While Hirafu has come a long way in the past five years, the realisation five-star luxury is needed to attract the upper end of the international ski market is starting to become apparent. One man who has taken it upon himself to get the ball rolling is J-Sekka creator Shouya Grigg. Stepping inside the refurbished hotel, formerly J-Second, one can get an idea of the luxury and attention to detail Grigg has in mind. Listening to him speak, you can almost see the pictures he’s painting with his passion. We gave him an open mic to get an insight into his vision and what he’s got in store for Niseko.
“Niseko has a lot of potential and it’s still very much early days. In Hirafu over the past four or five years things have been improving on the one hand, but there’s still plenty of room for infrastructure and accommodation. There are now lots of self-contained condominiums and townhouses. But as far as the high-end, fully serviced style of accommodation, whether it be a five star hotel or a high-end resort, there’s nothing really along those lines locally.
With the people Niseko is starting to attract – high flyers and very wealthy people who have travelled the world to other ski resorts – who think the place is great, but don’t want to stay in a condominium or self-contained apartment. They want to stay somewhere with all the luxuries, all the services. They want to check in, get to their room, order room service. Within the hotel there’s restaurants, you don’t have to go shopping and bring stuff back to cook. I’m not the one who has to do all these things, there are other big guys coming to town to international resorts looking at the area, but for a long time, even before Niseko started, I’d always been interested in the high end of the market. Whether it was fashion or architecture, or hotels, or resorts, I always had in mind I’d love to produce, design, create my own high-end retreat.
With the Sekka brand, back when I first made the original restaurant, the plan was it would be a brand, not just a restaurant. I then did the houses (several small-scale, up-market houses in the lower village), now I’ve bought this small hotel (J-Second) that’s been rebranded, with new restaurants and a lounge bar. Generally what I like to do is I’m not only interested in commercial, only doing something so that it’s profitable. I don’t see myself as a businessman. For me it’s more from inspiration – I see these things are needed and it’s what I love anyway personally. Generally I think if you’re passionate about something and you believe in it, and it’s a good idea, it will work out in the end.
I’m involved in some very large parcels of land both near Hanazono and very close to Hirafu. At the base of Hirafu village we have two blocks that are basically 100,000 tsubos (33 hectares). It’s got views of Yotei and backs onto the river and got great views of Hirafu. It feels as though it’s about the size of Hirafu. With one of the blocks we’re in negotiations with some very famous, high-end international resort groups, two specifically. One of them is basically the top of the market.
There’s also a need for large homes. Talking about the retreat that I’ve always wanted to do, the other block next door I’m looking at doing a private residence, a village. So I’ll probably put 20 to 25 large homes in there, ranging from 600-800sqm homes. These will probably have an indoor lap pool. There will be a caretaker there looking after the overall village. We’ll drill for a hot spring and pipe it to all the homes so they’ll all have their own private hot spring. We’ll have a communal area – a central place where if people want to mingle they can. Maybe within that central building there might be a bit of a gym or fitness centre, spa facilities, massage, library, a lounge, there might be a wine cellar there. This year I’m building a 650sqm model home on a block at Hanazono that will be finished by next winter.
I’m building a very big house in the lower village which is almost finished. I call it Project Four. It will be absolute top end. The reason I thought of Project Four is it’s trying to push the boundaries – things that are spacious and luxurious and hopefully appealing to that type of market, like J-Sekka, the restaurants ands suites (six spacious rooms in J-Sekka in a space that formerly contained 30 rooms).
Why do I do it? Because it’s needed. The area has a lot of potential and it’s still very much early days so there’s still a long way to go. But to make it successful in the long term, some of these things need to come online sooner than later for the longevity of this resort. We all know the snow is good, better than most places out there, and there’s a whole range of other things it has going for it. But to really bring it on to that international level we need not just one but a few different styles of really big-end resorts, accommodation, hotels, restaurants and shops.”