A well known ‘secret’ among people who have been coming here for a few years is the Half Note Jazz bar. Complete with pool table, table tennis table and stage, you could well find an impromptu jam session break out. Brothers Toh-san (Dad) and Toshio-san also run the Full Note and Woody Note pensions. Famous for their big hearts they’re the type of characters that make Niseko great.
When did you come to Niseko?
Toh-san: 1982, Toshio-san: 1993.
Why did you decide to come here?
Toh-san: I was a salary-man and used to move a lot because of my work. One time my company sent us to Sapporo and I loved Sapporo so much. I started to think that I didn’t want to cross the ocean back to a busy, busy place like Tokyo anymore and I wanted to stay in Hokkaido. We chose Niseko because we like skiing and we knew Niseko was a great mountain because I came here for my honeymoon.
Toshio-san: I was also a salary-man. I used to work for a ski-wear maker in Tokyo. I had to work very long hours. 160 hours of overtime every month… it was insane! I loved the mountain life, so when I saw my brother’s lifestyle, I thought this is what I want too! So my wife and I made a pact to move here after we had our first child. Six months after our baby was born, we moved here.
What was Niseko like when you came here?
Toh-san: There were a few pensions in Annupuri but not Hirafu back then. There were a few lodges but no restaurants, no souvenir shops. It wasn’t a resort at all.
How did you name your pension?
Toh-san: Well, I like playing music. So I used the word ‘Note’ for everything around this pension. We have five Notes! The main pension is Full Note, the music studio and bar is ‘Half Note’, the tennis court is ‘Love Note’, the cottage is ‘Mini Note’, and Toshio’s pension is called ‘Woody Note’.
Woody Note is handmade, isn’t it?
Toshio-san: Yes, except the foundation work. I built it by myself. Of course it wasn’t easy, it took about 18 months of long days to build. I needed to save money on the labour, but I chose expensive red cedars for Woody Note. Now I’m getting really busy with log work not only for us, but also for our friends. I have to keep working!!
It sounds like you love music. What kind of instruments do you play? When did you start?
Toh-san: I play drums. I loved the Beatles and the Ventures when I was a junior high student, but they were so expensive at that time. Maybe a full set was three-months of my father’s salary. So I could not ask my parents to buy a drum set, so I used to play with cardboard boxes. When I entered the University, I finally got to play a real drum set for the first time.
Toshio-san: I have no musical background but I started percussion recently.
Why did you make a tennis court and music studio?
Toh-san: Well, this place was a ghost town in summer. We had to think how to get customers in summer. I love playing tennis, and thought a tennis court would bring us customers in summer! I love playing music too and in Japan the houses are so small that it’s tough to find a place to practice playing big instruments.
Are there many repeat customers?
Toh-san: Yes, we have maybe 70% repeat customers. For the next winter, rooms are pretty much booked already with those foreign customers! In summer we have lots of students coming for a music training camps or tennis training camps.
What do you think about the changes in Niseko?
We think it’s good. Not so many Japanese people ski these days. We are happy that lots of people from foreign countries are coming here. It’s good for our business!! The pension system has changed in last few years, we used to offer two meals a day to everyone, but now only breakfast. When we were doing two meals a day, we didn’t have any time for ourselves, but we do now. It’s good for old people like us!
There is a shuttle bus going around the village, but you are still giving rides to all the customers. Why is it important to you to offer the shuttle service?
When we drive the shuttle we can talk with our customers. It’s very important for us to communicate with them. We are offering this service with all our heart. We want to give good service to the customers who chose our pensions. When we see people waiting for the resort shuttle bus on the street, we pick them up too. Our shuttle service is very flexible. When we drive up to the gondola station and we see the long line up, we can take them to the Centre Quad, or when they want to shop before they ski, we can drop them off at the shop.
What are your top three tips for all visitors to Niseko to do?
1 Backcountry skiing. Niseko has easy access to back-country, so please enjoy!
2 Have an onsen. There are so many good onsens in this area.
3 Please visit the places around Niseko – Otaru, Yoichi, Tomari, Shakotan… There are so many interesting places to visit around here.
*For Japanese people, we recommend spending time with foreign visitors. It’s good to know each other. Enjoy dinner and drinking together!