Our first ski trip in Japan. Destination: Niseko Hilton, Hokkaido.
We are flying Japan Air Lines (JAL) and by air, it takes about 1hr and 30 minutes. The plane tickets for JAL are a little smaller than the normal tickets and everyone uses the little square code to scan. I still haven’t figured out what those things are, but my guess, it’s the new bar code.
From the Airport to Niseko, we took a bus which was another 2 & ½ hour ride. Fortunately, the bus did stop for a bathroom break at a funky mushroom restaurant. It was here that Cliff and Chase discovered their ultimate meal:
Whatever happened to pecan logs and pork rinds? I don’t know how they managed to impale sausages on rib bones but that just goes to show the genius of the Japanese.
Meat on a rib bone plus a Coke: “Breakfast of Champions” according to Cliff Wright.
Just a Spoon and a Bowl. Go at it!
As I looked around this Japanese Cracker Barrel, I noticed there was plenty of opportunity to sample. But this wasn’t sampling of easy finger foods, this was like relish… Who samples chutneys, relish, and pickles in the palm of your hand while on a road trip? The Japanese. That’s who.
Finally, we arrive at the hotel. One of the many ironies of Japan is on one end (Tokyo) you have uber luxurious, modern hotels and then when you go outside the city, you end up in places that look and feel like they were built in the 70’s and not recently renovated. I was pleasantly surprised by the Niseko Hilton because even though it might not have been modern or fresh, it definitely had a cool, groovy feel to it and lighting was very dim and thus flattering to all.
As we arrived, I was texting with Alexandra and we were coordinating a dinner rendezvous with her family and us. By now it was dinner time, and the sausage-ribs had long been digested. As we headed towards the room, I noticed something I had never seen in the States before. You know how sometimes (especially in the really nice hotels) you might find a vending snack machine or ice machine on a floor? Well, here at the Niseko Hilton, they have a free hot water/green tea machine for your convenience! How nice is that?!?
Hot Water AND Green Tea ANYTIME!
After we got settled in, we met up with Alexandra, Andrew, and their 2 boys Ollie & Max. Had dinner “off campus” at a local diner where the service was slow, but the sake was good and had a perfect ending to a long day of traveling. It never ceases to amaze me just how tiring sitting on your butt all day can be.
Our ski package came with breakfast at the hotel, so every morning we enjoyed a huge buffet breakfast at one of the Hilton Restaurants. Note to self; try not to stuff oneself before squeezing into tight ski layers and ski boots.
I like this picture of Chase and me for the same reason I like the picture of Cliff and me. Both pictures depict exactly what our vacation personalities are like.
Moving to Japan, I have come to delineate the nuance between city-shock and culture-shock. By no means am I an expert in ski or ski lodging, but I have never been to a ski rental where you could basically go to the resort without 1 piece of ski equipment (including clothing) and expect to rent EVERYTHING! And I saw quite a few Chinese, Taiwanese, Singaporeans, etc… do exactly that. Here is a picture of the rental form:
I don’t consider this culture shock as much as I think this is city-shock. Living in small apartments, people just don’t have the space to own a couple of ski jackets and skis and pants and all the big, bulky accessories that come with a sport like skiing, so when they go, they just go and rent everything. I can see how it makes sense if you don’t know any different, but for me, it’s kind of like having your own pool. You just can’t go public again.
The Niseko Hilton is the epitome of ski-in-ski-out accommodation. They have a fabulous ski valet service located in the hotel that stores your boots and skis, and the gondola and another ski lift is just steps outside the exit. Soooooo convenient. Just one warning, I don’t know if it’s just here in Niseko or not, but the lifts are VERY uncomfortable and we all suffered bruises on our backs and the legs. The gondolas are meant for 6 Asian people = 4 Non-Asian people. They are about the same size as a carriage in a small time country fair ride. The lift tickets are all automated so you don’t have a tag hanging off your jacket/pants and a scanner in the lift line scanning you like vegetables. You simply put the card in a pocket, and ski through a turnstile and get pushed through.
For the longest time I have observed other friends partake in the combination of ski-then-schvitz/sauna. I never indulged in this myself… until this trip. One of the awesome amenities of the resort is their access to a natural hot springs or “onsen”. Many people in Japan, heck Asia, love to get naked and dip themselves in mineral hot waters for their healing and invigorating effects. The Niseko Hilton has an indoor and outdoor onsen. Some hot springs are co-ed, but unfortunately this one was separated. Sitting in the hot, mineral water, feeling the cold air all around me, watching the snow falling as the sun began to set behind the pine trees, I had a moment of culture shock. Who am I? Where am I? What am I doing here?
It was all so impossibly beautiful and zen-like I could hardly believe I was awake! I did this after skiing 3 days in a row. The outdoor onsen is made like an infinity pool that bleeds out into the actual pond. The pond was close enough for me to reach out and touch. I found 3 koi fish (black, white and gold fishes) swimming right up to the onsen. I could have touched them if I liked. I don’t know why, but at one point, I started to scrape some of the winter algae off the edge of the rocks and I threw clumps at the fish hoping they might eat it –and they did! Then I started fantasizing that the fish were my friends and they could talk and they became my pets, and I would feed them every day and they would grant me wishes… maybe I stayed in the 115 degree water too long. Maybe the minerals were affecting me strangely. Who am I? Where am I? What am I doing here? Time to get dried off and meet Alexandra and Andrew for a drink.
To Be Continued…