If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas (and who isn’t?), nothing beats a holiday season spent in Niseko. Year after year, Japan’s best loved ski resort is ranked as one of the snowiest resorts in the world, which also makes it the perfect spot to celebrate Christmas and ring in the New Year. We talked to Powderlife’s Masha Simonow to get the inside scoop on the best things to do in Niseko this holiday season.
Hi Masha – First off: Does Christmas exist in Niseko?
Christmas is a little different in Japan and it’s not such a major event as you might be used to experiencing back home. But you can really see Japan embracing western Christmas traditions and since Niseko is getting more and more international, there are plenty of holiday events organised throughout the resort.
Where can you get a good Christmas meal in Niseko?
Most of the Japanese restaurants in Niseko don’t serve anything particularly Christmassy, but some of the Western restaurants do. As Christmas menus aren’t all that common in Niseko, booking ahead is crucial. Some of the restaurants which have already announced their special Christmas menus for 2017 include La Villa Lupicia and the Michelin-starred restaurant Kamimura. If you’re bringing the kids, The Vale Bar & Grill will also offer a special kids’ menu.
Will Santa visit Niseko?
Yes! All the ski resorts and some of the local hotels will have their own resident Santa Claus. You’ll find Santa posing for photos and noting down Christmas wishes at places like The Vale Niseko, Hanazono 308, Ki Niseko Hotel and AYA Niseko Hotel.
This being Niseko, you can also spot Santa hitting the slopes and handing out candy. You can catch “shredding Santa” on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at all four Niseko resorts: Annapuri, Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu and Hanazono.
Besides meeting Santa, are there any fun activities for the kids during the holidays?
Some of the resorts organise family-friendly activities during the holiday season. The Vale Niseko offers craft activities for the kids and Santa and his elves are also making an appearance on Christmas Eve. They also serve mulled wine for the parents!
Also on Christmas Eve, Hilton Niseko Village organises gingerbread house making and kids get to pose with Santa’s reindeer. Niseko Village and Grand Hirafu resorts also organise fireworks on Christmas Eve, usually at a child-friendly hour.
What about New Year’s in Niseko?
New Year, or “shougatsu” is a big deal for the Japanese – it’s essentially what Christmas is to westerners. This is when you spend time with the family and it’s one of the very few occasions when most businesses in Japan are closed.
There are plenty of familiar New Year’s activities available in Niseko – including champagne, fireworks and a classic New Year’s countdown at all the resorts – but it’s also a great time to get to know the local traditions.
What are some of the more unique New Year’s events taking place in Niseko?
Breaking the sake cask is definitely one of the more unique New Year’s traditions in Niseko! On January first, local resorts and hotels break open a wooden sake cask and the New Year is celebrated by sharing free sake. Hanazono 308 restaurant gets started bright and early, with the grand cask-breaking festivities starting at 10 am. Another traditional New Year’s activity is mochi (rice cake) making, which is available at Niseko Alpen Hotel and The Vale Niseko Hotel on January first.
What about skiing – any special events during the holidays?
There are some fun activities taking place on Niseko’s slopes during the holiday season. Besides the skiing Santas at Christmas time, Niseko Annapuri Resort offers free night time skiing on New Year’s Eve until 11.15 pm. The atmosphere is always super festive and you can stick around afterwards to watch the fireworks at midnight.
One of the greatest spectacles is the fire torch skiing which takes place at the Grand Hirafu and Annapuri resorts on New Year’s Eve. This is a local tradition where volunteers form the numbers of the coming year with fire torches and then ski down the mountain. The idea is that the last person hits the base at midnight – cue fireworks!
Any other insider tips for making the most of the holidays in Niseko?
If you’re staying in a private chalet for Christmas, you might want to make the space look and feel a little more Christmassy. 100 yen stores like Daiso and CanDo offer a great selection of decorations leading up to the holidays. You’ll also find some novelty holiday items in local convenience stores and supermarkets. It’ll be that much easier to get into the holiday spirit surrounded by some seasonal decorations – and plenty of powder snow of course!