Autumn Extravaganza In Niseko
Niseko is well known as the ski mecca of Japan blessed with very cold winter that yields the finest of powder snow which fall thickly on the mountains in Hokkaido, the second largest and northernmost island in Japan. But before the white season begins, as the ski season is known, Niseko’s autumnal beauty is spell binding. Only people in the know come to admire the autumn extravaganza.
It was mid autumn when we visited Niseko and we were not disappointed. Our delightful companion Raymond who works for Niseko Village guided us to the autumn hot spots in the area. Along the way, the trees and the valleys were clad in a collage of red and gold with splashes of green. We stopped at a park as the gentle autumn sunshine set ablaze the golden forest of oak and maple trees, their leaves catching the rays of the sun. It was a sight to behold!
Just as I was catching my breath back from the sheer beauty I had just witnessed, we reached a verdant forest that nestled round a crescent shaped caldera lake aptly called Hangetsu meaning half moon in Japanese. The enchanting forest is a magnificent parade of all the primary palette of the fall with a riot of gold and russet accented by splashes of red from the maple trees and the greenery. The soft whispers of the wind caressing the trees sent showers of confetti of golden leaves to the ground. Shafts of sunlight streaming through the trees lent a spiritual aura to this forested sanctuary.
It is moment like this that one realises why the Ainu-Kaributo indigenous tribe of Hokkaido believe nature belongs to the realm of the gods. It was picture perfect scenery and a lively group of young Japanese photographers with expensive looking camera and long lens were doing a photo shoot of the forest. Much to our relief they left soon after as we wanted to enjoy the tranquillity of this leafy arbour of exquisite beauty to ourselves.
A walk through this entrancing woodland was joy personified, the very reason why I adore autumn. This is a transcendental period when the season crosses over from summer to autumn with winter just round the corner. It signals the change of atmospheric energy when yin and yang force of nature merge briefly to create a congenial climate that soothes the soul and a pleasure for the eyes.
Beyond The Ski Slopes
Hokkaido is blessed with glorious natural beauty characterised by dramatic landscape punctuated with majestic mountains, caldera lakes, onsens (volcanic hot springs), verdant forest and pristine rivers notably the Shiribetsu River. Considered one of the most scenic rivers in Japan, it offers riverine activities of thrilling white water rafting, kayaking and fishing including salmon run when in season.
Beyond the ski slopes, Niseko offers a plethora of activities in the green season with hot air balloon rides, hiking, biking and horse riding to explore the countryside and savour the gorgeous scenery. The swathes of farmlands formed pretty patchworks of ochre and brown fields as most of the crops have been harvested for the autumn. Hokkaido is primarily an agrarian community whose livelihood depends on the land.
The rugged landscape is dominated by the awe-inspiring Mt Yotei, a moody dormant volcano that towers at 1898m above sea level. It is known as the Mt Fuji of Hokkaido and it changes its appearance throughout the day depending on the weather. When the sun is out, it shows off its mystical beauty with crowns of white cloud while in bad weather, it turns grey and menacing like a fearsome ogre.
In my bedroom in the gorgeous Kasara Townhouse that was my home away from home in Niseko Village, I could gaze at Mt Yotei from my floor to ceiling window with a full view of the mountain. I could watch its changing mood all day especially when its slopes were cloaked in autumnal hues. The Kasara Townhouse is a fabulous three-bedroom residence with all the mode con set in an elegant contemporary décor accented by touches of authentic Japanese aesthetics. There are eight units of these luxury townhouses and are perfect for families or small groups especially in the ski season as the ski lifts are a stone’s throw away.
Mt Yotei looms over Niseko Village, which nestles at the foot of Mt Niseko Annupuri (1,308m), the epicentre of the ski resorts. The Niseko Village complex, owned by YTL Hotels, a luxury hospitality company from Malaysia, offer accommodations in The Green Leaf Niseko Village, Hilton Niseko Village and the upscale Kasara Townhouses, all with ski-in ski-out access. It has its own mini village built in a traditional Japanese machiya architectural style reminiscent of many townhouses in Japan. It features restaurants offering authentic Japanese cuisines, a patisserie, designer boutiques, ski shops and high-end gift shops.
My penchant for Japanese food was fully satisfied in Niseko with sumptuous feast of traditional fare of the freshest seasonal ingredients.
The resident restaurants Crab Shack offers seafood fresh from the market and steaming sukiyaki cooked by the chef at our table. The other outlet Yang Shu Ten features a cornucopia of seafood of sushi and sashimi complemented by tempura and teppanyaki. The farmers of Hokkaido take great pride in their agriculture products and with close proximity to the Sea of Japan, there is an abundance of seafood. Talking of seafood, one night while dining at Hilton Niseko Village, we were served an amuse-bouche of shirako, cod sperm sacs (yes you heard me) braised in seaweed with soya sauce. It is an acquired taste but considered a highly prized delicacy. I have eaten many weird and wonderful things in my life but this tops it all.
Niseko may be famous for its white and green season, but the golden season of autumn really shows off the magnificence of Hokkaido in all its glory.
Niseko is two hours’ drive from Sapporo’s Chitose Airport with daily domestic and international flights. Our grateful thanks to Niseko Village for their warm hospitality. www.niseko-village.com