s time for us to share five of our best-kept secrets, so that you’ll enjoy Niseko as much as we do.
5 Best Kept Secrets About Niseko
Secret number #1: Forget about big commercial onsens
Big onsens located in a mainstream hotel? So 2000’s. It’s time to get down with the locals.
Tucked nearby a carpark at the Lower Hirafu Village, Onsen Yukoro is one of our favourites. This is one of the older and more traditional Japanese onsens you will find, and it is in a perfect location – a ten-minute walk down the hill from fresh powder.
The onsen features both an indoor and a tranquil outdoor setting with high walls and snow-laden boulders. You will definitely relish the experience of the outdoor bath when it’s snowing, with great views of the mountain range draping the clearing. Even better – you are served wine or beer while soaking in! Now, who would not want that?
Location: Lower Hirafu Village
Price: Approximately 700JPY (adults), 300JPY (children)
Secret number #2: Pub Izakaya crawl
Wander down the alleyways and keep your eye out for Izakayas (Japanese taverns). The lack of street lamps and their small doors make these little Japanese establishments a little tough to spot during winter with the mounds of snowfall.
Izakaya dining is probably one of the most enjoyable experiences you will have in Niseko. As it is very much like a tapas-gastro-tavern, you must be prepared to sit for hours chatting with family or friends over good authentic Japanese food and drinks.
When you’ve hit the sweet spot, try an Izakaya crawl. Tuck into an Izakaya for night, and then into another one for “one more” and to another for a “night cap”. It may not seem like a great idea the next morning when you have discovered one of the best Sake’s in town – the Niseko brewed Sake (featured). Made from 100% rice grown in Niseko, it tastes too good and goes down way to easy. Kampai!
Secret number #3: Get off the beaten track and enter snow-world
We know that Hirafu and surrounding ski areas are cool, but it sees too many tourists in any given day. What if we told you that you could have the entire hill almost to yourself?
Located about an hour drive from Hirafu, Kiroro flies under the radar as compared to famous ski resorts close by. It is in a heavy snowfall area with an average base of four meters or more per season. Elevated at 1,180m above sea level, the 21 runs has an equal spread of green, blue and black piste, making it every skiers dream. Snowboarders will enjoy the several half pipes and Grand Line, while beginners will relish the Powder Line which is famed among locals. The real deal for fun can be found in the trees, with new members areas opening up each season for amazing off-piste and previously un-opened bowls.
The views are mind-blowing and you can enjoy the serenity with fewer loudspeaker announcements as compared to what you will hear at established ski resorts.
Secret number #4: It can be summer love
Niskeo is famed for its winter, but have you taken a look at its beauty in summer?
For one, luxury properties such as The Glasshouse and The Loft are known to slash their prices phenomenally and the area turns into a paradise for summer outdoor adventure sports. Hiking surrounding mountain ranges, downhill and road biking, white water rafting, and some of Japan’s best golf resorts all within a short drive, Niseko makes a great holiday option all year round!
Keep your eyes peeled for groups of locals known as “Genghis Khans” – you will be sure to spot them camping or smell their delicious cooking! Natives of Hokkaido refer to the activity of barbequing meat and vegetables as Genghis Khan – of course a popular pastime famous during the summer. If you’re here, you must try and get catering from a few Genghis Khan’s and leave it to them to work their magic. These guys will set up the grill, bring the meat, utensils and clean up afterwards.
Japanese food is always ravishing – and you can overdose on how much sushi and ramen available when you are here. But thank us later – have you tried the curry soup as an alternative? It is one of the specialities in Hokkaido, bringing out the rich flavours of curry, although in a thinner soup.
Curry Goya has perfected this over 28 years. Located in a quaint cottage just outside Hirafu, its deep, spice blend curry soup has won the hearts of many locals over the years. You can also take home some of their award-winning pre-packaged curry to relive your dining experience or make friends jealous when they have tasted what you have missed.
Location: Map F4 / 0136 23 3688
Opening hours: 11.30am-4pm
Recommended: Chicken and vegetable soup curry or Niseko potato croquettes and veg soup curry from 1,200JPY
That’s all the secrets we can share for now… we have got to keep a few for ourselves! You have been most hospitable Japan, sayonara until next time.