MANY tourists visiting Niseko to explore its reputation as the ‘land of powder snow’ may be forgiven for thinking they are about to embark on a traditional Japanese holiday experience. The influx of foreigners to the Hirafu area has somewhat pushed the traditional Japanese customs aside to make way for a more westernised culture.
There are, however, many ways in which tourists can experience the prized and respected customs of ancient Japanese culture. For those wishing to develop this insight, Kutchan Machi-no-Eki runs fortnightly Japanese cultural tours in Kutchan.
Holidaying in Niseko last season, I thought I had already taken in a wealth of Japanese culture as never previously experienced. Within a few minutes of boarding the bus however, tourists were snowed under with a true Japanese experience that had nothing to do with the weather outside.
The three-hour tour takes you to the town of Kutchan and provides the opportunity to participate in traditional Japanese activities beginning with a Japanese tea ceremony, before continuing on to martial arts and taiko drum performances.
Traditional Japanese tea ceremony
Precision. Meticulousness. Execution. Sprung from the foundations laid by the 13th Century Samurais, the Japanese Tea Ceremony, or ‘Cha-no-yu’, is one based on attention, assiduousness and respect.
Commencing with the methodical and painstaking preparation of the tea bowl before brewing the tea, all participants are given the opportunity to mix their own bowl of green tea, while being guided through the process by kimono-clad hosts.
Iaido – the sheathing of the sword
Thanks to the popularity of westernised movies such as The Last Samurai, the Japanese art of Iaido and other martial arts have long been viewed as the highlight and epitome of Japanese customs.
Around 700AD, Japanese swordsmiths forged the first of what are now considered the finest swords ever made. During this segment of the tour, Iaido Sensei’s present a private performance before tourists become privy to their own attempt at Iaido, with a sword whose own weight and sharpness is enough to decapitate a full-grown man. This handling of the sword is an honour most Japanese natives have never even experienced.
Taiko drum performance
After the excitement of the Iaido demonstration, tourists are ready for the final part of the tour, the highly anticipated taiko drum performance. Mid-way through the performance, the drummers encourage all tourists to have a go at learning this historic Japanese art form.
While the aim of most tourists to Niseko is to hit the slopes as much as possible, it would be a shame to spend a holiday in Hokkaido without experiencing true Japanese culture. The popularity of these tours continues to grow throughout the season, so bookings are essential.
Tour Dates and Events
Sunday, January 11; Saturday, January 24; Tuesday, February 3; Saturday, February 14; Tuesday, March 3.
Check www.powderlife.com/niseko/events, or contact Kutchan Machi-no-Eki ‘Pratto’ on 0136-23-022.