36 Hours in Niseko – The New York Times


Niseko — where the powder is voluminous, après ski happens in onsens (hot springs), and culinary adventures abound — is a popular destination for international travelers. Japow, the nickname for the average 600 inches of powder that arrives from Siberia each winter, is what puts the resort so firmly on the map with skiers and snowboarders. On the north island of Hokkaido, Niseko includes four main separate, but linked, resorts (collectively called Niseko United). Beyond the slopes, the island is renowned for world-class seafood, produce and beef as well as beer, whiskey and even some sake. Its excellent restaurants, from simple noodle bars and laid-back izakayas (Japanese pubs) to fine dining at the Michelin-starred Kamimura, spotlight the island’s bounty. Though often called the Aspen of Asia — and, indeed, Niseko is undergoing a similar luxury building boom — this Japanese resort is forging its own identity, from design to food to culture and wellness scenes.

Somoza serves some of the most creatively delicious food — inspired takes on Japanese cuisine with Italian influences — in Niseko. Its changing seasonal menus focus on local ingredients, such as duck breast with Kutchan potato, crab and sea urchin consommé, or salmon smoked on-site, all served on beautiful ceramics. Lunch is about 5,000 yen, or about $46. (Also, ask about the restaurant’s matcha tea ceremony.) Sit by its glass windows and gaze onto silver birch, oak and ezo red pine trees. The restaurant offers free transportation from Hanazono for lunch.

Begin at Karabina, an izakaya occupying a small wooden hut at Annupuri’s base (note: this is the last season the restaurant will be open at this location). Shoes off, walk up a few steps to a cozy alcove, sit around a wood-burning stove and sip a local sake. Then walk a stone’s throw away down a pathway to another rustic wood dwelling, Rakuichi. Helmed by Tatsuru Rai, known for his artisan, local buckwheat noodles, this soba master was celebrated on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” and ever since it’s been a hard reservation to get. His wife, Midori, greets diners as they don slippers and sit at a no-frills, 12-seat wooden counter with views of the master at work on a ball of dough. Dinner comes kaiseki-style, a Japanese haute cuisine tasting menu that changes with the seasons. Nine simple dishes with bright flavors are presented on pretty Japanese ceramic plates and lacquer bowls. Order a Hokkaido sake to accompany, for instance, sashimi of sea urchin, toro tuna, smoked scallop and Mr. Rai’s hand-cut soba noodles. Select either cold with tempura vegetables, or hot with duck (an additional 800 yen). Finish with dessert. (Dinner is about 12,000 yen.)

Stop at Toshiro’s for a cocktail created by its bespectacled namesake proprietor and mixologist, celebrated for concoctions like Penicillin, a mix of whiskey, ginger and citrus, with a smoky spin (1,600 yen). Or try a ginger gimlet and a smoked old fashioned with local whiskey. More than 400 bottles sit behind the bar; select a tasting flight, from 3,600 to 45,000 yen.

Grab a coffee at the Mountain Kiosk Coffee stand or one of the trucks in Hirafu and head to the non-touristy town of Kutchan (about six miles from Hirafu and 20 minutes by cab) where you’ll find the Daibutsuji Buddhist temple, featuring a prayer room with a gold-painted ceiling depicting a dragon shielding a Buddhist elder from a tiger (no charge, book in advance). Be mindful that temples and shrines are places of worship for local residents, as well as places to protect sacred objects. Other area shrines: Kutchan-jinja, where red, green and yellow flags line the simple wood interior; and in Niseko Town stands the small Kaributo-jinja.

Hokkaido, Japan’s top dairy-producing region, is recognized for offering the best milk in the country. Milk Kobo, next to the Takahashi working dairy farm in Niseko Village, is noted for hand-milking its cows, and its popular cafe and shop makes desserts and cheeses from the milk. Knock back a banana yogurt drink, which is packaged in a cute little bottle with cows on its label. Don’t miss the cheese tarts and cream puffs.

At the nine-room boutique Kimamaya in Hirafu, European alpine design meets Japanese aesthetics. Feel at home sitting around the living-room fireplace, sipping a glass of Burgundy from the owner’s private vineyard. An adjacent restaurant, The Barn, inspired by Hokkaido farm architecture, serves Western and Japanese breakfasts, and for dinner, French-Japanese food using local ingredients; it’s worth eating here even if staying elsewhere. There’s a small spa and two stone soaking tubs. Rates: 22,400 to 55,440 yen for doubles; lofts are 41,440 to 94,080 yen.


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