Food Glorious Food – A couple of special mentions
There is an awesome pizza shop located down some stairs on the corner of the main junction, called Niseko Pizza. It has tasty food, wine, a cool seating area and bar. After a long day boarding and eating Japanese most meals, it is nice to get in touch with Italian food coupled with a vibrant atmosphere.
Another group favourite was Wild Bill’s, which is about as un-Japanese looking as you can get. It is a large log style cabin with multiple bars and a pool table split across two levels. They serve delicious Japanese tapas (izakaya) and it can get quite ‘wild’ if you stay past 10pm. It is an easy way to start a fun night out if you are so inclined.
The final mention goes to “Fridge Bar” (aka Bar Gyu). It is an awesome boutique bar, nestled in the snow, a little way from the main drag and has a fridge door as the entrance. They serve hot food and drinks in a cosy and interesting ambiance with vinyls lining the walls. I had many spiked hot chocolates here listening to some tunes.
Snowboard Lessons with Pro Ski
My partner could already snowboard having been on a trip previously and he swore that I wouldn’t need lessons and that he could ‘easily’ teach me. He didn’t get lessons when he learnt, but tends to be a freak of nature when it comes to picking up sports. He tried to convince me that I would easily learn just like he did. I was willing to let him at least attempt to teach me. I had borrowed my board and bindings from a friend, but loaned boots and a helmet from one of the ski shops in the village. In day one, my partner spent a couple of hours trying to teach me some basic moves and how to get on and off the lifts without much luck. Needless to say, I did not learn anything, and had already started counting my bruises. After lunch, I went and booked a lesson and improved significantly with better directions fro my instructor and a little more patience. I went with Pro Ski and just did a half day lesson, but there are a variety of other options and a kids club. There were five girls in my lesson of varying ability and we all slowly ‘leafed‘ our way down the family run. I then spent two days practicing what I had learnt in the lesson, but I couldn’t quite perfect my technique and kept crashing, so I booked a second lesson on day three to correct any bad habits. I am so glad I did! It helped correct a variety of snowboarding sins and after that lesson, I felt I snowboarded with less effort and found I didn’t fall over so much. After three snow trips (Japan twice and Canada) I have progressed to my own board and are attempting jumps and tricks with ease. So don’t give up 🙂
Onsen Etiquette – Yukoro
If you have ever wondered about why Japanese women are so liberal about getting changed in public bathrooms, onsen is the answer. Japanese onsens can be quite a daunting experience for westerners. An onsen is a natural spring of hot water that is believed to have healing properties due to the minerals it contains. Some are naturally occurring and others are built up around shines or sacred areas. They are steamy, unusual and definitely an experience worth having, even just for the awkward story. Onsens are usually gendered but some can be mixed. They are quiet and peaceful places that Japanese people go to meditate and relax after a long day.
The Yukoro onsen was my first experience and it was just a short walk from our accommodation. I have now been in a variety of onsens, from indoor to outdoor, on rooftops and private baths in fancy hotels. After boarding or skiing for 5 or so hours, onsen is the perfect way to unwind with a beer or soft drink to let your muscles recover. Leave your shoes wherever everyone has left theirs and then pay the person behind the desk (usually a couple hundred yen). Find the locker room and follow everyone’s lead, by taking off your clothes and putting them in a locker, making sure to remove jewellery and watches etc. Use your modesty towel to cover up if you are shy (or are lucky enough to get one) or just go without and strut your stuff proudly (maybe have a few drinks beforehand, but not too many as you can pass out from the heat). Most people avert their eyes and are respectful anyway. Next comes the washroom. For my first time, it was located down a flight of steamy stairs and did resemble a dungeon a little. But do not fear! It is expected that you will wash yourself thoroughly BEFORE entering the onsen bath. You are supposed to sit on the little plastic stools and use the showers and products provided to clean your hair and body. Standing is unusual, but no one will say anything if you don’t want to sit on the plastic tubs. Before entering, women are expected to put their hair up (not let it sit in the water). Entering the onsen gracefully is really hard work as it is really hot and I found I had to choose which part of my body I covered with my very small modesty towel. Sitting on the edge of the bath, stark naked, slowly forcing yourself into the hot water is quite a humorous situation to find yourself in, made even more awkward and hilarious when with friends. At the Yukoro onsen in Niseko, we were allowed to bring beers and drinks bought from the vending machine outside into the onsen (the rules depend on the onsen) and the common practice (once you have got used to the heat) is to sit in the bath and place your modesty towel on your head (it shouldn’t go in the water) with snow on top to keep you cool if you are too hot. A word of warning, sometimes there are whole Japanese families going into onsen together, it is a little weird at first hanging out with women of all ages naked in a bath, but the more you do it, the better it gets. Trust me. Embrace it. Once you are done (about 20-30mins for me before I get too hot or dizzy) you can rinse off in the washroom, dry off and put your clothes back on. You will sleep like a baby I promise. This became a daily routine and an awesome way to thaw out after all that time in the snow.
Tokyo and Disneyland coming soon.