Are you going to be in Niseko the holidays? Whether singing a Christmas carol or two or bringing in the new year, there’s more than enough going on across the four Niseko villages to keep you entertained on these special dates. Japan embraces the western holiday season during this time of year, and also has some cracking traditions of its own to explore and enjoy.
A Niseko Christmas, 2017
Japan has fully embraced the modern western Christmas (in form if not in spirit!), and as Niseko grows more international by the year, we see an ever-expanding roster of international holidays celebrated throughout the resort. Though the soul of the holiday is a little different and the event a little less major in Japan, there’s no shortage of fun things to do and ways to get your fill of holiday cheer.
Christmas, New Years Special Course Menu
Niseko’s restaurants will begin announcing their plans for special Christmas dinners a little closer to the date, but the majority of Japanese style restaurants won’t serve anything special for Christmas eve. A few of the western-style fine dining restaurants do serve special course menus, with booking ahead highly recommended. Here are some that have confirmed special menus for Christmas:
- An Dining: Fine dining establishment will be serving a special dinner, with booking currently open to Ki Niseko Guests only
- Kamimura: Niseko’s iconic fine dining restaurant serves a special 9-course degustation menu with paired wines on Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
- La Villa Lupicia: Offers a special course menu on Christmas, New Year’s Eve, CNY
- The Vale Bar & Grill: Are offering a special course menu on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with kids’ course menu available.
- Hilton Niseko Village: Each of the many restaurants on site adds festive touches to their selection during Christmas.
Dec 24 & 25 @ Various Hotels, All Resorts
Each of the ski resorts and some of the hotels will have resident Santa Clauses ready to hear your children’s wishes and pose for a fun Christmas memory photo. Find the Santa nearest you:
Santa visiting, sitting, taking photos and hearing wishes:
- The Vale Niseko Hotel
- Ki Niseko Hotel (TBC)
- AYA Niseko Hotel (TBC)
- Hanazono 308
As well as meeting children and handing out candy, Santa in Niseko also shreds! Look out for skiing Santas ripping up the slopes and handing out candy on Christmas Eve & Day at all four Niseko resorts on the 24th and 25th (and sometimes wandering down to the Seicomart, too!)
- Annupuri Ski Resort
- Niseko Village ski resort
- Grand Hirafu ski resort
- Hanazono Ski resort
Christmas Decorations and Tidbits:
If preparing for your own home Christmas, drop by 100 yen stores, Daiso and CanDo in Kutchan Town to pick up any decorations or baubles you might need. Convenience stores and supermarkets will also have a few novelty seasonal goods in stock leading up to the day. You’ll also find themed wrapping paper, gift cards – everything you need!
Dec 24th @ Hilton Niseko Village, The Vale Niseko Hotel
There is a range of fun events available for kids and families in the resort, focused around the 24th and 25th of December. Check out:
The Vale Niseko, 24th December, 4pm onwards:
- Kids Craft Activities
- Santa & Elves Visit
- Taiko Drums
- Mulled Wine (for the adults!)
Hilton Niseko Village, 24th December
- Gingerbread House Making: from 4 pm
- Photos with Reindeer: from 6 pm
Dec 24, 2017 @ Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu
Niseko Village and Grand Hirafu ski resorts will mark Christmas with fireworks on the slopes, usually at child-friendly hours.
- Hilton Niseko Village Fireworks: from 8.20 PM
- Niseko Grand Hirafu Resort: from about 9 PM (to be confirmed)
New Years: Japanese Festivities
The New Year or “shougatsu” holiday is to Japanese what Christmas is to westerners – including obligatory family time and one of the few days in the year that stores and offices in Japan close. Many traditions surround the last night of the old year and the first day of the new. Champagne and fireworks watching is always on the menu in any bar in Niseko, but the area really shows its Japanese soul during the Shougatsu celebrations.
Check out these local traditions:
Free Late-Night Skiing
Dec 31st, 9 PM – 11 PM @ Niseko Annupuri Resort
Niseko Annupuri Resort offers FREE night skiing until 11.15 PM on New Year’s Eve. Feel that festive buzz in the air as you enjoy the lit-up slopes, then grab a beer and wait at the foot of the ski hills for the dramatic torch relay and midnight fireworks.
Fire Torch Skiing
Dec 31st, 11:40 PM @ Grand Hirafu, Annupuri Resorts
The fire torch relay is a fantastic spectacle and a local tradition. As the lights go out on the slopes, volunteers with lit fire torches light up the night. They form the shape of numbers marking the coming year, then trickle down the mountain in the dark. The descent is timed so that the last rider hits the base at midnight, then the sky fills with fireworks (although it’s not always perfectly on time). Dress warm while you wait, and enjoy the bonfires!
New Years Countdown & Fireworks
Dec 31st, MIDNIGHT @ All Resorts
Nothing is quite as dramatic as fireworks lighting up the winter sky. At each of the four Niseko resorts, fireworks will shoot up and light up the sky at midnight to bring in the new year. At Annupuri and Grand Hirafu resorts the fireworks go hand in hand with the fire torch riders to make a beautiful and memorable night. Happy New Year!
Hatsumode, The First Shrine Visit
Dec 31st MIDNIGHT @ Yamada Shrine, Hirafu
The “Hatsumode” or first shrine visit is a Japanese tradition. Crowds will gather at Japanese Shinto shrines, waiting for the new year to be brought in by solemn gongs. At the stroke of midnight, people rush to make their first wishes and prayers for the year. The “Hatsumode” or first shrine visit is worth seeing wherever in Japan you find yourself, and shrines in Kutchan and Niseko Towns are no exception. On the Niseko slopes, this the only night of the year when Hirafu’s hidden Yamada shrine opens its doors. Come to the shrine and make your wishes, enjoy a candle-lit walkway, bonfires, stalls with sake and food and a convivial village feeling.
Kami-Biraki: Breaking the Sake Cask
Jan 1st, 10 AM @ Hanazono 308
On New Year’s Day, Japanese hotels and ski resorts will break open a traditional wooden sake cask, with free sake shared as a part of festivities. Last year AYA Niseko, The Vale Niseko and Hotel Niseko Alpen, Grand Hirafu and Hanazono ski resorts all partook. The earliest and grandest is at Hanazono Resort’s Hanazono 308 restaurant from 10 am, with resort bigwigs and free sake for all.
Watching the First Sunrise
Jan 1st, 6 AM @ Niseko Village Gondola
If you’re an early riser, Niseko Village runs a special sunrise gondola ride to take you to the top of Mt Annupuri and watch the first sunrise of the year, another Japanese tradition said to bring good fortune. The first sunrise of the year peeking out from behind Mt Yotei – unforgettable! (no skiing down afterward, sorry!)
Rice Cake (Mochi) Making
Jan 1st, daytime @ Niseko Alpen Hotel, The Vale Niseko Hotel
Mochi (sticky rice cake) is traditionally eaten on the first day of the New Year. You can buy mochi in many forms during this time of year, but nothing is quite as fun as making mochi by hand! Pounded in large bowls using giant hammers, with one person swinging hammer and another kneading the rice dough: Mochi Making is a quintessential New Year’s activity in Japan that’s fun for all ages!
With all these events happening in town, you’ll be kept busy in the last week of December. Be sure not to party too hard!