The majority of people who visit Niseko do so during the winter time and probably never give a second thought to what happens after the snow melts. They are here for the snow and when it’s gone, sadly so are they.
But I recently found out that Niseko has just as much to offer in the summer as it does in the winter.
After spending four winter seasons working for Niseko Photography & Guiding in Japan, my partner Elsie and I took over the company (in 2014). We completely uprooted from our home country of Australia and sold every possession we owned. We bought a one-way ticket to Japan for ourselves, our cat and our dog and bought a little house just out of Hirafu.
Like most others who own businesses in the area, winter is extremely busy for me. From November to April I work 7 days a week anywhere from 5am to 10pm only stopping for the occasional dinner with friends or catch-up with family when they come to visit.
Despite the hard work, it is really just 6 months of fun – great turns, lots of laughs, delicious food and genki customers.
But then suddenly it all just stops… the snow stops falling and the planeloads of skiers and boarders stop arriving. The sun starts to shine, the days warm up and the rivers start to widen. What was once a ski village buried beneath metres of snow emerges to a spectacular array of farms and forests.
It is surprising how quickly the snow melts and how the Sassa grass (a form of bamboo) and other foliage waste no time re-establishing themselves. The area goes from white to a vivid green in the blink of an eye, and what was once a two metre ice wall is now a dense forest. It is just as hard to walk through as the snow was to walk on.
The first thing you realise about summer is that it gets hot
very quickly. The second thing is the pace; everything just seems to slow down.
Nobody is ever rushed and there’s always time for a chat in the street or over a coffee in town. Compared to winter where a takeaway coffee and a wave as you drive past is about as social as it gets. Summer is like a 6 month holiday!
As a landscape photographer, I find the area has an abundance
of options for getting the camera out and thankfully the slower
pace of village life gives me ample time to go on adventures and visit new places.
Another great thing about spending the year here is the seasonal change to the food and drinks. It seems like there is a limited edition beer, Kit Kat, dessert and meal every couple of weeks and, naturally, I had to try them all.
And then there are the festivals. Every local town in the region has a Japanese Matsuri (think festival with lots of amazing food, drink, fireworks and games) and you have something to do on almost every weekend. Camping is also prolific with tents pitched on every lakeside, and the smell of smokey barbequed seafood fills the air. Our dog in particular will vouch for the lakes and barbeques.