Is Hokkaido’s Niseko Overpriced? Tourists Can’t Seem to Agree

Is Hokkaido’s Niseko Overpriced? Tourists Can’t Seem to Agree

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Skiers at Niseko, Hokkaido
Picture: Mayumi.K.Photography / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
It's beautiful - but is it overpriced? Domestic ski enthusiasts to Hokkaido's Niseko think so - but inbound tourists beg to differ.

Nestled just at the base of Hokkaido’s “whale tail” is Niseko, a small, mountainous town known for one thing: skiing. (Well, skiing and snowboarding, and snow tubing, and some very nice onsen.) Composed of seven ski areas, Niseko is one of Japan’s most popular winter sports destinations. It has been a regular presence on the “World’s Top 10 Ski Resorts” ranking since 2008, when it first made the list.

However, lately, Niseko has become known for something other than its perfect powdery slopes: its prices. Some visitors to Niseko feel that the area is overpriced, and have complained about the cost of visiting.

However, a report by TBS News noted the difference in perception between Japanese visitors and international tourists. Generally, international visitors did not feel Niseko was overpriced, while domestic tourists did.

A “new bubble”: Niseko as an international destination

Niseko, Hokkaido
Picture: HAPPY SMILE / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Recently, Niseko has seen an increase in visitors since Japan lifted travel restrictions. Prior to this, Niseko, along with most tourist destinations in Japan, suffered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourists were unable to enter the country for a long time.

But tourists are back to Japan in full swing – and spending more than ever. Niseko is benefiting from the resurgence. Reports indicate that the winter of 2023 was one of Niseko’s most successful. Well over half of the visitors to Niseko in the post-COVID years have been international.

Japanese skiers often visit the town’s many resorts and slopes as well. Skiing was extremely popular in Japan during the “bubble years” of the 1980s and 1990s. Its popularity decreased when the bubble burst. Niseko flourished in the 80s and early 90s. It was boosted by the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics establishing Hokkaido as a must-visit destination for winter sports enthusiasts.

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When the bubble burst, residents of Niseko banded together to promote their town as a prime destination for tourists from Hong Kong, Taiwan, the United States, Europe, and Australia. The ski town’s popularity among foreign tourists shot up. It quickly became known for its perfect, powdery snow, which gained the nickname “JAPOW” (Japan+Powder Snow).

Today, Niseko is among Japan’s top ten destinations for foreigners. Many even live and work there part-time during the ski season, which generally lasts from November to March.

Are Niseko’s prices too high?

Gyudon (beef bowl)
Will this beef bowl break your bank? (Picture: grace / PIXTA(ピクスタ))

Recently, the price of visiting Niseko became the subject of discussion. The town has a lot of accommodations, with the number of hotels rising to over 800 in recent years. But there are a ton of other fees that come with a visit to Niseko: daily parking, ski rentals, lessons, passes to different slopes, a hearty meal after a long day of skiing, and a rejuvenating soak in one of the town’s many onsen.

TBS News surveyed both Japanese and foreign visitors to and residents of Niseko. Generally, Japanese people surveyed felt that Niseko’s prices were too high. One complaint that was repeatedly brought up was the price of food.

A single serving of gyudon (beef bowl) or curry at one of Niseko’s many restaurants or ski resort cafeterias typically costs 2000 yen or more. Even in the “food truck village” that has sprung up at the foot of some of Niseko’s slopes, a single bowl of ramen can cost 3000 yen. Other complaints included 20,000 yen daily parking and the expensive ski lift and gondola passes at some of the slopes.

Foreigners, on the other hand, described Niseko as affordable and revealed that they didn’t consider its prices to be particularly high at all. All surveyed found Niseko a highly desirable destination. They praised the comfortable lodgings, delicious and varied food options, frequency of English-language signs, and, most of all, the incomparable powder snow.

Niseko as a year-round vacation spot

Ski lift in Niseko, Hokkaido
Picture: Mayumi.K.Photography / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Niseko has definitely grown from its humble roots. In recent years, the town has established itself as a luxurious destination for a high-end vacation.

A major influence was internationally famed designer Louis Vuitton’s partnership with Niseko’s Hanazono Resort. A limited-time pop-up store, located in a LV-monogrammed yurt, sells Louis Vuitton branded skiwear, leather goods, luggage, and accessories.

In addition, luxury Louis Vuitton gondolas transport skiers to the slopes in style and comfort. Each gondola is fully enclosed and boasts comfortable heated seats made from Italian leather. The gondolas are also available to non-skiers who simply want to enjoy the gorgeous 360-degree view of the surrounding mountain range.

Recently, Niseko has also branded itself to international visitors as a desirable year-round destination, not one that only entertains during the winter months. Visitors to Niseko in the spring, summer, and early autumn can enjoy canoeing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding on its many rivers. It also offers mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, canyoning, and more.

Several of Niseko’s ski resorts have also begun operating their gondolas during the summer for mountain landscape viewing. In addition, the Hanazono and Niseko Village resorts have installed golf courses.

Beyond tourism In Niseko

Niseko will always be primarily known as a ski resort – but recently, it’s become something more than a tourist destination. Due to the high number of foreign residents, many English courses and classes are offered in the town. Japanese residents have begun “studying abroad” in Niseko, taking advantage of the opportunity to practice English skills with native speakers without having to leave the country. Reports indicate that while “studying abroad” in Niseko has not yet overtaken international study, it may do so in the future.

The winter sports utopia has also become a popular choice for part-time and seasonal work. Temporary jobs in Niseko include work at resorts, ski rental shops, and restaurants. The most popular form of part-time job in Niseko is working as a concierge or a member of the kitchen staff at one of the town’s 800+ resorts. These jobs are now available all year round due to the reinvention of Niseko as more than just a winter destination.

Niseko will likely continue to grow in popularity as a tourist destination as word spreads and travel continues to increase. What remains to be seen is whether the town’s high prices will decrease at all or only continue to soar. Though, of course, whether or not food, entertainment, and lodgings in Niseko are expensive in the first place depends entirely on who you ask!

Sources

[1] TBS News. https://newsdig.tbs.co.jp/articles/-/958295

[2] Niseko Tourism – Japanese. https://www.niseko-ta.jp/

[3] Niseko Tourism – English. https://nisekotourism.com/

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Kay Benton

Kay is a longtime Japan enthusiast and former participant in the JET Program. Their favorite thing to do when traveling in Japan is visiting as many onsens as possible.

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