NISEKO Town itself is a village of about 5000 people about a 10-minute drive from the ski resorts. It has very little to do with the ski resorts yet attracts an estimated 1.5 million tourists throughout the year. While an increasing number of international visitors come to the overall Niseko region each year, a surprising number of them never learn that Niseko Town even exists. Kutchan is the main service town for the region, as well as its transport hub and political centre, leaving Niseko largely undiscovered by car-less travellers.
Niseko Town is a pretty country township, situated on a rolling plain wrapped around the scenic Shiribetsu River, made famous by river rafting and fishing enthusiasts. Panoramic views of the mountains from all corners of the town are amazing, and for many the first thing they will see is the storybook train station as they roll into town. In the spring and summer, flower boxes are in full bloom under the ever-present blue sky. The station houses a famous Hokkaido curry shop, which, for some Japanese tourists, is worth a trip from Sapporo in its own right. Alongside the station is the obligatory onsen, and up the hill you will find wide-open streets with paved footpaths.
A rarity in Japan, Niseko town has sunken the power lines under the roads and shows a great level of town pride, with building regulation ensuring that every street front building has a timber feature. The quaint beauty of the town also rubs off on its people, and you will feel the genuine friendly nature and welcome given to travellers and foreigners in this town.
With no major supermarket and a much smaller number of bars and restaurants than Kutchan, Niseko has gone for quality in its meager offerings. A sushi shop run by a former Olympic skier, a Japanese izakaya (tapas Japan style) run by a fish monger serving the freshest of his catch every day, and Niseko Beer’s very own bar, with delicious Canadian-style ales on tap and a warm welcoming environment, just to name a few.
The major tourist attraction in Niseko Town, however, is the Niseko View Plaza, featuring a farmers’ market and stalls from some of the other local attractions such as the famous Milk Kobo dairy at Higashiyama. The farmers’ market will instantly become part of any local’s weekly shop, with amazing prices for vegetables with so much natural flavour that you will just want to keep cooking every day. I would challenge you to just try to shop here and not buy an ice cream from the milk factory stand, but that would be cruel.
There is so much more to introduce and say about Niseko Town, so I hope that people become interested enough to check it out themselves. Don’t get trapped inside the Hirafu Village holiday bubble, get out and see the heart of this area and find out for yourself what makes it tick.