Niseko day 1 and 2

March 3rd, 2011

We arrived in Niseko after a slow two-car local train ride. We had been told to get off at the Hirafu station, which incidentally is in the middle of nowhere and has no station master (just a VERY talkative cat). Thank goodness we had a Japan Rentaphone (highly recommended for times like this) as we were able to call the hotel to come pick us up.

We stayed at the Kimamaya, the oldest house in Niseko recently converted into a modern boutique hotel. They left the old exposed beams in the ceiling, painted the walls black and installed some wooden Finnish pendant lights.

We left our hotel to take a walk around the Hirafu area of Niseko. As you can see, snow removal is a big issue in these parts!

Incidentally, that group of people by the orange sign were having a crazy 1.5 hour long bbq session.

We didn’t really know what to expect, but based on everything we read in Monocle, and the New York times (rated Niseko #12 for top places to visit in 2010) I think we built it up in our heads a bit as some pristine nature hot spot.

First off Niseko is a resort town, you can see the development happening all around you, and it seems that most of the Japanese family run businesses around the ski village have been bought out, and replaced by a lesser authentic version, with fluent English speaking and foreign staff. Having this, for better or worse, gives you a different experience when you’re out and about town.

In the beginning we didn’t really like Niseko that much. No one here is Japanese!

First stop was Tozanken, to satisfy our new ramen addiction. It was praised by the hotel staff as being the best ramen in Niseko. We already had the best, so we did our best to keep our expectations low.

We ordered a couple of Sapporos, and noticed that “Specially made Asahikawa Ramen” was on the menu! That sounds perfect.

The ramen was really good! It wasn’t as good as our experience in Asahikawa, maybe because it was quiet in the restaurant because there was nobody slurping! We decided to slurp away and at the end of the meal Juli casually turned to me and announced “Maiuuuuuuuu!”, a phrase Naoto taught us back in Asahikawa, which is another way of saying “That was delicious” and was coined by a TV chef personality. Our server looked at us in amazement, his face lit up and he said “YES! YES! MAUI! That is awesome! YES!” I think we made his year.

Our bellies warmed, we decided to take a long walk around the ski village.

This is the new modernist hotel that we wanted to stay at. To pricey for 3 nights….

An ice block hut, I wonder if they’ll be making rice cakes tonight?

At least the development happening right now for the most part has a beautiful aesthetic. There are dozens of these black modernist chalets here, I wonder if they are all for rent or if people own them?

A Switzerland inspired hotel, that serves fondue for dinner.

This is our hotel! And attached to it is a french restaurant called “The Barn”.

The walls are made from plywood and hanging above us are huge Caravaggio pendant lights from Denmark. We really enjoy French cuisine so we were looking forward to having a good savoury meal. I ordered the beef cheek, and Juli ordered the duck confit.

The dishes were good, but nothing that spectacular and it was too dark to properly document. We took the night off!

The next day we were determined to spend the morning and afternoon skiing, this is the reason everyone travels here (pardon the switch to iphone photos!).

We started off doing a few runs in the green area, just to loosen up and gain a bit of confidence.

Soon we were becoming a bit more adventurous. Neither of us are pro skiers, but being on a mountain forces you to get out of your comfort zone even if it is only for 50 meters, the higher you go on the lifts the more and more fun you have.

The view of Mt. Yotei.

We gave up skiing after only 4 hours, and headed to the “Abu-Cha Bakery” to get some treats and a coffee. Everything is baked here, and hit the spot.

The coffee came with a cute little wooden spoon.

The interior is warm and cozy with pine paneled walls, and rough timber beams.

At night this place turns into an Izakaya, one of the busiest Izakayas in all of Japan.

We stopped in at the cafe above J Sekka hotel, another modern hotel. Yes, going from one cafe to another is a little excessive but that’s what vacations are for!

This is a great place to try some familiar foods with local Niseko ingredients, but it also has a little grocery store inside.

A taste of Hokkaido.

We opted to have the crab and pork burger with Hokkaido potato fries. It was delicious, but we felt that we should have tried “The Taste of Hokkaido”.

If there was a moment where we started to really like Niseko, it was when we entered Ezo Seafoods. The bar is run by James Gallagher and features Hokkaido sea food brought in fresh daily.

Fresh Akkeshi Oysters and hairy crab.

The space is warm and cozy, the perfect spot after a day of skiing.

Fresh shrimp!

We started with an order of Hokkaido oysters.

My personal favorite was the local Hairy crab which was sweet and delicate, it was perfect without any soy sauce.

The next platter was a daily special, marbled tuna sashimi.

I took it upon myself after talking a bit more with James to order another platter of oysters, these specific Akkeshi Oysters fetch a really high price at restaurants in Tokyo. The one in the photo was the deepest James has ever seen! They were even better than the first platter.

We started talking about why we were traveling Hokkaido, and our store name came up. James gave us the “Drink Milkland Hokkaido” water pitcher to use during our meal.

Juli’s favorite dish of the night was our last dish, a whole fish steamed with garlic and ginger sauce on the side. It was simply perfect.

If you ever visit Niseko, this is a must visit restaurant.

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