Niseko & Aomori, Japan

 * Niseko, Japan *
Snowboarding + Powder + Ramen

Powder

Another adventure checked off the bucket list. After 3 years of NOT snowboarding we were desperate to find out if we still could. The place to go around here is Niseko on Japan’s most northern island and it did not disappoint. The snow is dry. It’s fluffy. It’s consistently falling. It’s 100% primo… sort of like Roundtop in Pennsylvania where I cut my first tracks. Ha. Just kidding.

A couple things that wowed us about Niseko aside from the snow conditions. For starters the mountain is massive as it’s comprised of 6 different ski areas. A car rental is not necessary (and why would you ever want to drive in this much snow is beyond me). The town and most every hotel has a shuttle bus that runs between all the mountains (and your ski pass works as a bus pass). Our hotel’s shuttle was so prompt that if you were 30 seconds late, it was gone. I appreciate how accurate and dependable things are in Japan. Lastly, one does not need to lug any gear because renting high quality gear (even snowsuits) is easy and affordable at about $30/day and it’s delivered straight to your hotel. Japan. So organized. So accommodating.

RFID ski / bus pass. If returned at the end of your stay at a vending machine you get a $10 usd refund. Slick recycling!
The ‘1,000 meter hut’ for a hot chocolate pitstop in nearly white out conditions. It was COLD which meant short lift lines.

Ramen

Boyoso – a rustic log cabin hut with a coal burning stove, nestled in the woods, was our favorite on-the-mountain place to warm up. It was built in 1965 as a safety hut for people who were lost… and now for those on strict ramen-only diets like us in the woods.
Boyoso’s ramen goodness + hot complimentary tea + slippers if you want to slip off your boots. Japan! You amaze me.
Our neighbors in Taichung, Michelle plus family were also in Niseko. That’s Michelle’s brother, Tim and her husband Alex on the left… and Mr. Sabbatical Stache on right.
Fuck out
Our hip hotel shuttle driver was an amazing DJ (see iPad) plus he had a “Fuck Out” coffee mug. I don’t know what it means, but I want it.
Bar Gyu, a cozy cocktail bar with the tiniest door and a delicious Gin & Tonic (Nikka Japanese gin, haskap berries, pine leaf and tonic).

Depending on how you like to travel this could be a perk or a bummer, but there are no language barriers in Niseko. It’s a very international town – every young Australian from the Southern Hemisphere seemed to be on their summer break working in the restaurants. Niseko is worldly and it was refreshing to hear other languages aside from Mandarin, but culturally speaking it’s not a rich Japanese experience. You come for the pow-pow, baby.

Niseko Onsens

Sorry, mo onsen pics as they’re never allowed and that would be creepy as everyone is naked. Niseko has lots of public onsens (hot spring baths). In fact, many hotels have their own (ours did not), but most hotels are open theirs to the public for a nominal fee. One day we shredded down the mountain as cold as popsicles, hopped on a bus straight to the Niseko Grand Hotel Onsen, the only co-ed onsen in town (yep, there were johnsons in this onsen), paid about $10 usd each, plopped our gear in their foyer and soaked outside under snowfall. The other onsen we frequented was within walking distance to our hotel and near Bar Gyu (with tiny door), Yukoro Onsen. It’s a gender separated one, which is standard, but this onsen allowed one to take a can of beer in while you soak. And that’s how you wrap-up a day on the mountain!


 * Aomori, Japan *
Lunar New Year Unplugged 


Deep connection to all things lunar

While most people in the western world celebrate a solar calendar new year on Jan. 1, we over here in the eastern world celebrate the lunar new year. This year the new year started on February 5. The date changes year to year because it starts on the first new moon of the lunar calendar, and ends during the first full moon 15 days later. Most people have off the entire week and many businesses and factories are closed for at least the week, if not longer. It’s a time when people return home and spend quality time with their families. It’s like Christmas but with daily fireworks and zero commercialism or American football. It’s awesome.

Since we just saw the closest family we have over here in New Zealand, we decided to make the most of this Japan trip and get off the beaten path. I found a ryokan (a traditional tatami-mat room with communal hot spring baths) in Northern Honshu, Japan’s largest island, just south of where we were snowboarding. It required some work to get to and one canceled flight due to wind but we made it. It was really off the beaten path and very little English spoken in these parts which is exciting, in a challenging way. We didn’t think it was possible, but we found more snow at the deeply nestled-in-the woods Lamp No Yado / Aoni Onsen.

What we wore for 3 days straight – a yukata robe and haori jacket plus thick fleece “jeju jammies”.

One rarely feels small in Asia

This place was intriguing because it was founded in 1929 and they still don’t depend entirely on electricity, but kerosene lamps (200 are on hand) and stoves. It was also remote as in the road to get there was 7 kilometers and closed to all traffic (except them) due to the snow. In all honesty they had some parts wired but only during portions of the day. At night we used kerosene lamps for light and a kerosene stove for heat. It was cozy. I know, you snowed in souls in the USA must think we’re nuts, but listen… we live in a year-round tropical climate now. SNOW IS NOW EXOTIC.

The kerosene lamp shop where they are cleaned and filled daily then replenished in each guest room.
The entryway with wood stove (sliding doors on right to dining area)
Dining room. Those are REAL fish sticks in front of the man standing. One per person! This was a beautiful and calming room to eat in.

Our cozy tatami mat and kerosene heated room. They replenished our hot water thermos daily so tea can be made throughout the day/night at your leisure.

The property has 4 beautiful onsens, some inside, some outside. 

1 of 4 onsens, for women (men’s on flip side of wall). Large windows open up to a view of the woods.

Young women beautifully singing together as they soak in one of the onsens. I think this video captures the essence of this place.

Hot spring water runs continuously on the sidewalks to prevent ice build up

I never thought it was possible, but after 3 full days we hit our limit on onsen soaking and eating fish for every meal. We were desperate to stretch our legs, to hike or walk in the woods, but the snow was so freak ‘n deep you couldn’t go off road. The only place to hike was along the 7 k road (driveway).

Snowbound leg stretcher
On the last day they dropped us and a few other guests off at a most desolate bus stop and we made our way back to civilization. Scott was all smiles. Buses here, even in remote areas are PROMPT, CLEAN, WARM and QUIET.

 

Happy belated lunar new year. We miss and love all of you fine friends and family.

 

pp
 
Love, Pickles & Passionfruit

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8 thoughts on “Niseko & Aomori, Japan

  1. Aomori— very cozy. Big oaken beams, softly glowing burnished wooden sideboards, mild grassy scent of tatami, enveloping chairs, warm glowing lamps highlighting the subtle artworks of the owner, whimsical antique items and odd found objects from nature walks in past days— So like our Kumamoto Naya on a rainy October night. An essence: it’s something nameless, evanescent, ineffable, mysterious and yet homely, tender and easy to love. Strive to create it every single day. It is what everybody should want. It’s what everybody needs. Whatever it is — you can’t buy it at Target.

    1. It makes me so happy and grateful that we all got to experience a slice of Japan last year. It’s a magical place… just like a Murakami novel! Cheers to creating Naya wherever we may be. XOXO

  2. This is the trip I’ve been waiting to hear about!!! You guys are my favorite travelers! I can’t get over the pow! Well done and happy sabbatical, I mean New Year!

    1. Caliente! I thought of you so much while shredding this glorious pow… and our post shred parking lot happy hours at Meadows. Good times that we will surely repeat when we’re both back stateside. Keep exploring this great big small world. XOXO

  3. Sorry but the snow does not look at all appealing to me. We have had more snow this year than any on record here in Nebraska. But it certainly looks like you had a wonderful time. I too love to hear about your travels.

    1. I think you and my folks in MT feel the same way. You’re welcome back anytime to be a Taiwan snowbird! It’s currently 75 degrees. Next week to be pushing mid 80s.

  4. I love following you on your travels! All that snow in Aomori-so beautiful, it looks straight out of a calendar, the quiet can be so ‘loud’! What’s next on your bucket list? I miss you here in Portland.

    1. Hi Catherine! So true. Quiet is my favorite non-sound and so rare in our city of Taichung, bustling with almost 3 million people. Makes me nutty some days. Indonesia is on the Eastern Hemisphere’s bucket list and hopefully another visit to see my sister in Jeju, South Korea. There are so many nooks to explore in this world! Love to you. Your “other” Sarah XO

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