I recently visited Tokyo, Niseko and Sapporo, Japan over New Years for two weeks with a good buddy of mine. The main focus of the trip was to go snowboarding in Niseko on the northern island of Hokkaido, but we also wanted to spend some time in Tokyo and Sapporo on the front and back end of the trip.
Japan has always been somewhere I wanted to visit because of the history, culture, food and people, but when you add to it the epic powder they get in Hokkaido it takes it over the top.
Our first stop was Tokyo over New Years where we stayed in the Shiba district which is part of the Minato-Ku Ward. There are 23 Wards in Tokyo and we visited 7 of them. (Chiyoda-Ku – Tokyo Station), (Chou-Ku – Ginza), (Mintao-Ku – Roppongi, Roppongi Hills, Shiba, Tokyo Tower), (Shinjuku-Ku – Shinjuku), (Shibuya-Ku – Shibuya), (Sumida-Ku – Tokyo Skytree), (Taito-Ku – Asakusa).
Since Tokyo is the largest city in the world there are so many cool areas you will want to visit so best advice is to pick a few and then just wander around from there. My favorite districts were Ginza, Roppongi, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Asakusa.
New Years in Japan however, isn’t quite what you might expect. The Japanese treat New Years more as a time to spend with family vs a night to party. There were plenty of people out celebrating, but being in a city of 37 million people it was very tame. We went to Shinjuku which is kinda like the Times Square of Tokyo and wandered the streets looking for a cool little bar to go in for the ball drop. We ended up in this small English Japanese Pub drinking Guinness and taking a shot of Saki.
Here are the places we stopped for eat/drink and a little info or tip on each.
- Bar High Five – Ginza, Tokyo – #9 ranked bar in the world by CNN
- St James Bar, Shenjuku – English/Japanese Pub
- Isomaru Suisan – Shinjuku, Tokyo – No English on menus, amazing Tuna and tableside Clams.
- L’ATELIER de Joel Robushon – Roppongi Hills, Minato – Pastry heaven.
From Tokyo we took a domestic flight to Chitose and then a three hour bus ride to Niseko. Since most of the drive was at night we couldn’t see much, but as we got into the mountains it started snowing hard. Anyone going on a ski/board trip knows that it doesn’t get any better than starting your trip with fresh pow. We arrived at the Welcome Center where all incoming visitors are brought and our driver was waiting to take us to our lodge. After we checked in and unpacked we decided to go explore.
The town of Niseko was really cool. Lots of restaurants and bars all within walking distance of the resort as well as wherever you are staying. Here are the places we went and a little info or tip on each.
- Senchou – Make a reservation if you want a traditional Japanese table sitting on the floor with shoes off. Otherwise site and the sushi bar and watch how everything is made.
- Wild Bill’s – This is the nightly party spot. If you want to go dancing, play pool or darts and have fun this is your spot.
- Gyu + Bar (Speakeasy) – Go here at least for one drink. It’s neat looking and you enter through a mini fridge door.
- Lava Lounge Pizza – Great pizza
- Jam – A small bar to have some drinks and chill.
- 155 Dining – Small little house serving great sushi. They do togo also.
- Green Farm Cafe – Great lunch spot to grab a sandwich and a coffee right at the corner intersection of town.
- Monster Burrito’s – Cheap but good food truck
- Tamishii – Another popular bar spot with darts.
- Wabi Sabi – Go just to try the Deep Fried Octopus Balls
- Izakaya Kougetsu – New restaurant with a cool vibe. Got their Wagu Hot Pot.
- Steak Rosso Rosso – If you want a steak that will blow you mind go here and get the Japanese Wagu.
- Bar Moon – A dive bar with a pool table and two dart boards.
Niseko is made up of four resorts: Annupuri, Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu and Hanazono. Annupuri, the leftmost resort and Hanazono, the rightmost resort both offered amazing off-piste terrain accessible via gates or hikes. We spend most of our trip in those areas riding knee to waist deep powder. It dumped on us for 8 of 9 days so the stories I’d always read about came true.
The final leg of our trip was another bus ride from Niseko to Sapporo, the fifth largest city in Japan. It was just an overnight stay so we went to JR Station and had lunch at the famous sushi train restaurant Nemuro Hanamaru and drinks at TK6 Bar & Grill. Sapporo was very cool and I could definitely see staying there for at least a few nights if you had the time.
The video below is a compilation of the entire trip. It will give you good reason to visit Japan. I know I’ll be going back.