Wednesday, November 15, 2006

#196 Day 15: Hirafu

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I don’t know exactly when or why it started but recently there has been an Australian boom in Niseko.
I came here for the first time last year. I stayed for two weeks over Christmas and new year. I was so surprised at how many Australians there were and how many businesses were run by Australians. In some of the shops we went into the staff couldn’t speak Japanese and the menus were English only which was quite bizarre.
We stayed at a lodge which was a reasonable price. But we walked past these expensive-looking apartments where Australian tourists were staying.
I was curious to see what they were like inside.
Before we got here this year I was looking on the net for a place to stay before we moved in to our new place and I thought I would check the price of these luxury apartments.

I was surprised to find that we could stay at the Fresh Powder apartments for 8000 yen a night – about the same price as a business hotel.
I rang and checked that it wasn’t 8000 yen per person. The apartment manager was really friendly – that was nice, and a bit of a culture shock too ... because Japanese hotel staff are almost always formal.
When I saw the room last night I instantly wanted to give in 10 stars ... even though my rating system goes up to 5 stars.
These apartments are amazing. I wouldn’t mind living here for the whole season. But 8000 yen a night is only the November price – and the mountain doesn’t open until the first of December ... so there is probably no point in staying there in November unless you’re looking for a house like us.
I think this kind of place probably wouldn’t suit a lot of people – if you stay in a resort hotel there is a nice bath and restaurants, bars, and shops .. so you never have to leave the hotel.
But for us it was perfect. We could cook, do laundry, use the net. And since we didn’t need to do any sightseeing it was a perfect place to relax for the day.

It ended up loosing points after I saw the dust in the corners, draws, window ledges. There was even a bug. Hello. Also the fan above the stove didn’t work – although the manager said we could just knock on the door if we needed anything ... but I couldn’t bothered since we were only staying for two nights.

The apartment seemed to be for English speakers only, since all the information is in English. Although, oddly enough, the no smoking sign was also in Chinese.

And “Australian Women’s weekly” was written on the bottom of the frying pan which I thought was kind of funny. The Australian Women’s Weekly is a kind of trashy women’s magazine. I wondered if the owner had got this in a free giveaway.

Still, this place gets 9 stars – the best place we stayed on this whole trip. Gold medal.

We relaxed at the apartment most of the day ... did some editing ... watched the construction workers opposite the apartment. I have a bit of a construction worker fetish so I was pretty happy about this.
They worked until about 10 o’clock at night so I thought they must be in a hurry to finish. This morning I saw the sign which said January 2007 open.
They had a meeting in the morning before they started work.
We talked to one of the workers. He was from Sapporo and he said that the owner of the land and the building is Japanese. Half of these apartments have been sold. Most people who bought them are from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia. You can still buy a 2LDK furnished apartment 35,000,000 yen.
He said there was a bubble in Hirafu and land is now selling for 4 times the price it was a few years ago.
I guess some people are making a lot of money right now ... but I wonder about the people who are left with these overpriced apartments when the bubble bursts.

We drove around Hirafu a bit and took some photos. It looked so different than when I came last year and everything was covered in snow.
The information center still had the same signs as last year.

Most of the shops seem to be opening on the first of December – the same day as the mountain. Can’t wait.