If you have been to Niseko and stayed in Hirafu chances are pretty good you've been to the Burton Store. It is located on the ground floor of the Odin Place building located at the Hirafu Intersection. The store has been open for the last 5 years and it's patronage gorwing in leaps and bounds from season to season. For those who don't know The Burton Store is a snowboard shop selling Burton hard and soft goods with everything you need to outfit yourself for your snowboarding holiday in Niseko and beyond. The shop is run by expat Aussie Justin "Grover" Graves who we catch up with below and find out more about him, the store and his personal shred ready recommendations for the coming winter.
Grover hales from Merwether Beach in Newcastle Australia a classic surf town that was also home to surfing legends such as 4 x world champ Mark Richards, Luke Egan, Matt Hoy and Ryan Callahan. Out of the surf and into the snow Grover first stepped on board way back in 1991 in Charlotte Pass in Asutralia. This was a time that marked his introduction to the sport and was really the begginning for the Australian scene too.
From here Grover went on to spend 15 winters in north America in Colorado and California and then 10 more here in Niseko, the last 5 of which he has lived here year round. He first visited Niseko in 2009 on the way to the US. Niseko first came on the radar for him through Kiwi snowbaord champ Olly Brunton who had just visited and ridden with snowboard legend Terje Haakonsen here. It wasn't until he actually came here until he realised how good it really was. "when I came here I was like holy #$&% this is how much it really snows!"
Grover began in Niseko working as a manager at Rhythm and it was from here the Burton Store was born. Rhythm's snowboard retail section was booming but Grover explained, the space was too limited to accommodate the growth. This was recognised by both the Rythm team and by Burton who first floated the idea of a seperate store. The idea quickly grew and seeing the potential Grover, Burton and Rhythm soon made it happen and as Niseko has grown so has the store's success.
Down to the real business end we figured Grover was the perfect person to offer some advice on what kind of snowboard is best suited to Niseko. This he explained was in part dictated on your level of riding but if you are a competent snowboarder Grover recommends a powder specific board, something tapered with the nose wider than the tail, a set back stance configuration, camber under foot and plenty of lift in the nose. According to him having a board like this will help you to float above the powder yet still get traction on the groomed.
Grovers pick for for the 2020 /21 season is the Burton Hometown Hero from the Burton Family Tree line of all mountian powder specific shapes with sizes ranging from 142 to 160cm. Further Niseko essentials that Grover reccomneds are a good pair of goggles, decent gore outerwear, a face mask and hoods. "You need quality gear that is built for the conditions, stuff that you can use for a few season and that wil get you through all of the big powder days". If you've ever been to Niseko with sub par pair of goggles or jacket you'll know what he's saying!
With a quieter season ahead locals here are looking forward to have more time on the hill and riding lines that have been fairly busy over (by local standards) the last few years. Grovers picks are Super Ridge and his favourite gulley lines at Higashiyama / Niseko Village and also trips over to Moiwa, Rusutsu, Kokusai and Teine. The next time you're in Niseko be sure to stop by the store and say gudday to Grover and the team who will welcome you in out of the snow, unless of course they're rippng lines off super ridge!
If you are looking for a large comfortable home away from home in the Hirafu Village within walking distance of the lifts and close to some fantastic restaurants look no further than Ise. This large 3 story, 4 bedroom concrete villa has all the comforts you could wish for split over 3 spacious levels with the open plan living, dining and kitchen set on the second floor.
One of Ise's greatest draw cards is of course its location being just 300m from Seicomart and 350m from the base of the Ace Family Chair. If you wish to ride the Gondola shuttle bus stop # 6 is also only a short walk away. From Ise there are restaurant and bar options a plenty with Steak Rosso Rosso right accross the road and one of Hirafu's most famous bars, Bar Gyu or the fridge door bar just around the corner. If you are looking for an authentic Japanese Dining experience Kato is also just a couple of minutes walk from your door in the Hinzan building.
Ise's 4 bedrooms are teastefully appointed with the ground floor holding the spacious ensuited master bedroom. The remaining bedrooms are on the 3rd floor and feature large windows from which to watch the snowflakes fall. One of the top floor bedrooms is ensuited with the remaining two rooms sharing a bathroom.
Ise is without doubt one of the most conveniently located luxury 4 bedroom homes in Hirafu. Couple this with reasonable rates and great service you have the makings of an incredible winter escape. For full property details you may like to visit the Ise listing page here. If you would like to know more about Ise or have any NIseko related questions please feel free to contact us anytime (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Part 4 of our look at trips to the coast from Niseko looks at Bikuni, a small town on the eastern side of the Shakotan Peninsular. Via Nikki Bikuni is a 1.5 hour drive from Hirafu and is a great stop over on the way to popular destinations such as Kamui Misaki and the Shimamui Coast which we looked at in Part 3. It is also a slightly closer alternative summer destination if you don't feel like driving all the way to tip of the peninsular. Bikuni offers camping, some great dining options, sight seeing, salmon fishing and glass bottomed boat tours.
The camping ground at Bikuni is right on a nice sandy beach with shallow water extending far into the sea making it a great place to play with the kids. During the summer the seas are uaully calm and the water comfortable and refreshing to swim in. The camping area is essentially on the beach and close to the toilets and washing up facilities and it is free. Most people bring their own barbeque and it is asked that you dispose of coals thoughtfully. The beach is also a popular launching area for small water craft and the mouth of the Bikuni River flowing adjacent to the camp is a well known salmon fishing spot in the autumn.
At the other end of the village you will find Cape Ogon (黄金岬) meaning gold coloured and named after the shoals of herring that once glimmered under the setting sun. On top of the Ogon is bulit a tall observation deck that looks out over the foliage providing fantastic views of a dramatic coast line and crystal clear blue waters.
If this wasn't enough to pique your interest in making a day trip from the Niseko area there is also a glass bottomed boat tour and some fantastic restaurants including the tucked away gem Jun's Seafood restaurant that specialises in the local seafood delicacies plus has an extensive menu of beautifully prepared Japanese fare their website here https://junnomise.com/. If you are looking to take a tour on the glass bottomed boat the easiest way to do so is to visit the Shakotan Sight Seeing Infomation Center located here https://goo.gl/maps/Uvxf4KYxkPpgnnvR8.
One of the most popular day trips from Niseko is Otaru, a seaside city famous for fresh seafood, its architecture, a charming canal and sea views. Otaru lies just a one hour drive east of Niseko and draws visitors winter through summer. From Niseko there are a couple of diffferent routes, one which takes the newly formed Yoichi IC expressway or the other over Keinashi Toge passing very popular Kiroro Ski Resort. Both routes are very scenic with the express way offering great seaviews and Keinashi Toge a more mountainous journey. From Hirafu both routes take a little over one hour. If you do not have access to a vehicle Otaru can be easily reached by train form Kutchan Station and takes one hour and 40 minutes.
Otaru is a small city that is easy to see a lot of in just a few hours. Otaru JR Station is very central to many attractions and a walk down the main street from here will take you to a restaurant area and the canals. If you are looking to explore a little further the Otaru Aquarium is an easy place to spend a couple of hours and show cases a magnificent variety of Hokkaidos marine and aquatic life.
The aquarium although a little dated is home to a great number of fish, sharks and rays and is a great place for kids and grown ups a like to get up close and personal with what lives beneath the surface of Hokkaidos lakes, rivers and seas. There is also a dolphin and penguin show with the penguins best viewed during the winter months and a great number of different seal species to see.
The seals are a real highlight with their tanks surrounded by the rocky coast line of the Sea of Japan. There is an impressive seal perfromance to watch that shows these dog like mammals happily performing tricks, leaps and dives for the crowd. If you miss the seal show you can creat one of your own with fish on sale to feed to these playful locals.
If you've been to the aquarium, worked up an apetite and are looking for a hearty lunch or dinner ramen noodles are always a great go to. Mikan Ramen is tucked away in the back streets of Otaru and very popular with locals and tourists a like, it is also next door to a more tradtional Japanese market and a mini park if the kids are getting restless.
Mikan Ramen has a thick and hearty broth, melt in your mouth chashu pork and delicious noodles. The restaurant is family friendly with a mixture of table and bar seating. The place is quite small though and if you are there at lunch or dinner time expect a que, it is of course well worth the wait!
Holiday Niseko have properties in Hirafu and surrounds to suit every taste and every budget wether you are looking for a cozy studio for two or a spacious villa for the whole family. One great option that comes somewhere between is Ikigai, a beautiful 3 bedroom stand alone home in St Moritz just a couple of minutes drive from the base of the Ace Family Chair. Ikigai stands out from the crowd with modern spacious interiors, views of Mount Yotei and it's own vehicle.
Ikigai also comes with a very welll equipped kitchen including modern appliances and plenty of space for entertaining. The floor to ceiling windows in the lounge afford great views of Yotei and stylish furnishings allow you to sit back with a glass of your favourite and take it all in.
If you are interested in exploring outside of the Hrafu area, perhaps to the Rusutsu or Kiroro areas Ikigai is a great choice as during the winter it comes complete with a 9 seater 4WD Hiace van ( please note that the van will not be available for the 2020/21 winter). Having the use of a van opens up a whole new world of experiences and if you've been here before and want to see a little more of what the area offers it is a great way to do so. You can find more information on properties with vans here.
Ikigai has a maximum of 8 guests with two regular bedrooms including the master and a bunk room with 4 beds which is perfect for the kids. The master pictured above comes complete with a dreamscape view, ensuite and generously sized king bed.
The van is perfect for getting everyone to the lifts in the morning, the supermarket or home from the restaurant. If you want to do a little exploring on foot Ikigai is within easy walking distance of Lupicia Restaurant a French/ Japanese eatery that has take out lunch options from the bakery and patisserie plus and a delicious ala carte dining menu in the evening. Alternatively do some snowboard shopping or stop in for a coffee at the Gentem Stick store and cafe. If you are looking for a quick and deliciuos lunch or dinner a little closer to home Elements Restaurant is just a 5 minute walk down the hill. When it does come time to plan your dream holiday to Hokkaido Ikigai is without doubt a fantastic Hirafu getaway to consider.
Getting to Niseko is easy and there are a number of convenient ways to do so to suit every budget and intinerary. Once you have made it to Japan you need to get your self to Hokkaido, the easiest and usually most cost effective way to do so is to fly to Chitose Airport. The majority of Japanese airports have direct flights to Chitose and there are many direct international routes too, the finer details below.
Airports: Tokyo, Narita, Osaka, Kansai, Kobe, Nagoya(Chubu), Asahikawa, Kushiro, Memanbetsu, Rishiri, Wakkanai, Aomori, Iwate Hnamaki, Akita, Yamagata, Sendai, Fukushima, Toyama, Shinshu Matsumoto, Komatsu, Hiroshima, Fukuoka
Airlines: JAL, ANA, Air Do, Skymark, Hokkaido Air System, Japan Air Commuter
Airports: Seoul (Incheon), Busan, Dalian, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Guam, Taipei
Airlines: JAL, ANA, Korean Air, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Air China, Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong Express Airways, Sakhalin Airlines, Continental Airlines, China Airlines, Eva Airways
There are also options to catch the train to Niseko too with the high speed Shinkansen service available to Hakodate, Hokkaido's southern most city. It is worth noting that from Hakodate to Niseko the Shinkansen service is not yet available and you will be reliant on local trains to get you to Kutchan Station which is the most convenient station to the Niseko area. If you are considering this option for your departure keep in mind that transportations from the Hirafu Village area to Kutchan Station are limited before 07:00am.
By car Chitose Airport is approximately 2 hours from Niseko / Hirafu Village and slightly longer by bus. So what is the most convenient way to travel this last leg of your journey? For the ultimate in convenience and comfort you can choose a luxury private transfer which start from ¥48,000 one way for up to 5 passengers . If you are looking for something less expensive a coach bus is a very popular option at just ¥5000 per person. Holiday Niseko can arrange private transfers or a coach when you book accommodation with us and we will pick you up and drop you off at the Hirafu Welcome center on your arrival and departure.
From Chitose Airport the train is another option and leaves from directly under the domestic terminal. The train is a nice way to travel and Holiday Niseko can provide a pick up and drop service to Kutchan Station between the hours of 07:00am and 00:00am. If you do choose to catch the train keep in mind that there can be very few places to store luggage and seating is not guaranteed. When travelling with children and or snowboard / ski bags this can make for a challenging journey, especially on the back of a long haul international flight!
Sapporo city is a great city to visit any time of the year but keep in mind it is 40 minutes from Chitose airport so a quick stop over is not always easy. That said if you do choose to spend some time there it is easy to catch the bus from or close to a number of major hotels across the city. The train is also an option from here too and it departs approximately every 1.5 hours from Sapporo Station, just make sure you don't miss the transfer at Otaru!
As you have read getting to Niseko is straight forward and there are options for every budget and itinerary. The coach bus option from Chitose airport is the most popular but private transfers which start at just ¥40,000 for up to 8 guests offer great value and added convenience. Holiday Niseko are more than happy to arrange your transfers and can often offer a disount for repeat customers. Which ever way you choose to travel it will be a spectaculart journey through snow covered mountains and lake sides that will fuel your growing excitement as your ultimate ski holiday draws closer and closer.
A trip to Niseko is a time in your life that you will never forget. A visit here will be filled with unique moments that create memories that will last a life time. These are memories you will share with your family and firends, those who were there to enjoy it with you and those who you will never stop convincing to join you on the next trip.
The more time you spend in Niseko the more picture perfect postcard winter scenes you will see, the more hidden gem restaurants you will discover and the more incredible runs you will find. Whether you come to teach the kids to ski in some of the softest snow in the world, to taste that mystical umami flavour or find easy access to some of the best back country riding in Japan, Niseko promises to deliver magical moments accross the board.
You will find more of these majical moments at the bottom of your deepest turn, at the top of your longest hike and in the laugh of your youngest who just clipped Mum with a snowball. You can create incredible memories at any time of the season here, December through April be they in the cold early season snowfalls that produce some of the best powder in the world, one of the incredible blue bird powder days we often experience in February or during April with settled weather, sunny days and great spring skiing.
For many the next trip to Niseko stands with a question mark above its peak, right now travel here is an uncertainty but this winter will likely be even more snowy than the last and the one after that may be even better. Niseko will always be here waiting for you and we at Holiday Niseko are looking forward to helping you discover more Niseko moments and incredible memories that you will treasure for ever.
Last month we took a look the Toyoura / Okishi area to the south of Niseko and before this Kamoenai which is a stop on the way to the tip of the stunning Shakotan Peninsular. Shakotan is a fantastic place to visit well known for its crystal clear blue waters, delicious sea urchin, onsens, sunsets and much more. The trip is easily done in a day and from Hirafu can be approached from either the east or west side.
If you have more than a day and are interested in camping on the coast Shakotan is hard to beat. It is approximately 1.5 hours drive via the western coast or just under 2 hours via the east. Both routes have some great attractions along the way the way. If you are basing yourself in Hirafu Peak Niseko Car Rentals offer excellent camper van options. The camping ground there is simple clean and free with toilets and dish washing facilities and the views and sunsets beautiful and from mid July to September the Sea of Japan is warm enough to swim in and usually reasonably calm.
If you are just doing a day trip, the drive there and back is very doable and if you leave early enough you may even be able to get in some cherry picking in Nikki on the way home. So what should you see in Shakotan? There are 3 major sightseeing points the Shimamui Coast 島武意海岸, Kamui Misaki 神威岬 and in the middle of the two the Misaki onsen 岬の湯しゃこたん where if you time it right you can watch the sunset set accross the ocean from the outdoor onsen.
The Shimamui Coast is spectacular, crystal clear waters, dramatic cliffs and it's accessed by miny tunnel the kids will love. There is a well maintained track down to the beach that takes about 5 minutes to descend. Alternatively you can head north from the parking lot and in a few minutes walk find more spectacular views and a great lighthouse, there is also a walking track that extends further around the coast for the more adventurous.
If you have taken the option down the hill to the beach you will likely have worked up an appetite and it just so happens that there is an excellent seafood restaurant right there beside the parking lot. Here they specialise in serving the freshest, tastiest sea urchin or uni as it is locally known. The menu isn't limited to uni though and here you can feast on locally caught delicacies plucked from the seas below and served on your plate.
Once you have had your fill of seafood it may be a good time to move on down the coast to Kamui Misaki the most eastern tip of the peninsular. The journey takes you through quaint villages and past more great restaurant options that are well sign posted and hard to miss. Kamui Misaki is the most famous point in the area with a great walking trail to the end of the peninsular and best of all another restaurant which specialises in not only seafood delights but also Shakotan Blue ICE CREAM! Perfect for cooling down on a hot day.
The Shakotan Peninsular is a must do on any Hokkaido travellers itinerary and is a fantastic way to spend a day or two if you are basing yourself here in the Hirafu Village area. If you'd like to know more about Shakotan or have any Niseko travel related questions please feel free to contact us anytime (email@example.com).
The range of accommodation available in Niseko for 2020 is fantastic and Holiday Niseko are proud to be able to offer a huge selection of choices that we know can please every taste, budget and group size. If you are looking for a cozy studio for two, a luxury penthouse apartment or a spacious chalet for the whole family we have you covered. If it is a spacious chalet you are looking for one fantastic option that ticks all the boxes is Yoteiyama House.
Winter or summer this large 4 bedroom home can sleep up to 12 guests with 4 full westerrn style bedrooms plus a traditional tatami area that is great for the kids. During the winter Yoteiyama is one of the lucky properties we offer with a vehicle which means you are not only able to get to the slopes with ease it also gives you the freedon to explore other areas such as Rusutsu and Kiroro. All you need to bring to make use of the van is an international driving permit and your own drivers license, freedom! The van is a late model 4WD Toyota Hiace which seats up to 9 passengers and has plenty of room for ski equipment.
Yoteiyama is located just outside of the Hirafu village in the peaceful neighbourhood of Yotei No Sato. The area is within easy walking distance of a shuttle stop, a 711 convenience store and a number of restaurants including 2 bakeries, Ichimura Soba, L'ocanda Italian and more. The property is just a couple of minutes drive from the Hirafu Gondola and the main Hirafu Village area and also well positioned for anyone looking to access the Hanazono resort area which is just 7.6 kilometers away.
If you are interested in booking Yoteiyama House, you'd like to know about the property or you'd like an introduction to similar properties please feel free to get in contact any time (firstname.lastname@example.org).
You can also find full details of the property here - https://holidayniseko.com/yoteiyama-house
If you are visiting Niseko but interested in seeing a little more of Hokkaido during the summer or the winter the Asahikawa region / city is well worth a place on your itinerary. There are plenty of things to see, do and of course eat from skiing on active volcanoe Asahi Dake and enjoying a hot bowl of ramen to summertime visits to the zoo and ice cream with the kids. This time around it was the summer option with the zoo as the goal in mind, starting with breakfast to north east of the city.
Although the area is better known for its rice production and ramen noodles a lesser known but still very popular culinary attraction is the Boulangerie Mawarimichi a quaint little french bakery that has found fame accross the country. The bakery is located just outside of Asahikawa in Toma front of the Toma Railway Station and serves up a fantastic selection of French breads. The journey to the bakery is as usual is a great part of the pleasure and takes you through lush green rice paddies surrounded by distant mountain peaks.
The bakery fits nicely with its rural surroundings but its crisp yet rustic style could be equally at home on the hippest of urban street corners.
The bakery has a fantastic array of breads just perfect for lunch with takeaway cheese sandwhich options made to order. If a sweet breakfast is what you are after look no further than the croissants chocolate or plain these are melt in your mouth morsels of goodness. If you are looking for souvenirs there is also a great range of jams and longer lasting baked goods for you to take home to the family.
With breakfast taken care of it is on to the main event, the Asahikawa Zoo. The zoo has a wide range of animals in mostly large and spacious enclosures with many of the usual suspects you'd expect to find, highlights being the primates, seals and giraffes. The zoo also has a great number of native Hokkaido animals featured such as Blakiston's Fish Owl a bird revered by Hokkaido's native Ainu people and one the largest owls in the world. Also worthy of mention is the variety of penguins which along with the polar bears are said to be best visited during the colder months. Pehaps good to fit in with that trip to ski Asahidake.
Getting up close and personal with one of the tallest animals in the world was definitely a hit with the kids and as one of the last animals too see on the way out it was a great finish to the day.
What day at the zoo would be complete without ice cream !? Just 15 minutes from the zoo back into the city outskirts is patisserie-fou. This cakes and sweets shop has a mouth watering selection of delicious gateaus, cakes, sweets and of course ice cream!
The ice cream choices are also as good as the cake department, with soft serve ice cream, gelato and puddings to choose from or to combine for a truly decadent desert.
Asahikawa is approximately 3.5 hours drive from Hirafu, Niseko lying right in the middle of Hokkaido. The city has plenty of accommodation options from hotels to campgrounds. Although a day trip from Hirafu would be a push if you can schedule an overnight in Asahikawa or surrounds it is well worth the journey winter or summer.