Japan, A Winter Delight

Tuesday 16 March 2010 | By Zoe Bruce |

A Taste of Everything

At long last, I have now experienced the beauty that is Japan. After studying the language and the culture of this country for 7 years, I have finally had the chance to visit three of its main attractions. Starting with the more traditional and temple laden Kyoto, then moving onto the amazing snow offered in Niseko and finishing up with Tokyo city. Spanning three weeks, it was a holiday and a culture that I am unlikely to forget.


I would have to say that the traditional Watazen Ryokan was my favourite accommodation of the trip. The room featured bedding on tatami matts, rice paper walls, a green tea set, kimono robes, slippers and a highly relaxing, communal bath. Watazen Ryokan was centrally located and is just a short walk from Shijo station and was also close to the famous Nishiki Food Markets. Just outside my doorstep was bike hire, which allowed me to easily cruise around to some of the best temples in the area. Navigating the main street can be difficult with all the pedestrian traffic, but once on the outskirts of the city, the small, beautiful lane-ways by the hills were far less populated. Riding along the hillside lead to some beautiful temples, my favourite of which was Kiyomizu Dera. Another easy way to see the city and in particular Nijo-jo Castle and Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion is via the bus system. The one day pass costs approximately $6 and proves to be a highly economical and easy way to see the area. 

Niseko, Hokkaido

A short flight North of Osaka is the island of Hokkaido and during the winters it is known for receiving some of the best snowfall in the world. When I arrived in Niseko Village, it was even more beautiful than I imagined. The beautiful town featured buildings with snow hanging like mushrooms from atop each of the roofs, while walls of snow, up to 3 metres high lined the streets. As for the snowboarding, the early morning powder at Hanozono mountain was hard to beat, with a particular run known as Strawberry Fields, a favourite amongst visitors. As a side note, Strawberry Fields is a double black run and should something go wrong you will not be covered by travel insurance... in other words; enter at your own risk.

Accommodation in this area is abundant, with styles to suit everyone. I stayed at the Woody Note Inn, a beautiful log cabin run by Toshi and his wife. Toshi personally drives guests to the lifts of a morning in his own bus and the couple work hard to ensure your stay is as comfortable as possible. Included in the price was a daily buffet style breakfast, which provided a great start to the long day of boarding ahead. After bashing the slopes for a while, I recommend you head to Abucha Bakery, which sits on the corner, right near the Seiko Mart and the only traffic lights in town. They serve reasonably priced, absolutely delicious patisserie food and even better than that are their oreo hot chocolates - or on a particularly well deserved day, you may prefer to opt for the hot Baileys. Once I discovered this place, I became a devout, daily visitor!


Tokyo is an amazing city; the shopping, people, food and transport system are unforgettable. I stayed in Tokyo for 6 nights, which I happen to feel is perhaps a little too long, however if you are hoping to visit Mt Fuji, this would be ideal. Staying in Shinjuku at the Sunroute Plaza, I was a mere 4 minutes walk from the train station and Times Square. Some of the highlights of Tokyo included the shopping in Harajuku and wandering through the breathtaking Yoyogi Park, visiting the famous Shibuya crossing, looking out across the city from Tokyo Tower and playing arcade games at Sega World in Akihabara (Electric City).

The nightlife in Tokyo left me somewhat underwhelmed, with Roppongi clubs proving to be not all that much different from a night out in Surfers Paradise. Another thing to watch in Tokyo is drinking alcohol while dining out. Whilst meals are relatively inexpensive, a beer can set you back around 700 Yen or AU$8.50.  All in all I feel Tokyo is an essential part of a Japanese holiday experience. But then again I may be biased.... it is after all an ideal place for shopping, shopping and more shopping!

For a complete culture shock, a taste of history, thigh high powder and extraordinary shopping, Japan really has it all. Getting around as a non-speaking Westerner is a breeze, with low airfares and fantastic snow packages making Japan more appealing than ever before. 

For more information on any of the areas featured in this blog, contact World Travel Professionals to speak with one of our consultants. We encourage and welcome all user comments and aim to use our blog to interact with our interested readers! 

Niseko Japan, International Ski Destination

Wednesday 17 December 2008 | By Ros Bulat |

Japan Ski, Gaining Momentum

Japan is a country with extensive mountain ranges, literally hundreds of ski resorts and plentiful snow, yet a language barrier and the country's distance from Western markets have long prevented it from becoming a major international ski destination.

That's starting to change, especially at a resort called Niseko. Situated on Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's main islands, Niseko has become wildly popular among Australians, who are attracted by the chance to ski world- class snow without suffering the jet lag they associate with North American and European resorts.

Especially from mid-December through February, the resort gets socked with winter storms that blow off Siberia and bury the mountain in some of the lightest, driest powder on the planet. The town of Kutchan, the seat of local government, records an average of nearly 12.7 meters - about 42 feet - of snow a year. On- mountain averages are harder to come by, but local ski businesses say that Niseko frequently gets more than 15.2 meters a year.

When most people visit Niseko, they come to a conglomeration of three separate ski areas - Grand Hirafu, Higashiyama and Annupuri - which offer a common lift pass and connect near the top of the mountain they share. A few smaller resorts also operate in the Niseko area but do not connect with their bigger neighbors or participate in their shared lift ticket.

Most of Japan's biggest and best-known resorts sit on Hokkaido, the north island, or on the northern half of Honshu, Japan's main island. Hokkaido currently has most of the buzz, but the 1998 Winter Olympics took place at several well- regarded resorts in Nagano Prefecture, on Honshu. Some of the Honshu areas, like the mammoth, multi-resort Hakuba area, are also starting to attract international attention. The sheer numbers of Australians in Niseko's streets, bars and restaurants surprised even visitors from Down Under.

Niseko can still be charming - a small, once-sleepy resort not quite accustomed to the spotlight. In addition to its slopeside hotels, Hirafu village has two main streets, a few lodges and some bed- and-breakfast-style pensions. The restaurants tend to be intimate, and the best book up days in advance during the high season. There's sushi, naturally, but also izakayas (a sort of Japanese tapas bar), bakeries, pizzerias and even a restaurant housed in a Mongolian-style tent.

And Niseko has plenty to do off the slopes. Hot springs, or onsen, are among the best things about many Japanese resorts, and each has its own personality. At the rustic Yukoro onsen, for example, Japanese and Australian visitors sipped beers while leaning against pleasantly rough rocks near a snowbank. For those who can pull themselves out of the water, large swaths of the slopes are also lighted until 9 p.m.

Discover more about winter in Japan here.

For more information on any of the areas featured in this blog, contact World Travel Professionals to speak with one of our consultants. We encourage and welcome all user comments and aim to use our blog to interact with our interested readers!