One of the better places to get coffee in Niseko, is Sprout. There is a mini-Sprout store in Hirafu village where I went to check out their brew and meet the resident barista, Emi. She has had a flexible lifestyle for years. This is her story.
Currently I am working as a coffee barista and a kitchen hand in a bistro. But it wasn’t always so.
Following her passion
Eight years ago I was working in a big company – importing and exporting. I wanted a change, to do something with coffee because I love it so much. I decided to quit my job and went to Melbourne to learn about coffee-making. I spent two years making coffee and working in coffee shops.
While travelling in New Zealand, I met a Japanese girl who said she was going to Niseko next. She suggested there was lots of coffee work there and the opportunity to work in English.
I thought, “That’s the place for me”.
She contacted me about available positions in ski rentals. I applied and had an interview. At the end of that, the interviewer asked as his last question, “What’s your dream job?”
My response? “Making coffee, being a barista – that’s what I want to do!”
I was very lucky, because they had one remaining barista position and offered me the job on the spot! That was six or seven years ago.
And so her flexible lifestyle began …
After that season I went to Canada for a year, working at a coffee shop. Returning to Japan, I came back to Niseko straight away and did the same thing. The job wasn’t just making coffee, but managing the coffee shop – ordering supplies, making meal supplements for the shop and rostering staff. I was thinking about numbers and money all the time and didn’t have a lot of time to make coffee, which is what I preferred.
I was a customer at Sprout coffee shop and had thought that if I could work there I would be very happy in the winter. That started me thinking about changing jobs again. I was thinking of applying there and at the same time someone suggested I did. It was a synchronous moment!
Meanwhile, someone else asked me about work in Spring. I wanted to work somewhere that wasn’t too hot in Summer, near lots of trees and of course, to work with coffee. There was a job making coffee in a restaurant in the Yatsugatake Mountains. It required doing some baking and making desserts which suited me just fine!
Working year-round in the mountains
The altitude there is almost the same as Mount Annapuri, has lots of trees and natural beauty. There are not many people there. I started work and spent Spring, Summer and Autumn there and winter in Niseko. I followed that cycle for four years.
Last autumn it was time to change my life’s routine. I decided to stay in Niseko for a while – at least for two years. (That’s how long the lease is on my apartment).
Baristas travel easily
Having a barista job has made it easy to travel – especially in Canada. I didn’t speak French but wanted to work in French Canada. I gave myself two weeks to find a job there before I would have to move elsewhere for work. After one week I had a job as a barista even though I couldn’t speak French. I did learn the language over the time.
Coffee is becoming more important to Japanese people. Filtered coffee is still popular but in the last five to six years, people have started drinking espresso as well. It is growing in popularity – especially in Tokyo.
About this flexible lifestyle
Sometimes I found it hard to keep moving from place to place because I like to collect things – like coffee cups! I also like baking. I always wanted to have my own oven. That was one of the reasons I decided to move into Niseko and buy a new oven.
Advice to other travellers
Have something professional that you do. For me, it’s making coffee as well as cooking. I got a chef’s licence last year. I don’t have much experience as a chef but I thought it would be easier to get a job in a kitchen and there are so many restaurants in Niseko.
When I started travelling there were fewer people doing the same and many were surprised at what I was doing. Now it’s getting more popular. From this year, I think we (Japanese) can get a working holiday visa in Australia until we are 35 years old. So, it is getting easier and easier to do this.
Coffee and food – I think that’s what I want to do. Not sure that I want to have my own restaurant. I used to have more passion for owning my own coffee shop but now I prefer learning new things from my mentors.
When I was working in the importing/exporting job, I thought it would be very difficult to quit and start travelling around. Once I got used to it, I found it was so easy and I was so happy all the time. Now I receive less salary than before, but I am pretty sure I am happier and healthier.
I will have to check in with Emi next year to see how she likes being in one place for a while.