Niseko is known as one of Hokkaido's most cosmopolitan holiday resorts. It's a place where visitors can enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities all year round - rafting or trekking in summer and skiing or snowboarding in winter. Currently, there are five Coordinators for International Relations (CIR) living in Niseko, who come from China, Germany, Malaysia, or the United States.
So what is it about Niseko that appeals to non-Japanese residents like these ones? We asked them about their experiences in Niseko, recommended places of interest, and favorite foods and received some interesting responses.
Main image courtesy of Masakazu Yoshida
- Table of Contents
- Introducing our five Coordinators for International Relations!
- 1) Soga Shrine: A cultural vestige of the pioneer generation
- 2) Sakuragaoka Park: From a narrow forest trail into a boundless panorama
- 3) Niseko Pizza Kutchan: As authentic as pizzas come
- 5) Niseko Cheese: A true taste of the dairy kingdom
- 5) Shiribetsu River: Having fun with an uncommon type of water sport - SUP!
- 6) Shinsen-numa: A mystical marsh that reflects its surroundings
- 7) Jungle Brothers: Absolutely try the soup curry sold here!
- 8) Kiranoyu Spa: Pamper yourself for just 500 yen
- 9) Niseko Farm Produce: Better-tasting ingredients cultivated in a harsh climate
- 10) Annupuri: Be amazed by the sight of Mount Yotei from a vantage point
- The more time you spend in Niseko, the more you'll start loving it!
Introducing our five Coordinators for International Relations!
・Mr. Emanuel Neubauer (first from left)
Emanuel was born in Berlin, the capital of Germany. He majored in Japanese studies while at the Free University of Berlin. He was deeply moved by the beauty of Niseko's natural world when he first set eyes on it, and strives to promote German culture to the world beyond its delicious beer and succulent sausages.
・Ms. Mei Guannan (second from left)
Mei is from the province of Hebei in China. Because of her mother's love for Japanese drama series and fashion trends, she developed a deep interest in Japan from youth.
・Mr. Michael Burns (center)
Born in Kansas, United States, Michael decided to major in Japanese after attending a lecture on the Japanese language during his first year in college. He is very interested in the history and literature of Japan during the Edo period (1600 to 1868).
・Mr. Mitchel Lange (second from right)
Mitchel is from Seattle, United States. He began taking an interest in Japan at a young age due to the influence of a friend in the States, leading to him studying abroad in a Japanese university. Upon graduation, he applied to be a CIR in search of opportunities to conduct international exchanges.
・Ms. Ho Lee Shing (first from right)
Nicknamed Lily, Lee Shing was born in tropical Malaysia where there is no changing of seasons, so this is her first time staying in a place with a cold climate. As a CIR, her dream is to organize cooking workshops as a form of intercultural exchange.
Now for what you've all been waiting for: Their recommendations on where to go for the best that Niseko has to offer. Enjoy the list, and we hope you'll find something that tickles your fancy here!
1) Soga Shrine: A cultural vestige of the pioneer generation
Michael: "Although Niseko is a small town with a population of about 5,000, it has a surprisingly large number of shrines. One of them is Soga Shrine, located deep inside a forest, making it the perfect spot to enjoy nature and a unique type of mystical energy that can only be experienced in Japan. To get to the shrine, you need to cross over a pretty long bridge, which in itself is a different type of experience too!"
Soga Shrine is about a 30-minute walk from Niseko Station. The shrine building is surrounded by greenery and there's a portrait of Baron Soga, the man who developed what is now known as the Soga district during the Meiji era, hanging in the hallway as well, illustrating how deeply linked the shrine is to its location, both historically and culturally.
- Address 127, Niseko Town, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido 048-1522
Phone number: None
Business hours: None
Closed: Open all year round
2) Sakuragaoka Park: From a narrow forest trail into a boundless panorama
Michael / Mitchel: "Sakuragaoka Park is a quick 2-minute walk from Niseko Station, and the great views here are not to be missed. What happens is that you'll walk up the slope of a low hill that cuts through a forest, which then opens up to an impressive sight of the Niseko Volcanic Group once you emerge from between the trees. The hiking trail is very well-maintained, so everyone of all ages can use it comfortably. The path does have quite a number of different forks, though, so plan well and be careful that you don't get lost!"
The park is a veritable haven of colorful flowers during early spring, and you can expect to see the hilly slopes covered in a light shade of pink and bluish-purple from plants and herbs like the Asian fawnlily and corydalis fumariifolia during this time.
- Address Chuo-do, Niseko Town, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido 048-1512
3) Niseko Pizza Kutchan: As authentic as pizzas come
Michael: "There are many people of Italian descent in the United States, which naturally results in plenty of shops with delicious Italian fare, but I just wanted to say Niseko Pizza is every bit as delicious as the food served in those restaurants. I'm personally satisfied with what they have. My grandmother was an immigrant from Italy, and she often made Italian cuisine for us, so I think I would know a thing or two about the authentic Italian taste!"
Niseko Pizza is an Italian restaurant serving more than 30 types of pizza, pasta, and delectable desserts, amongst other items. It's about 15 minutes away from Kutchan Station on foot. This shop first opened for business in 2011, and currently has a branch in Iwanai Town as well.
Niseko Pizza Kutchanニセコピザ 倶知安店
- Address 1-1 Minami 6-jo Higashi, Kutchan Town, Hokkaido 044-0016
- Phone Number 0136-55-6655
Hours: 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Closed: Open daily
5) Niseko Cheese: A true taste of the dairy kingdom
Emanuel / Michael: "There's a lot of good cheese in America, so I was disappointed when I couldn't find the right cheese for my palate when I first came to Japan - until Ni-seko happened. The cheese factories here create a variety of unique products. Don't forget about the area's craft beer as well. They're the perfect match for Niseko's cheese products!"
There are three cheese factories in Niseko Town itself, each one focused on pursuing a unique, defining taste in their cheese products, all made with high-quality raw milk. You can either purchase cheese directly from the factories or buy them from hotel shops and roadside stations like Niseko View Plaza.
5) Shiribetsu River: Having fun with an uncommon type of water sport - SUP!
Mei: "Niseko's Shiribetsu River is more well-known for rafting activities, but I would recommend trying out standup paddleboarding (SUP) here instead. This is a sport where you stand on a board slightly bigger than a surfboard and paddle across the water surface as if you're taking a stroll across the river. And one of the best views of Niseko's great outdoors can only be seen from above water! The water in Shiribetsu River is clear and of excellent quality, so you can see right through the surface to the bottom! During autumn, the river also allows visitors to observe salmon runs."
Because Shiribetsu River is a great place to take in the natural sights and sounds of Niseko, there are plenty of water cruises and activities to be enjoyed here, including the SUP that Mei mentioned.
Besides its novelty, this increasingly popular activity is also touted for giving participants an exhilarating sense of floating that no other sport can claim to offer. Check out the packages offered by the various nature tour companies around the Niseko area to find and sign up for any special activity that catches your attention!
6) Shinsen-numa: A mystical marsh that reflects its surroundings
Lily: "This is the most beautiful and mysterious marsh in the Niseko mountain range, located on a plateau 750 meters (about 2,460 feet) above sea level. The amazing thing about this place is that when you visit on fair weather days, you can't help but wonder if this is really a marsh, because the waters are so calm and clear that they reflect the surrounding landscape like a mirror."
Toyomatsu Shimoda, the first Chief Scout of Japan, was the one who discovered the marsh, and he named it Shinsen-numa, which means "a marsh where gods and sennin (immortals) live" because of its beauty and tranquility. Today, there is a walking trail around the marsh that is 1,388 meters (about 4,553 feet) long that visitors can use for some easy trekking while taking in the sights.
- Address Maeda, Kyowa-Town, Iwanai-gun, Hokkaido 048-2201 048-2201
7) Jungle Brothers: Absolutely try the soup curry sold here!
All: "In Kutchan Town, there's a restaurant known as Jungle Brothers that has plenty of original Chinese cuisine and curry dishes on their menu, designed to appeal to an international crowd. The soup curry comes highly recommended from us. The pot of soup contains a balanced mix of ingredients, such as chicken meat, pork bones, and a whole lot of vegetables. We sometimes go to this restaurant together because of that!"
Jungle Brothers is a trendy dining bar located along the street just in front of Kutchan Station. Besides Chinese cuisine and the soup curry mentioned above, they also serve delicious set meals with generous portions and deep-fried finger foods.
- Address 1-2, Nishi, Kutchan Town, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido 044-0051
- Phone Number 0136-55-8127
Hours: 11:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. (last order 2:00 p.m.); 6:00 p.m. – midnight (last order for food 10:00 p.m.)
8) Kiranoyu Spa: Pamper yourself for just 500 yen
Emanuel / Michael / Mitchel: "While there are plenty of hot springs to be found in the Niseko area, in terms of convenience, Kiranoyu Spa that's located right in front of Niseko Station just can't be beat. To top it off, admission is a very reasonable 500 yen for adults! As you can probably guess, this spa is frequented by many non-Japanese Niseko residents."
Inside the building, Western-style jacuzzi baths and Japanese-style cypress baths are rotated daily. Each style comes with a large public indoor bath, a refreshing open-air outdoor bath, and a Finnish sauna. Whichever one you get during your visit, you can be sure that it's bound to take all your fatigue for the day away.
- Address 33, Chuo-do, Niseko Town, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido 048-1512
- Phone Number 0136-44-1100
Hours: 10:00 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. (last entry 9:00 p.m.)
Admission: Adults 500 yen; Minors 250 yen; Infants enter for free
Closed: Every second and fourth Wednesday of the month (the next day if this falls on a holiday)
*Open daily in the months of August, September, and October
9) Niseko Farm Produce: Better-tasting ingredients cultivated in a harsh climate
Lily: "Niseko produces high-quality agricultural food items, such as potatoes and corn, that can be used as ingredients to make delicious meals of all sorts. Many long-term foreign visitors stay in condominiums with cooking spaces, so wherever possible, I would always recommend them to try their hands at whipping up a home-cooked meal or two with some of Niseko's freshest farm produce."
Niseko's climate can swing between extremes even within the same day, but this temperature change produces sweet and great-tasting fresh vegetables and fruits that can be purchased from the direct sales sections of roadside stations like Niseko View Plaza, markets in town, supermarkets, or the unmanned stores located along the farm roads.
10) Annupuri: Be amazed by the sight of Mount Yotei from a vantage point
Mitchell: "To get the most out of your mountain hiking during summer, take the gondola all the way up to the mid-point of Annupuri and continue from there. During June, when there are lesser clouds in the sky, you'll be treated to the sight of Mount Yotei from afar, with a few lingering strips of unmelted snow still visible around its peak. You can only fully appreciate the beauty of the scene by experiencing it personally."
Annupuri is one of the more well-known mountains among the Niseko Volcanic Group. At the height of 1,308 meters (about 4,291 feet) above sea level, the view from the peak is always breathtaking.
On clear days, you'll be able to spot Mount Yotei and the Sea of Japan in the distance. You can choose to make your way up slowly from the foot of the mountain while enjoying the natural sights along the way, or feel free to make use of the Annupuri Gondola or Hirafu Gondola so as to save some energy for more sightseeing on the mountaintop.
Either way, the mountain is well-equipped to allow people of all ages to enjoy themselves in the way that suits them best.
- Address 485 Niseko, Niseko Town, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido 048-1511
- Phone Number 0136-58-2080
Hours: 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (from late July to early October)
Admission: Adults 1,300 yen; Minors 650 yen (round trip)
The more time you spend in Niseko, the more you'll start loving it!
One interesting thing we've learned is that all five CIRs interviewed in this article had no idea Niseko existed until they were assigned to it.
Nevertheless, they acclimatized quickly to life in the area and are now enjoying their stay to the full and participating in various local activities all year round.
With beautiful nature, great-tasting food, relaxing hot springs, and more to look forward to in Niseko, it's certainly not without reason that many tout it as one of the world's best cosmopolitan holiday resorts! Come visit and be pleasantly surprised by what the town of Niseko has to offer!
Text by: Masakazu
English translation by: Huimin Pan
The information in this article is current as of March 2021. Please check official websites for the latest information before visiting.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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