Eating & Skiing Japan

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Iain checking out food options - Eating & Skiing Japan

Love it or hate it: Like marmite, gravity, or Donald Trump, it’s impossible to be indifferent to Japanese food.

I, for one, love Marmite and gravity, but loathe the orange braggart, and, unlike seemingly everyone else, Japanese food. Though I’ll admit Trump is good for laughing at, whereas apparently one should never laugh at sushi. Yet Japanese food shares another thing with Trump: It is seemingly inescapable in Japan. Try as you might, it’s impossible not to know it’s there.

So, based on the assumption that you, the esteemed reader of Ski Canada, loves gravity as I do, here is my brief guide to Japanese food, and skiing, and how to survive both.

Photos: Iain MacMillan

Club Med or Club Fed?

In December 2023, inventors of the all inclusive holiday concept Club Med threw open the doors to its fourth ski village in Japan, Kiroro Grand and as soon as they were out of the multi-pooled onsen, more than 800 guests were flocking to the Grand’s endless western and Asian buffets.

King crab, lobster, giant and mini prawn, oysters were five of the dozen or so shell fish I could identify on our first night down the troughs so bountiful I considered requesting an airport wheelchair. The culinary choice was as dizzying as the delightfully campy live entertainment that followed.

Along with sister Club Med Kiroro Peak (adults only), and further afield Tomamu Hokkaido and Sahoro Hokkaido, the Quebec-sized ski areas have the feeling of private clubs with lifts running seemingly exclusively for you, the Club Med GM or “Gentile Membre.”

Niseko: Japan for the foreigner.

For those who, like me, would rather eat a sausage roll (or nothing at all) than sushi, Niseko will provide. Buried in powder, the very best of Japanese and other Asian food is there too but the nervous traveller can indulge in familiar western favourites while the arch foodies eat sushi and far beyond.

The choice is yours: from fine Asian dining (with a table reservation) down to a range of fine food trucks that will gladden the heart of the most conservative tummy. With the later, all humanity can come together in the ultimately relaxed setting of home spun seating centred around an oil drum full of burning pallet wood, while foodies eat what I find unidentifiable marine matter on crisp, white linen just across the road.

Niseko’s four villages of food, and world famous powder, on an iconic dormant volcano are found on Japan’s north island Hokkaido, which requires a flight from Tokyo to Sapporo/Chitose.

Hakuba Valley: Food, Jim, but not as we know it.

Before being eaten himself, Captain James Cook famously ate more or less anything put in front of him: from penguins to aardvarks, nothing was safe. But the brave Captain never went to Japan and would surely have baulked at the breakfasts: When they say “fish,” they mean “a fish.” Whereas when I say “fish,” I mean “filet-o-fish.”

Hakuba, in the Honshu Island prefecture of Nagano, about a four-hour drive from Tokyo’s Haneda airport, is where things get serious.

Fortunately, there’s enough skiing to last a life time, and certainly enough to take your mind off the mighty borborygmy coming from your empty gut: The large alpine areas of Happo One (pronounced O-Nay), the exquisite, steep off piste of Cortina, and the open groomers of Tsugaike offer an a-la-carte of endless delight. No one could get bored here, with ten resorts to choose from, all on the same pass and just a quick taxi or bus ride apart from each other. Non-ski distractions range from cultural to historical to tourist paparazzi hounding snow monkeys just trying to take a jacuzzi.

Nozawa Onsen: To the ends of the gastronomic earth.

The only place I have shaken with fear at the sight of the food is also the only placed I have ever (accidentally) skied through a graveyard: Imagine my surprise as I blew through what looked like a stellar low angle pillow line, to notice writing and then, as my wonder turned to alarm, small photos of old people glued to rectangular rocks. The rocks I was jumping off.

Astute skier that I am, I very quickly realized why about 30 Japanese people were screaming furiously at me. Not cheering, but screaming. Fortunately, I had gravity on my side and was able to ski quickly away. My ski buddy, sadly, was not, and despite not having followed me into the graveyard took the brunt of the anger, and watched sadly as ski patrol confiscated, then burned, his pass.

In the mornings in Nozawa, take the travellator up past the temple, through the grove of sacred cedars, and yes, past the graveyard. We slayed the endless groomers, bumps, and wide open trees. Then, at lunch, visited the on-hill restaurants and loaded up on pizza and chips. It was our last real food for a day. 

The evenings (shudder) are what my delicate palate found a food desert of hardcore foreign food: sushi, tofu, fish soup and, God help me, mushrooms. Honestly.

I ate the mushrooms and spent the night waiting for death’s sweet kiss. It never came, but I know that when the hooded one does finally come knocking, the food of Nozawa Onsen will be to blame. Read more on Japan next fall in Ski Canada. Or join us in February 2024 for a hosted Ski Canada Readers’ Trip. More:

Nigel Harrison
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