【Column】Niseko’s Similarities to American Culture

Nov. 8
Written by Michael Burns; Michael is from Kansas, USA. He currently works as a Coordinator for International Relations in the Niseko Town Hall.

When I first visited Hokkaido years ago as a college student, I was surprised. I knew that the prefecture was far from places like Tokyo, but I didn’t expect it to feel so different. In my mind, Japan was Japan. Sure, different places have their own local customs, but I assumed that everywhere would more or less follow the same template. Having lived in Niseko for multiple years now, I can say with certainty that Hokkaido’s, particularly Niseko’s, culture has a couple of surprising similarities with my home country of the United States.

First, Hokkaido, and especially more rural areas such as Niseko, is a car society. There are other rural areas of Japan where cars are essential, but none to the same degree as Hokkaido. It is by far the largest prefecture in the country, and many towns such as Niseko and Kutchan are most easily traversed via car. Cars are also a great way to travel long distances. I know many people in Niseko who drive around Hokkaido for their vacations. Cars are the primary mode of transportation in the United States as well, so this freedom of traveling is similar in both places.

Another way that Niseko is very similar to most of America is its pioneering culture. In many rural areas of Japan, families have lived there for hundreds of years, sometimes even longer. But in Hokkaido, most families have only lived here for a couple of generations at most. Even today, many new families are moving to Niseko for the first time from Honshu. Additionally, Niseko’s name is from an Ainu word, and it preserves this Ainu heritage by writing the name without kanji. Kansas, my hometown in the United States, also has a pioneering background. Its name also comes from an indigenous language, and many families in Kansas have similarly only lived there for a couple of generations.

These surprising similarities, as well as my friendly neighbors, have helped me feel at home in Niseko. It’s a great place to live in as an American!