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Chinese New Year in Niseko

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Japan is fast growing as one of the world’s top destinations for the Lunar New Year holiday period. Boasting an immersive culture ripe with unique food, dress, sightseeing and tours, travellers can enjoy free reign of boutique shopping and dining experiences as well as some of the world’s most exceptional ski resorts. It’s business as usual during Chinese New Year in the country, so there’s no need to worry about locked doors at your favourite shopping brands or tour operators.

Located only one-hour time difference from Hong Kong and Singapore, travellers can find themselves in the country’s northernmost capital of Sapporo city – situated in Hokkaido – on the same day they boarded and without any jetlag woes. From here a rich world of culinary options present themselves with the region’s famously fresh local produce and seafood providing some of Japan’s most delightful Michelin star dishes.

 A Winter Wonderland

Northern Japan’s snowy conditions over the New Year make for some unforgettable sights and memories with dozens of modern ski fields in operation across the region, most notably Niseko Resort located two hours drive from Sapporo. This resort has enjoyed a steady rise to fame over the past couple of decades with its consistently deep and unbelievably light powder snow attracting ski enthusiasts from around the globe.

Driven by this massive boom in tourism, Niseko has become one of Japan’s fastest growing property markets with ambitious projects emerging each season from international developers such as Hyatt and SC Global. Niseko now leads the charge as one of Japan’s most well-developed resorts with the infrastructure and services to match.

Snow & Ice Festivals

Many winter festivals in Japan coincide with the New Year travel period, most notably the Sapporo Snow Festival. Operating for more than 70 years, this event attracts millions of visitors each season to view the city transformed by a blanket of sparkling lights as well as immense, expertly-crafted snow and ice sculptures. Take a break from the ski slopes and enjoy this stunning attraction in the heart of Sapporo City – the boutique capital of Hokkaido!

 Luxury and Comfort

Accommodation options in Japanese resorts range from quaint and full of cultural character, to the ultimate in luxury. Niseko accommodation is no exception; where travellers enjoying a winter escape range from adventure thrill-seekers simply in need of a place to rest their head, to CEO’s, celebrities, and government officials seeking a luxe retreat with striking panoramic views and plenty of life’s pleasures close at hand.

Activities and Facilities

There’s no shortage of sights and activities to keep everyone entertained during your winter escape. Even if you’re not a ski or snowboard enthusiast, the wide range of cultural tours, shrines and castles, restaurants and off-snow activities are enough to keep the whole family entertained.

One of Japan’s most popular ways to relax is to immerse oneself in a natural hot-spring.

Childminding services, play and recreation areas, and ski lessons catering to kids such as NBS’s Kids Club program are abundant for those travelling with families.
Whether you’re looking for the ultimate escape with family and friends over Chinese New Year, a quiet retreat with your spouse, or are just feeling spontaneous; SkiJapan.com have comprehensive package options at resorts all across Japan to suit your every need. Contact the SkiJapan family today!

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Guide to Kutchan Dining – Eating out in Hokkaido’s Snowiest Town

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The food in Japan is unlike anywhere else on earth and is a huge drawcard for travellers from across the globe. Niseko is known for having some of the best restaurants of any ski town in Japan, but you might be surprised that there are even more, great restaurants right next door in the town of Kutchan.

Kutchan is one of Hokkaido’s snowiest towns, and hosts around a hundred different restaurants – all offering something different, and each charming in their own way. Getting to Kutchan is easy, simply get a bus from the main bus stop in Hirafu or the Hirafu Welcome centre.

Modern – Sekka Lab

Sekka Lab is one of Kutchan’s most modern dining experiences, offering elegant dishes that embrace locally grown produce as well as the best of Hokkaido’s famous seafood. The omakase course (chef’s choice) is always a great choice with five of the best dishes chosen by the head chef himself. Sekka Lab is located on the main street that runs perpendicular to Kutchan’s JR station.

International – Taj Mahal

Niseko is a very international town, and with that comes excellent international food! Taj Mahal is an Indian restaurant serving authentic Indian curry alongside freshly baked naan bread. An absolute crowd pleaser with lots of options including vegan-friendly curries. They have two main branches – one halfway between Hirafu and Kutchan on Route 5, and another in Annupuri.

Bar – Seventh Heaven

There is no shortage of bars in Kutchan, but one of the most fun and lively is Seventh Heaven. There’s darts, beer and even nomihodai (all you can drink) on offer with incredibly friendly and accommodating staff on hand to refill your glass as often as you like. Located in Kutchan’s central nightlife district, this fun bar is one to remember.

Sushi – Sato

Hokkaido is said to have the best seafood in all of Japan, and there’s no better way to enjoy fresh fish than with sushi. Sato is easily one of the best sushi restaurants in the Niseko area, and even recently was listed on the Michelin guide. The omakase set is highly recommended, with the chef selecting only the best and freshest cuts of sushi.

Ramen – Nakama Ramen

Nakama Ramen is a local favourite, with slices of juicy, thick cut roast pork with a hearty broth and delicious noodles. They offer the usual ramen flavours (salt, soy and miso) as well as signature flavours such as ume (plum), and a spicy broth. They also have homemade gyoza (dumpling) including kimchi gyoza – definitely a must try. Find Nakama Ramen on Ekimae Avenue, perpendicular to the Kutchan JR station.

Soup Curry – Markie Curry

Soup Curry is Hokkaido’s signature dish, and is hugely popular for its unique flavours and ability to warm you from the inside out – perfect for winter! One of Kutchan’s best and only dedicated soup curry restaurant is Markie Curry, located on Route 5 right near M Pocket supermarket. In Hirafu, soup curry can be found at Tsubara Tsubara in Izumikyo. This unique dish is highly recommended for any visitor to Hokkaido.

Hotcakes – Za Hotcakes

Za Hotcakes is one of the coolest restaurants in town. The tiny store makes both sweet and savoury hotcakes, delicately prepared and infused with unique flavours influenced by the four seasons. This cosy store is a must visit if you’re after something sweet, unique, and even a new Instagram post. Za Hotcakes is located right near Kutchan JR station on the main street.

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Burgers – Paddy Daddy

Great burgers are a global favourite; no matter where you’re from, you can’t say “no” to a good burger. Patty Daddy is Kutchan’s dedicated burger store with a cosy interior decorated in Americana and offers a range of unique and delicious burgers. They make all the meat patties in-house, and offer craft beers on tap. Find Patty Daddy’s just north of Kutchan JR station near the 711.

Fusion – Bagus Café

While Kutchan might be a small town, it is full of locals who love international travel, surfing, snowboarding and all the great things life has to offer. Bagus Café offers a fusion of Japanese and Southeast Asian cuisine; the food inspired by a love of surfing and a relaxed lifestyle. This restaurant is a favourite, so try to book in advance. Bagus Café is located in the heart of Kutchan’s nightlife district.

Discover Japan’s best food on an unforgettable ski holiday. Talk to our excellent team today and find out how great it is. Contact us today.

New Year Traditions in Japan

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New Year (shogatsu or oshgatsu) is the most important holiday in Japan, with New Year celebrations being not so much about partying and fireworks but instead about spending time with one’s family and inviting good fortune for the year ahead. There are numerous customs and traditions that are celebrated over the New Year, all unique to Japanese culture.

Toshikoshi soba

Eating soba (Japanese noodles) before midnight on New Years Eve is one of Japan’s most popular New Year’s customs. When soba is made, the dough is stretched out and cut into long thin strips which is believed to promote a long and healthy life. Also, since soba is cut easily, it represents a wish to cut away from the misfortunes of the previous year in order to start a new year afresh.

Kagami-baraki

Mochi (Japanese rice cakes) is made into a special New Year’s decoration called kagami-mochi, formed from two round mochi cakes with a tangerine placed on top. The two rice cakes represent the year being left behind and the new year ahead, and the tangerine represents the continuation of family from one generation to the next.  On 11 January, a special ritual takes place called kagami-baraki which literally translates to “opening the mirror” or “breaking the mochi” where the kagami-mochi is pulled apart by hand or hammer then typically cooked and eaten. This same tradition extends to sake, with casks being opened with a hammer and shared to celebrate the New Year.

Hatsuhinode

New Years is a time of symbolic re-birth in Japan, and the viewing the first sunrise of the year, Hatsuhinode, is believed to have special supernatural powers. Crowds often gather on mountaintops or beaches to enjoy good views and pray for health and family well-being in the new year.

Hatsumode

The first shrine visit of the year, Hatsumode, is a particularly important New Year custom in Japan where family and relatives pray together for a fortunate year ahead. It can be made at any time during the first few days of January, but it’s also common to make the pilgrimage on New Year’s Eve when the temple’s grand bell is rung repeatedly 108 times to signify the end of the old year and the coming of the new. Some of the most popular shrines and temples organise festivities featuring food vendors, omikuji (fortune telling paper strips) and omamori (lucky charms) to wish for safety, good exam results, love and wealth. In Niseko, there is even a special shrine that only opens on New Years Eve.

New Years is a wonderful time to visit Japan and get involved in the celebrations and experience the local culture of the people.

If you want to experience Japan’s stunning culture for yourself, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us here.

5 inspirations to enjoy a White Christmas in Japan

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New Zealand and eastern Australia might be the first countries to enjoy a visit from St. Nick on Christmas Eve, but there’s good reason for him to be dressed for the elements with the island nation of Japan next on the destination list!

The transition between the mid-summer temperatures in Oceania during December and January versus Japan’s stunning winter weather is like night and day, and the opportunity to enjoy a true winter Christmas experience is something most Aussies and Kiwis will have on their bucket list.

Fortunately, travel between Australia and Tokyo only requires winding back the wristwatch a couple of notches, so there’s already plenty of reason to jump at the opportunity for a Northern Winter holiday without worrying about jet lag!

Snow

As one of the world’s top winter destinations, it goes to reason that the snow in Japan is worth travelling for. Japan’s landscape offers an effortless variety of terrain to enjoy; from high altitude alpine skiing with endless runs and challenging vert, to rolling hills of bottomless powder and tight birch forests for the powder hounds and sled necks. With many Hokkaido resorts boasting consistent 15+ meter seasons it’s no surprise that the powder in Japan is the stuff of legends attracting riders from all corners of the globe for a taste of the action.

Hakuba Valley ski resorts receive a huge amount of snow as well, and there is great accommodation in Hakuba that won’t break the budget. If you’ve ever wanted to enjoy a Christmas morning snowball fight Japan is the place for you!

Onsen

Ditch those paddling pools, sunscreen bottles, and sandy jocks; there’s no better way to relax after a day on the mountain than stripping down to your birthday suit to soak in the waters of a relaxing, volcanically heated hot-pool or onsen. Japan’s unique location upon the ominously named Ring of Fire – a vast ridge of volcanic activity surrounding the perimeter of the Pacific region – provides the country with an abundance of natural springs and geo thermal heating opportunities. The naturally heated waters are pumped beneath roads to prevent ice build-up, through drains to melt cleared snow, and to hotels and ryokan for outdoor hot baths.

Certain rules and etiquette must be followed when enjoying the waters in these public baths, but the opportunity is not one to miss – especially during a winter holiday when you can relax in the steamy pools and daydream about what Santa is going to deliver tomorrow as snow flutters all around. Check out this great onsen guide for more info.

Food

We all love good Christmas traditions; large family gatherings with more food than you can eat, followed by enough dessert to sink a ship. While you might not find your usual family favourites on the menu in Japan, the country hosts a wide range of must-try local dishes, as well as a huge array of international Michelin Star cuisine options.

If you’re a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas dinner you can find excellent carvery and pudding buffets at some hotels, as well as hearty roast dishes at selected western pubs located in larger resorts such as Hakuba and Niseko.

If you’re planning to eat out at your resort, ask SkiJapan.com about booking you a seat in advance – no one wants to go hungry on Christmas!

Festivities

Japan is a primarily Shintoist country and the western traditions around Christmas time are not commonly celebrated by locals, however the seasonal vibe can certainly be felt all over the cities and resorts with the sheer amount of decorations that pop up. In Japan, the holiday period is focussed more on the turning of the New Year and most resorts put on excellent New Year’s Eve fireworks displays for the countdown. Sapporo City is also renowned for its stunning light shows during this period.

While you’re not likely to see any Christmas parades braving the cold on the main streets, St Nick frequently makes an appearance at most of the larger resorts – sometimes even with a few reindeer in procession. He’s been spotted every year the day before Christmas taking photos with guests and enjoying some mulled wine and hot chocolate outside NBS in Niseko – as well as popping up all over the country for more cheeky photo ops.

Accommodation

SkiJapan.com has a wide range of accommodation options across Japan resorts, from quaint traditional pensions and ryokan for a more cultural experience, apartments and hotels with varying room numbers to suit groups both large and small, and sprawling luxury penthouse suites with all the mod-cons.

Niseko is a popular option with some of the most diverse accommodation options available of all the Japan resorts; plus being within easy travel distance to Sapporo city makes Christmas shopping in Japan a convenience.

If Hakuba is on your agenda this Christmas and New Year – as it should be, being so close to Tokyo City – then be sure to check in at the Hakuba Gateway Hotel. Located centrally in Happo One and only a few minutes’ walk to the Nakayama Chair Lift. This affordable hotel now features a range of excellent services including NBS Japan’s famous rental and retail facilities, restaurant, and Altitude Physio – one of Australia’s most respected Olympic level physio services. Hakuba Gateway Hotel is well suited for in-resort convenience, and to enjoy the evening fireworks show lighting up the valley on New Year’s Eve.

Whatever your needs for a perfect white Christmas in Japan the team at SkiJapan.com are on hand to provide a personalised quote and take the hassle out of travel – contact us today!

New Years Eve in Japow

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We’re fast approaching the New Year and it’s looking festive all around Japan’s great resorts. It’s not all DJ’s and shandies at your favourite bar, though (although there’re plenty of those!) If you’d like to experience your local resort’s annual celebrations then look no further than our New Years Eve in Japow guide below. Enjoy the first snow of 2018 with a fresh head this year!

NISEKO

20:30 – 23:00 Free night skiing!

23:45 Torch light skiing begins on the Grand Hirafu slopes. Watch from the village as hundreds of participants illuminate the slopes on their descent, followed by a stunning fireworks display.

Midnight – 02:00 “Hatsumoude” – the first Shinto shrine visit of the new year. Visit Yamada Shrine and join the locals in this traditional practice of praying for happiness in the coming year along with free sake and on-site food stalls

RUSUTSU

19:45 ~ Enjoy complimentary hot drinks at the West Mt. before a torchlight parade and fireworks display

23:00 ~ Head to the Cricket Bar for drinks, Bingo and NYE countdown

KIRORO

22:45 – 00:15 Traditional New Year’s soba noodles (Toshikoshi), sake, raffles, and countdown fireworks display at the Tribute Portfolio Hotel

23:00~ Live DJ and sake barrel opening ceremony at Ice Star Bar

TOMAMU

16:00 – 18:00 Toshikoshi soba & Japanese sake service at the Tower Hotel lounge

19:00 – 21:00 Welcome Party and mini concert with free drink at Risonare Hotel

20:00 – 22:00 Free Toshikoshi soba

24:00 Fireworks display at Ice Village 

FURANO

20:00~ Live concert by a Japanese artist in the Chapel of the New Furano Prince Hotel

22:00~ Traditional food stalls, games, music and demonstrations at the base of Furano ski area along with NYE countdown and fireworks display

SAHORO

13:30~ ‘Mochi’ Rice Cake Making

17:30 & 19:30 Restaurant Concert at Sahoro Garden. Bookings necessary.

22:00 – 23:00 Free Toshikoshi Soba

23:30 – 00:30 Countdown Party

HAKUBA

22:00~ Free Night skiing at Happo One Ski Resort, Nakiyama Slope. Hot calpis & sake barrel opening ceremony, costume contests, prizes and fireworks.  Complimentary rice wine and Nagano apple for the first 500 people

NOZAWA ONSEN

23:30 Night skiing extended until 23:30. Complimentary mulled wine and sake while enjoying fireworks display

SHIGA KOGEN

22:00 – 23:30 Torch light skiing at Mt Yakebi No.3 high-Speed lift. Pre-booking required. shiga-rsv@princehotels.co.jp (English OK).