Japan has obviously featured heavily in the news over the last six weeks as a result of the devastating earthquake and Tsunami that struck Honshu, Japan’s main island, on 11th March 2011.
On that day I was fortunate enough to have just left Tokyo on a plane bound for Heathrow when the earthquake hit, and only became aware of events upon landing back in London. Although relieved to have left just before the quake, our hearts went out to the people of Japan – everyone we had met had been so friendly, warm and welcoming, and it was terrible to see the effect of the disaster unfold on their country.
We had spent the previous seven days skiing the most amazing powder conditions at the resort of Niseko. Niseko, is on Hokkaido – Japan’s north island – along with the other Japanese resorts that Ski Independence feature: Rustusu and Furano. Hokkaido was comparatively unaffected by the earthquake and Tsunami, with the resorts sitting over 500kms away from the epicenter. Niseko’s Promotion Board recently issued the following information:
“We appreciate the outpouring of support that Japan and we here in Niseko have received in response to the disaster that struck Japan’s east coast one month ago. As you know, the earthquake and tsunami that followed have left entire towns missing in northern sections of Honshu, Japan’s main island. These areas continue to struggle to provide shelter, food, services, and other supplies to residents who have been uprooted, but the displays of support in the form of donations, kind words, and volunteers has been truly inspiring.”
On the direct impact of the earthquake on Niseko they said:
“There was almost no direct impact from the event. Despite concerns about food shortages in affected areas, Niseko neither expected nor experienced supply issues. We know many people are concerned about the impact of the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant on Niseko’s developments and operations, so we’d like to quell as many fears as possible. Radiation levels in Hokkaido have remained at typical background levels for the last month and radiation at sites across Japan has been dropping steadily.”
The resort of Niseko itself has raised over two million yen to help with the relief effort, and at the same time as offering what help and sympathy they can to the residents of the main island, they are at the same time eager to get across the message that for next winter season (kicking off in December 2011) they and the other ski resorts will very much be open as usual and welcoming visitors from all parts of the world.
I can thoroughly recommend the experience of skiing in Japan. Many of the Hokkaido resorts get a huge average annual snowfall well in excess of 40 feet, so the chances of skiing perfect Japanese powder is high, with the best snow months to travel traditionally being late December, January, February and early March. Niseko itself is well set up, with a great ski area and a largely modern lift system – with the one exception being the highly unusual and amusing one man chair lifts at the very top of the mountain where further development of lifts is prohibited. The village of Niesko Hirafu has a huge range of accommodation, restaurants (traditional Japanese and otherwise), and a lively party scene as well if you like your après ski. Niseko village offers a quieter side with a couple of great hotels (including the Hilton Niseko Village), quick access to the mountain, and shuttles over to Niseko Hirafu in the evenings.
The skiing is phenomenal, and five out of the seven days (and nights – the floodlit night skiing there is superb) we skied were most definitely great powder days, and I’ve never seen it snow so hard. When the sun did poke through occasionally it allowed stunning views of the surrounding area including the very impressive Mount Yotei, the volcano which sits just across from the resort. The terrain is not super steep but there are some more challenging areas, and with the fantastic snow conditions we left all agreeing that it was most certainly some of the best skiing we’d ever had…and of course the Japanese people and culture added hugely to the overall holiday experience. The below video gives some idea of the skiing and the snow we were lucky enough to have whilst we were in Niseko…once again, the whole experience comes thoroughly recommended.