A Niseko Holiday Season Primer
Guests often ask us, "Where can I get Christmas Dinner in Niseko?" often followed by "Where is the best place to ring in the new year?" This article is written with just those questions in mind.
Christmas is a big deal!
But... not in Japan. Japan does not celebrate the season in ways you may be used to. Here it has become a date night or couples night and a time to eat Christmas cake with your sweetheart or family.
Locals in Niseko however have come to realize that even though people may be far from home and their extended family, it is natural to want to celebrate the yuletide season with family and friends in a familiar way. With that in mind, the Niseko resort area has embraced Christmas in an evergrowing way year on year.
That is the pressing question. For me, family dinner was the ultimate celebration at Christmas. A time for the family to gather around the dining table, laugh, drink and eat too much. It is one of the things I miss as an ex-pat in Japan. But that has changed and options abound for guests wanting traditional Christmas meals. Perhaps you wish to experiment with a new dining tradition? Many return guests go to the same restaurant for their family dinner, and it doesn't involve turkey 99% of the time. See below for some recent Christmas trends in-resort.
Have a gourmet feast with all the fixings delivered to your accommodation. Prepared by the Haku Villas chefs, you can choose from Glazed Ham or Roast Turkey full-course meals. Don't forget dessert!
Why not invite a professional Japanese chef to visit your accommodation and prepare a local gourmet feast! Choices abound with a variety of mains ranging from Wagyu beef and Makkari Pork to classic fresh seafood sashimi and sushi choices. Kids menu available.
La Villa Lupicia
With an acute sense of style and the skill to craft a spread worthy of any family dinner, La Villa Lupicia offers a special Christmas menu each year. Famous for its splendid baking and welcoming a diverse palette of flavors, Lupicia stands alone in its vision for a guest's dining experience. Lupicia is famous for its stellar teas, but be sure to sample the craft beer! Earl Grey Darjeeling is quite nice.
Sitting atop the peak of the Niseko dining scene, Kamimura offers an exceptional culinary affair to savor and marvel over with friends back home. Any day of the week is phenomenal at Kamimura, but chef Kamimura often designs a special Christmas degustation for those wanting a sophisticated take on the holiday tradition. Highly recommended and Michelin starred!
Does Santa come to Niseko?
Santa is known for many amazing talents, bi-location or multi-location, seemingly being able to eat an infinite number of cookies washed down with milk, reindeer, and elf wrangling to name a few. But, did you know that Santa shreds?
Santa loves a good cruise through the powder and Niseko is the best place for that. In and around Christmas, Santa can be seen tearing it up on the slopes of Niseko United resorts. Word is, if you can catch him, he may have some goodies for you.
Hanazono also has a special snow rafting session with Santa as well as photos in the snow chair. Niseko Village resort also has some special activities for kids. Things like gingerbread house making and photo ops with reindeer are all topped off with fireworks for the whole family. Good times abound in the festive season!
The spiritual aspect of Christmas can sometimes get lost in the hustle and bustle of the holidays. For those folks wanting to participate in a Christmas Mass, the Kutchan Catholic Church is the place to be. Just ask our friendly front desk team how to get in touch.
New Year is a really big deal!
In Japan, Christmas has become the opening act for the headliner. Better known as "oshogatsu", New Year is the big one in Japan. It is the one time of the year when even Tokyo becomes like a ghost town with most shops closed and throngs of people go back to their hometowns to celebrate with family. New Year literally means no connection to the past year, so a fresh start is guaranteed. Therefore all duties and business must be completed. A "bonenkai" or "year forgetting party" with your co-workers is a customary way to celebrate the completion.
"But what does this have to do with Niseko? I want to bring in the New Year in style!"
Don't worry! There are a lot of things to do in the resort and there is no better time than the New Year to really make a connection with the local people and culture of Japan.
New Year's Eve, or, Omisoka is when the real festivities in Niseko start.
Soba, or noodles made from the hearty buckwheat plant, is always eaten on New Year's Eve. The long soba noodles are revered as they represent strength, resiliance, and longevity. The delicious noodles are always combined with a savoury soup and served hot or cold. Including shrimp, often tempura, with your soba is said to enhance the longevity of the noodles alone. If you need some monetary luck, then be sure to add tofu to your mix. Thinking about adding another family member? Then be sure to get "nishin" or herring in the bowl. They symbolize prosperity and having many children. Any way you serve it, Toshikoshi Soba is always delicious. Just make sure to finish before midnight, it's bad luck not to! "Why?" Eating soba in both the old and new year symbolizes an overlapping of the years and therefore no clean break from the previous year!
"Naitaa!"... If you haven't done any night riding in Niseko, you are missing out! Usually closing at around 8 pm, Annupuri resort offers free night riding until 11 pm. Not only that, the spectacle of the fire riders see dozens of people riding down the mountain in formation carrying flaming torches. This is followed up by fireworks at 3 of the Niseko United resorts that are free and open to all.
Shrine time! Before heading out to the nightclub, it may be prudent to visit a shrine for "hatsumode" or the first shrine visit of the year. Even though it takes place at a shrine, normally a place of reverence, this is generally not a solemn event. Besides ringing the giant bell and praying for long life and happiness, Japanese sake, or rice wine, is often served. There may be some tasty sashimi as well. But what is guaranteed, are smiles and positivity as everyone is eager about the promise of a new start about to unfold. In the larger cities, thousands of people, young and old, line up for a chance to ring the bell and welcome the year. Old "omamori", or amulets, are returned to the shrine for cremation, and new ones are purchased.
Yamada shrine often has an intimate event for those not wishing to stray to far from Hirafu.
More in line with western traditions, nightclubs abound in Niseko. Mostly in lower Hirafu at the Grand Hirafu resort area. Different clubs have different atmospheres. Just click the link and don't forget that our friendly front desk team is a good resource!
When the lights come on and the music stops
Your night doesn't have to end there, nor should it! Japan has one more tradition if you still have the energy to do it. "Hatsuhinode" is the act of witnessing the first sunrise of the year. Make your way over to the sunrise gondola at Niseko Village and take in the view of the sunrise from the top of the lifts. Keep in mind that there is no skiing or riding down after. This is a by foot-only kind of activity. While it would be great to ride down, the groomers are most likely still making the slopes perfect for first chairs at 8:30 am.
Hatsuhinode - The first sunrise of the year
But I still haven't had enough!
That's ok! The festivities are not done. New Year in Japan usually is spread out over 3 days. Get your first, or perhaps second or third, round of Japanese sake fresh from the cask at Hanazono during the "kagamibiraki" or cask breaking ceremony. Witness the new year "taiko" drummers' syncopated frenzy at various locations throughout the resort over the festive season. Sample delicious "mochi", or glutinous rice cake, at a "mochitsuki" demonstration. Shaped, sweetened, and stuffed with tasty treats mochi is definitely a must-have treat in the new year!
The holiday season may not be exactly what you are used to back home, but the resort has its own fresh takes on holiday festivities. Combine those with the time-honored traditions of oshogatsu and you end up with a unique and memorable holiday trip to Japan.
Interested in accommodation for the holidays?
Just reach out to us through the form below. Our friendly local experts will help you find the perfect vacation property.