Posted on July 30th, 2009 1 comment
Often in winter I get asked by guests who stay in ourapartments, “Is there anything to do in Kutchan? Or “Is there anything to do that isn’t skiing or snow related?” Choices in winter are usually pretty limited so I set out to find something to do in case the ski lifts are closed due to bad weather.
While the primary reason to stay in Niseko during winter is for the skiing, people also travel for the cultural experience. Using culture as a loose theme here I decided to visit the Kutchanand also the Shu Ogawara to see what was on offer.
Driving to the north east corner of Kutchan you can conveniently find both museums at the opposite ends of a large carpark. The grounds are actually quite beautiful and there are several picnic chairs and tables making it an ideal location for a summer picnic.
I headed to the Shu Ogawara Museum of Art first as the 500 yen entrance ticket includes free entry to the Natural History Museum.
The museum was constructed in the memory of locally born artist Shu Ogawara (1911-2002) Although Ogawara was suspended indefinitely from high school he studied hard under the guidance of a young fine arts teacher and was later able to enter the Western painting Department of Tokyo Art School in 1930.
At the museum there are two display halls and a small room where a 20 minute introductory movie showing scenes from around Kutchan, Tibet, China and India that became themes for Ogawara’s paintings.
The main display room features around 35 pieces dating from 1933 till 1990 of Ogawara’s work. Interestingly Ogawara abandoned surrealism in 1941 to document air battles for the Japanese Imperial Army. These paintings however are not on display and remain locked in the national archives as the government is currently reluctant to exhibit wartime art.
The second display room is where different exhibitions are held. The museum also holds an outdoor sculpture exhibition every autumn.
At the other end of the carpark is the Kutchan Natural History Museum. It boasts an odd mix of displays and stuffed animals and dead insects. Unfortunately there are very few English explanations, but it is Japan after all. There were a couple of interesting displays, the old ski equipment and Olympic gold medal from the 30s (which I am surprised hasn’t been stolen yet), the giant aerial photo of the surrounding district which you are allowed to walk over it and finally the remains of a zero fighter plane wing from Mt Annupuri.
During the war, the peak of Mt Annupuri was used as a testing area for fighter plane wing design, or more specifically to test the affects of freezing on wing design. If you climb to the peak of Mt Annupuri you can still see the mounting base for the plane.
Overall the Shu Ogawara Museum of Art is excellent and well worth the visit if you like or even semi like art. It’s a modern gallery set in beautiful grounds and would not be out of place in any major city. The staff was very friendly and even offered me some green tea. I ‘m quite surprised (even shocked) this place exists in Kutchan. The Natural History Museum, well what can I say, at least it was free and there was also free tea for visitors so you can’t complain if it’s free.
If you are looking to escape the summer rain or the Hirafu lifts are closed for the day in winter, visit the local museums and expose yourself to a bit of culture Kutchan style.
Posted on July 28th, 2009 No comments
Lake Shikotsu and Toya are both within 1 hours drive from Niseko. They are spectacular caldera lakes surrounded by rugged mountain peaks. Around the lake shores are various inexpensive campsites and onsens (hotsprings). If you have the time we thoroughly recommend getting out of your Niseko accommodation for a night or two and go camping at either lake.
During mid-Summer most campsites are busy in the weekends, though reservations are generally not needed. Weekdays are a lot less crowded so if you like a bit of serenity this is the time to go.
Lake Toya is a more developed area than Shikotsu. It takes 40-50 minutes to get there from Niseko. On Toya’s south east side are several large hotels as well as Volcanic Mt.Usu which closed down the area when it erupted in 2000. Toya hosted the G8 summit last year at the exclusive 5 star Windsor hotel.
In July and August there is a fireworks display every night that can be seen from all sides of the Lake.
Shikotsu is the lake situated along the route between Chitose airport and Niseko. It’s the second deepest lake in Japan maxing out at 360 meters and the northernmost Lake that doesn’t freeze over. Incredibly clear pristine water.
There are no supermarkets or convenience stores nearby so bring a stocked up chilly bin.
Here is a list of campsites we recommend:
Morappu. The most historical campsite in the park. The largest lake shore campsite and well-equipped.
Bifue. A site for RV’s located in the woods on the lakeshore.
Poropinai and Okatan. Located on the north side of the lake, less busy than the above two campsites
Lake Toya area
Takarada. Area for RV’s, log cabins. Modern and well equipped.
Nakatoya, Takinoue. Located in the trees facing the east lakeshore
Tsukiura: Area for RV’s
Posted on July 26th, 2009 No comments
Park golf is unsurprisingly a form of golf played in a park. The game was invented in Hokkaido in 1983 and it now boasts over a million players nationwide. Part of the appeal of park golf is the simplicity of the game. Only one club and one ball are required to play the game. The courses are quite short with the maximum length of a single hole being 100 meters and a typical 9 hole par 33 course being limited to 500 meters. Since there is no lower limit for course length, small park golf courses have popped up all over Japan in corners of municipal parks.
The rules are pretty similar to golf with the object of the game to hit the ball into a 20cm diameter hole in the fewest number of strokes. Not much power is required to hit the ball so pretty much anyone can play the game. The short courses, low physical effort required and low cost (typically around 500yen) has made the game a big hit with retirees, women and families.
Park golf can be enjoyed at the base of Hirafu Ace center 4 lift. There is also a free hot spring footbath beside the course to refresh your weary legs and also some natural spring water to quench your thirst after a not so grueling 9 holes.
Posted on July 9th, 2009 2 comments
Ever wondered where all the snow in Niseko goes? A lot of it filters into the ground and later resurfaces as spring water. With an average annual snowfall around 13 meters, it’s no surprise that the quantity of spring water around the Niseko region is one of the largest in Japan.
Around the Niseko area there are many places to collect spring water. Some places are very popular as many Japanese believe certain spring waters to contain beneficial properties.
Fukidashi spring water of Kyogoku (15mins outside of Hirafu) was designated by the Environment Ministry as one of the greatest 100 waters in Japan. There is an Eki no Michi (road station) at Kyogoku where you can sample the spring water.
Fortunately for those without a car, you don’t need to travel to Kyogoku to taste one of the top 100 waters. The Hirafu Seicomart (local convenient store) stocks Kyogoku water.
Makkari Village at the base of Mt Yotei, (halfway between Hirafu and Rusutsu ski resort) has a very popular natural mineral spring.
If you are heading to Rusutsu make sure you stop here as there is a very good tofu shop that uses the spring water to make fresh tofu. They also have a large selection of tofu products for free tasting.
With so many natural springs available you will never go thirsty in Niseko.