Well, despite a low snow fall rate here in Japan so far this winter, I managed to get three days in at Niseko in Hokkaido (15/16/17).
Conditions were a little difficult – the snow was hard, and a little bumpy, but the visibility was perfect, and not much wind (rare in Niseko in my experience!) which made for 3 good days on the slopes, and a chance to try out my new bindings, and generally get my body back into snowboarding mode. Had a great time, and got some great long runs in.
Off the slopes, I tried out another hotel – J-First, which was OK and did a decent cup of coffee. Niseko is made up of three areas: Hirafu (where I was this time), Higashiyama and Annupuri. In Hirafu we found a great yakinikuya called (we think) “Jingiskan” which is also the name of the type of yakiniku it specialises in – raw lamb, onion and a special sauce. It also had some great pumpkin (kabocha), and some great fried potato (no, not the normal French fries, these were more like potato quarters fried with some salt). It was small – 15 people maximum, but a pretty cheery place, and nice cold Sapporo beer. It’s behind a car park near the crossroads at the foot of the mountain road – if you’re really stuck give the owner a call: 0136 22 2138.
If you’re over in Annupuri, check out “Barbecue House”, but be aware, it closes at 8.30pm right now (but I think it opens later, later on in the season). We missed it this time, turning up as they were switching the lights off. It was quite fun getting there – we thought we’d get a taxi over, get some yakiniku and get back for a bit of an onsen. Ironically, even though Niseko was empty due to a fear of no snow, the taxi driver who came to the hotel complained when I asked to go to Annupuri , “it’s on the other side of the mountain!”. I never will understand taxi drivers in Japan – he complained about the distance even though he had no other customers, and then complained to me that he didn’t know where this place was. Ah well.
All in all though, a great trip, and now the season is open – in 6 days, I’ll be in Hakuba – home to up to 40cm a day of new powder snow! Bring it on!