Niseko refers to an area – a mountain range and a municipal area. The population of this area was just under 10,000 in 2012. In the same period, it exploded to a population of approximately 200,00 in the peak snow season. Currently the resort is nowhere near that but things are slowly coming to life.
Each day there seem to be new residents in the company-provided housing and new employees are toured around the different work departments. Cafés, restaurants and bars are starting to show signs of opening up. Add the early snow to that, and it seems the resort is slowly starting to come alive.
El ninã this year?
Snow has come early to Niseko this year. The weather sages are predicting a good season of snowfalls, murmuring things like “el ninã” in dispatches. We have already had to dig a path from the house to the road and purchase studded shoes to enhance grip on the icy pathways.
There is energy in this place. People are madly working to schedule lessons, confirm reservations, complete building projects and train staff in anticipation of the busy times ahead – Christmas-New Year and Chinese New Year. We will be very busy then – with no days off in those periods.
Business as usual
In Hirafu village, it is business as usual for the locals. There are a range of construction projects on the go all the time. Even though darkness falls at about 4.30pm, construction workers continue on undeterred – with head torches! They seem to work well into the night, after starting early in the day.
There are not many restaurants open yet. Many offer izakaya – share plates akin to Spanish style tapas. We ventured out one night to Ebisutei to try their sashimi and other dishes, with some very dry sake. As we were the only guests there at that time, the chef had a lot of time for us. He recommended the mackeral (pictured here) and we agreed with his choice!
The good thing about this time is that we are able to chat informally to some of the locals – sharing a mixture of English and Japanese in exchanges.
Embracing the Japanese lifestyle
We have moved into our accommodation now, and have opted for a studio apartment in Hirafu village. It means we can walk to work and be close to the resort action! We have quite a large space by Japanese standards, and it is complete with Japanese style bath and areas of tatami mats. Our bodies are yet to be accustomed to the very firm beds that the Japanese people seem to like. We are used to quite different western comfort with chiropractic inner spring beds and comfort tops. However, we are here to embrace the lifestyle as best we can so … here goes!