29 March 2013

Adventures in Hokkaido | 北海道 ・札幌市・ ニセコ・ ひらふ

Now that it's almost the end of March, maybe I should catch you up a bit on my February? Yes and yes. Amos and I went skiing and sightseeing in Hokkaido (北海道), the northernmost island of Japan. Ever since we found out we were moving to Japan, Hokkaido has been on my "must do" list (otherwise known as the "things-repeatedly-and-obnoxiously-mentioned-to-Amos" list). The skiing is the best up there, and the island has only been owned by the country for about 200 years, so it feels much different than Honshu, the main island. And when I say it feels different, I mean that it feels Australian. Everyone there is from Oz (Aus?). It's full of adorable accents and vegimite, and they take your drink order before your dinner order, which was a decidedly nice change of pace.

We skied at the Hirafu Niseko (ひらふ・ニセコ) Resort. Japan is supposed to have world class skiing, and it wasn't hard to see how, on a bluebird day with great conditions, the resort would be a ton of fun. It's actually 4 resorts on one mountain, and you can resort-hop, if you will, above treeline. Easy to access backcountry, big powder bowls, open tree runs... it could be fantastic. We experienced it with rain (yup), fog, and high winds that shut down the top of the mountain for 2 of the 3 days we were there. Without the top lifts and without good snow, the resort feels a little small and boring. That said, the ski town itself was really fun, as evidenced by the number of pictures I took of bars, for goodness sake.

We toasted our one year in Japan-niversary with hot cocoa.
My new Japanese ski pants. すごい!

I would absolutely go to Niseko again if I was in Japan, or if I was hoping up from the South Pacific. However, if I was in North America, I'd head to Colorado and call it good. Or Whistler. Or Park City. I will say that Japanese skiing does have curry and onsens, though, in its favor. American and Canadian skiing just can't compare in that regard.

Our neighborhood ski in-n-out yurt bar
"schnappy" hour at said yurt bar.
The walls of this egg-shaped bar would change every five minutes. It was mesmerizing.
A bar made (almost) completely of ice. 

We then headed to Sapporo (札幌市), the capitol of Hokkaido and most well known for their beer (for Amerika-jin) and their spectacular snow festival (for Nihon-jin). We were there for the opening of the Snow Festival, where the central promenade of Sapporo is loaded up with extra snow and the army builds up massive snow sculptures. This *may* be what your military does when you can only have a self-defense force. The snow building was impressive; We spent a couple days looking at all the art and eating miso ramen and the best seafood I've ever had in my life. I also drank lots of hot cocoa and went down an ice slide. Don't say I don't know how to party. I DO.

Sapporo Brewery
Ski helmets do wonderful things for your hair.
This woman played the theme from "Super Mario Brothers" while in a glass bubble.
While wearing gold sparkly high heals.
It might be the best thing I have ever seen while in Japan.
Children smoke elsewhere, please.
Butter Corn Miso Ramen.
Not Small. おいし そ です ね!

It was a lovely, lovely trip, and I'm so glad we went. If you are wanting to head up to Hokkaido -- which I completely recommend -- make sure to book early. Ski areas and hotels during the Snow Festival book up like woah. We booked a package through a local travel agency that included flights, hotels, and bus rides, and it made things so easy (and when I saw "we" booked it, I mean our friend Yumi booked it for us. Thanks Yumi! To say that we would have found our Japanese limiting if we tried it ourselves would be the understatement of the year.)

1 comment:

  1. You're trip looks like a blast. I'm slightly jealous of the snow; it's very strange to me that I haven't seen snow in almost a year.

    If you enjoyed the Aussies in Japan, you should come experience them over here..or New Zealand, either one...my July R&R is open, if you're interested.


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