Niseko & Furano | January 2019
Whether it’s your first time seeing snow, or hundredth, there is nothing quite like the snow in Japan.
From the first crunch under your shoes when you step outside to that first fat snowflake hitting you on the face. As an Australian, it’s a joyful and childlike feeling we experience for the first time, every time.
You can put money on us saying that Japanese snow is truly, very, hard to beat.
This time round, we flew Singapore Airlines. It’s not far from Perth so Economy or Premium Economy is our go to. Singapore is also a full service airline so you arrive comfortable and well fed. To those eyeing off the cheap Air Asia [or alike] airline tickets, don’t. Simply; Do Not.
Some dear friends of ours thought this was a good idea on our first trip. Fast forward to us all arriving and them telling us that the previous passenger had been a bit…unwell, and the airline had not cleaned the plane prior. Combine the two and our dear friend had a strangers spew bag emptied on top of her lap with nothing more than a drink token offered to her from Air Asia. Not even a bloody tissue. Also, it’s not logical financially to fly these budget airlines for flights longer than a couple of hours. You end up paying for luggage and food which works out to be the same as a full service [minus the free spew]. Don’t do it. We’ve also flown Malaysia Airlines for previous trips to Japan which is another great full-service airline options.
From Perth, you can now get direct flights to Sapporo, with a change over in Singapore. Or, you can also now get direct flights from Perth to Tokyo nonstop via ANA. From there, you will need to get a bus to Niseko which will take 2 – 2.5 hours depending on snow conditions. You cannot fly directly into Niseko.
If you stop in Tokyo for a few days before heading to Niseko, make sure you check which airport you’re departing from as there are two and one is an hour further away.
WHERE WE STAYED
This trip was our third trip and second stay in the Gondala Chalets. Both trips were with a group of 10+ people which is where these Chalets work perfectly. They are also incredibly located right at the base of Grand Hirafu.
Our second trip was with two others so we opted for a two bedroom apartment at Kizuna Apartments. These apartments are in the middle of the two lifts up Grand Hirafu and still in a great location.
Both accommodation options are in Upper Hirafu and where we would recommend staying. Middle Hirafu is a good option as well but as soon as you start to enter Lower Hirafu then you start to need to rely on buses to take you up to the lifts every morning and most of the time, you’re on your own in the afternoons/evenings walking down the hill, tired and hands full of gear, after a day on the slopes. Lower Hirafu is also not that close to the main strip with the the bars and restaurants so you may find yourself travelling a lot if you stay too far down.
Our biggest tip around accommodation in Niseko is to find a place that has a full service kitchen. There are buses into Kutchan which is the closest major town where you can get dropped off directly in-front of a supermarket. The bus ride is only about 20 minutes from Niseko Village and the supermarket has everything you would need [and wonderful Japanese foods you didn’t think you would need].
Whether we’ve been with a large group or small, we have always bought all of our main supplies for breakfast, snacks, lunches as well as alcohol from the Kutchan supermarket.
While there are plenty of cafes and places to get food for all meals of the day, we like to be up early and aiming for first runs in the morning, rather than waiting for the cafes to open as many don’t open until about 8:30 am – 9:00 am.
Likewise, when you’ve come off the mountain late afternoon, the last thing you feel like doing is sitting in a restaurant for lunch. So we usually opt for homemade food in the apartment, a nap and then out for dinner and drinks with everyone [if not a cheeky night run should the bodies allow].
This was our first trip to Furano so were a little unsure of locations of main areas, the town as a whole and the mountains.
We stayed in a hotel called Natulux Furano. The hotel itself was great. We stayed in single rooms [two people] as this was an actual hotel. Our rates included breakfast downstairs every morning which was one of our favourite parts; slippers, socks and track-pants were the attire for breakfast.
The location wasn’t the best [or the worst]. We had to get a bus into the main town and where the lifts for the mountains were, which took about 10 minutes. It was a short trip but if you missed the early morning bus then you had to wait until late morning for the next one [or have a sleep in and get a taxi like we did on a few mornings].
Natulux was close to a lot of places to eat out at, small and delicious bakeries for breakfast and delicious whisky bars. A friend of ours opted for accommodation closer to the slopes which was great during the day, but he found himself getting buses and cabs in towards us in the evenings. He booked Furano later than us so rooms in Natulux had booked out, otherwise we would have all been in the same area for ease.
OUTSIDE OF THE HOTEL
Niseko is a ski-town which was specifically built around the mountain and tourism of snowboarding and skiing. Furano however is a normal, industrial town, which happens to be at the base of a mountain.
Niseko, outside of visiting an Onsen, drinking and heading up the mountain, doesn’t have too much more to offer. So if you’re not a fan of boarding or skiing then we would suggest looking elsewhere for a winter wonderland holiday.
Furano however had a LOT of other options off the slopes. While expensive, they did over sledding throughout the forests, helicopter and hot air balloon rides and a lot of other cultural experiences.
Niseko is perfect for both snowboarders and skiers, offering multiple runs and four different ski areas, one being Annapuri which is a bus ride away from Hirafu and great for beginners. There are parks, tree runs and off-piste options across the Niseko mountains, based on what level you’re at and what you’re looking for.
Furano however is a little less-exciting. While much more aesthetically beautiful, the mountain is very much up and down. No tree runs, no park [well it was unavailable and closed when we were there during peak season so we can only assume it’s no longer available] and more of a skiers mountain … not great for the majority of us who are boarders.
In terms of gear in both places, you can hire everything at a really reasonable price. If you have time and want to bring some of your own items, then our biggest tip would be to keep an eye on Gumtree. A lot of people buy brand new pants, jackets, gloves etc. and then only use it for that one trip [or season] and then sell it.
The Joneses Rating
Food and drinks in Niseko and Furano [actually throughout most of the ski-towns that we know of] are really well priced and, compared to Perth prices, fairly cheap.
The mountain passes and accommodation however is where the price for these areas come up. In Niseko especially, due to high demand. Furano however was not as expensive or difficult to find and book.
WHAT WE WOULD RETURN FOR
Just writing about our last trip to Niseko makes us want to book another one for the upcoming season. While it’s getting busier and busier, with more high-rise accommodations going up and more Australian’s visiting [the locals actually call it Little Australia], we still can’t stay away.
We would revisit Niseko again and again. In fact, we blame it for ruining all other potential snow-destinations in fear that we may not get the same great-fluffy snow, that Japan offers.
WHAT WE WERE HAPPY TO LEAVE
While still a lot of fun and so great to explore, we can say we were happy we visited, but likely won’t return to Furano.
NISEKO & FURANO GUIDE
The Joneses Niseko & Furano
Do eAT …
One of the best things about travelling is exploring and experiencing other cultures and, when that’s done through food, it can be an adventure. Try all the wonderful and different foods offered in Japan.
Do Relax …
After a few days on the slopes, there’s nothing more soothing for the muscles than an outdoor Onsen. Be prepared, the public Onsen’s separate men and women and there is no clothing allowed, including underwear. Embrace it and enjoy being under the warm natural spring, while the snow falls down on your face.
Do Support …
There are a lot of Australian’s and overseas businesses setting up shop in Niseko. Don’t forget about the Japanese bars and restaurants there, and support them. The small Japanese bars is where the most fun is had.
Do DRINK …
Japanese Whisky, Plum Wine and Sake. Even if you’re not a fan of these normally, they’re made traditionally [and somehow taste better on holiday!]. There’s something about sitting inside out of the snow sipping on sake with friends.