Would you leave the love of your life out in the cold? If you’re wondering why there’s a massive $20,000, 150 horsepower snowmobile inside the door of Kutchan izakaya Nami-chan Chi, it’s because it’s owner Makoto Namikata’s baby. Not only is Namikata – Nami-chan – a talented chef, he’s also one of Japan’s top snowmobile racers. Two years ago he was the third ranked snowmobiler racer in the whole of Japan. This year’s competition has just wrapped up and he’s ended up a creditable 15th.
Nami-chan was born and raised in Kutchan, and like most teenagers in the area, took up snowboarding and spent a good part of his late teens and early 20s sliding down Mt Annupuri. But all that changed when he was 26 and tried snowmobiling. From that day on, he was converted and has been up on the mountain only a handful of times since (regular readers of Powderlife may remember a very similar story from Powderlife Issue 4!).
Snowmobile racing is basically the snow version of the dirt-based motocross motorbike racing. High-powered snowmobiles race around a 1km circuit complete with massive jumps and tight turns. Nami-chan says the vehicles often launch distances of up to 30m! He’s in love with the thrill of the competition and puts his success down to the fact that he’s not afraid to go hard.
While snowmobiling pays the bills in winter, Nami-chan has always needed to work in a real job over summer. For a long time he worked as a chef in Hirafu restaurants and hotels. But from the time he was 16 he always wanted to start his own restaurant, a dream he finally realised several years ago. His mellow izakaya (casual Japanese dining restaurant/pub) suits his relaxed personality and the food is similarly simple but delicious. He selects his ingredients from the most renowned areas for each ingredient in Hokkaido. His parents own an organic farm and most of his vegetables like asparagus and potatoes are sourced from there. Their specialty is red and green Yotei melons so be sure to order his melon for desert. Their most popular dishes are the kimuchi horumon, sashimi, and half chicken.
The name of the restaurant is quite interesting too. Nami is short for Nami-chan’s family name Namikata, and the suffix –chan is used like the well known –san at the end of a name. It is generally used for children and girls but often used endearingly for close friends. Meanwhile chi means house, so the restaurant name basically means ‘Nami’s house’ and lets people know he’s a well known and liked local character.
To find Nami-chan Chi walk up Kutchan’s main street – Eki Mae Dori – from the train station until you find Cocoroya souvenir store. Turn left and you’ll see the bright orange vertical sign.
Buses to Kutchan leave from the main street near Seicomart. The bus stop is a few small signs on the roadside opposite PowPow. Buses leave every half hour or so during the day and cost ¥380. The night bus is free and leaves every hour or so from 5pm. Timetable on the back of the resort’s course map.