Ski – Explore – Relax

Japan has recently become the mecca country in the world for powder skiing.

Hokkaido, which is the northern island of Japan, Niseko was named as the world’s No. 2 snowiest resort in December 2007 with annual average snow fall of 595 inches (15.11 m)

Not only has Hokkaido the best skiing in winter, it also has the most beautiful summer landscape for hiking, bike riding and camping and is re known for its rolling hills of picturesque Lavender fields.

Tokyo or Osaka, two of the largest cities on Honshu main island is an easy 8 hour flight from the east coast of Australia with Jetstar now flying direct from Melbourne to Tokyo, instead of the original Cairns and Gold Coast only.

Sapporo, which is the capital city of Hokkaido, is a further 80 min flight to the north.

Cathay Pacific also have excellent flights from either Sydney or Melbourne via Hong Kong then directly into Sapporo without stopping in Tokyo or Osaka.

After many years of annual winter family holidaying to Japan we decided to purchased a Japanese Hokkaido holiday house for guests to stay and enjoy the skiing, scenery and incredible culture of this fascinating country.

Our criteria for the location of this home were:

1. It had to be in town (so we can easily access the many unique bars, local eating haunts and interesting shopping)

2. Be close to all or as many ski resorts as possible and back onto a ski run and forest.

3. Be in Hokkaido (as from all our Japan travelling experience Hokkaido has the best of everything)

4. Japanese style home (to better experience the true Japan)

We did manage to tick all these boxes with Otaru (the Venice of Japan).

This beautiful small port city is only 20 minutes by train from the capital city, Sapporo and 1 hour by direct train from Sapporo Chitose airport. The shopping is excellent in Sapporo and some of the best shops can be found (like most Japanese cities) right at the railway station precinct.

Otaru was a rich historic trading port with many late 1800’s banks and wharf buildings which today have been converted to hotels, breweries and some of the best seafood restaurants we have eaten at.

There is a lovely mix of Japanese tourist stores, glass art studios, chocolate factory, candle makers, potteries, vintage/antique stores and cafes.

Our ‘Otaru ski house’ is a typical Hokkaido home built to withstand the constant heavy 2-3m snow-falls which surround the house throughout the 4-5 months of winter. (the depth of the winter snow built up around the house can be seen on the very first main image of this site)

The house is 2 levels and a top attic. There are 3 bedrooms. One on the ground level and 2 on the 2nd level. Most of the bedrooms and lounge room are the traditional ‘tatami’ flooring making it perfect for traditional Japanese sleeping methods of futon beds on the floor of which there are 1 big king futon master bedroom, and 3 other bedrooms with 2-3 single futons…sleeping #6 people comfortably but #8 maximum. There is a brand new bathroom | toilet and wash room on the 2nd level and another bathroom | toilet and wash room on the ground floor. Both bathrooms have a bath and shower. The kitchen | dining is the hub of the house and very warm in winter with excellent oil heating as do the bedrooms. The lounge is off the dining room with a large cosy lounge-suite taking up much of the small lounge room which opens onto a decked balcony. There is a wonderful combustion log fire (firewood supplied) in the lounge which also helps to warm the house and adds great  ambiance. A log fire is a real luxury in a Japanese home.

A laundry with washing machine and dryer are located on the lower floor.

Everything such as linen, towels, kitchen appliances and local information are supplied for your stay.

The entry to the house is set right back off the road with a narrow long driveway to the front door and boot room. For winter stays the driveway has heating thru it to melt the snow but a small amount of snow clearing is necessary each day at the driveway entry and front door.

Skiing is usually the number one reason for Australians to visit Japan BUT as the non-skier in our family I think I have enjoyed and explored a lot more of Japan than the skiers of the family so there is plenty to do for the non-skiers if you want to be out and about in the snow.

During February Otaru holds its annual Snow and Light festival along the old historic rail line and the beautiful canal where tourists flock for the week long festival. Sapporo also holds its annual Ice festival where thousands of tourists spend a few hours wandering the city centre where huge ice statues have been carved, (Japanese food stalls serve hot food to the freezing tourists) and the best of the snowboarders and acrobatic skiers highlight their talents to the crowds. It is well worth braving the cold to enjoy this festival!

Summer in Japan….Our first summer visit to Japan we were expecting to be a little disappointed (after the spectacular winter wonderland scenery of our winter visits) but we soon discovered why the Japanese flock to Hokkaido and especially Otaru over the summer (making this time of the year the peak period in Hokkaido)

The weather is surprisingly warm and humid, the forests are lush and green, and there is a huge coastline to explore (instead of solid ice ocean shoreline we had seen touring in winter blizzard conditions).

Back in Otaru, the local port (which can just be seen from a few windows of the house) is where the Japanese tourists get to experience a taste of Venice meandering the waterfront canal on Japanese inspired gondolas.

A visit to Japan would never be truly experienced without a soak in a traditional onsen, which can be found ALL over Japan either within a 2-5 star hotel, health and wellness centre and traditional local bathhouse.

A daily onsen after skiing (and shopping) is a must for our family and a wonderful way of catching up on the social side of the days happenings!