Niseko in January (or Japanuary as the local powder lovers like to call it) is a mecca for ‘international powder’ lovers but now there is another great reason to plan your trip to Niseko in January. The Festival of Japan is a small weeklong festival that has been created to provide international visitors to Hirafu an insight into different aspects of Japanese culture in an accessible and interesting way. The festival just had its third year anniversary and there were many great evenings filled with events including:
There were a couple of opportunities to enjoy the internationally recognised duo, Soubugen who delighted the crowd with beautiful tunes of the Shamisen whilst dancers performed a traditional Japanese dance and taught the crowd how to do the Hokkaido Fisherman dance. This is a dance that almost everyone can do and everyone in Hokkaido seems to know. On another night, I had the privilege of listening to tunes from the Samurai age as Hidemaro Kunisawa performed on the Koto and Shamisen. And we even got to try out our Koto playing skills too.
The Ainu Indigenous people are the original settlers of Hokkaido, and like most indigenous people, their culture has gotten lost throughout the generations. The Ainu Art Project is a band of Ainu descendants that want to share and spread their beautiful and interesting culture through music and storytelling. They have an intriguing story to tell and by sharing it the way they do, makes it enjoyable for everyone and you will begin to appreciate the hardships that the Indigenous Ainu went through.
Buddhism is a prominent Japanese religion alongside Shintoism. This festival provides a great opportunity to get a glimpse into Buddhism through a monk that is connected through 85 generations to Buddha himself. You are able to participate in a New Years Prayer Ceremony or in a Zen Meditation where you may get whacked for being too fidgety. Either way, it provides an interesting insight into Buddhism during your holiday in Niseko.
Kendo is the ‘way of the sword’ and the Festival of Japan gives you the opportunity to see some of Hokkaido’s best, fight it out in a live sword duel. You can also watch some Jujutsu which is an art developed by the samurai class to defeat an opponent that might be armored or armed. Basically, it appears to be a lot of attempts at hitting each other in the head, throat or body with sticks and yelling about it as you do it. It is amazing to watch though and at the end you can even have a go yourself.
Yotei Taiko is a local Drumming Group that always amazes me every time I see them banging away on drums at a pace that actually helps you to visualize what the songs are about. In the case of this local group, they make you envision the four seasons of life in the Kutchan/Niseko area or what it’s like to climb the beautiful Mt Yotei on a summer’s day.
The festival is also a chance to enjoy traditional Japanese food normally sold at festivals all across the nation like grilled yakitori or cold Sapporo beer. And if you like sake then you can attend the Sake and Jazz night where you can enjoy tasting several different types of sake while listening to the beautiful smooth sounds of a local Niseko Jazz band.
Most events are free and held in the evenings, so you can enjoy an amazing day out on the slopes then have a wonderful learning experience in the evening. But no matter which event you choose to go to, you will feel like you have experienced some great insight into some of the Japanese Culture that you might not get otherwise. Festival of Japan celebrated its third annual festival from the 20-27th January 2016 and it is likely to happen at a similar time next year so start planning your trip now.
Taking a Ski Trip to Niseko? 3 Things to Consider to Find the Right Accommodation
Niseko United: A Fantastic Website in English to Help You Navigate Niseko!
Taste Some of Japan’s Freshest Food in Niseko, Hokkaido!