Amazing Adventures in Hokkaido

The abundance of the natural environment, the lifestyles and culture of the people who live there – Hokkaido has many incredible stories that are as yet unknown.
In this column, we learn about the appeal of Hokkaido’s four seasons from the people who guide adventure tours there. We hope such stories enrich the time spent in Hokkaido, the next time you visit.

Nov. 24

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Column: Life in Hokkaido – an endless journey of adventure

When I arrived on the island of Hokkaido for the first time in November of 2006, I had no idea that this would become the place I called home for the next 15 years (and counting). As an Australian country boy I had grown up on a farm in central Victoria. Wide open spaces and freedom to roam were part of my childhood. As I became an independent young adult my passion for surfing and snowboarding, coupled with a love of photography, drove my relentless travel itinerary which took me through Japan, Europe, Patagonia, Iceland, Greenland and much of South East Asia.

A short visit to Japan in 2001 had left an everlasting impression and it was after the whisper of a rumour of amazing snow from a friend that I just decided – what the heck, I’ll take six months away to go and explore this mysterious northern island of Japan.

I arrived in a snowstorm that lasted three weeks. It was wonderful. My photographic career has drawn me to remote places with harsh weather and striking landscapes. I quickly discovered Hokkaido was all of these – and so much more.

I was welcomed by many locals, including Tatsumi – the first Japanese person I met when I arrived, my original snowboarding buddy, and still one of my best friends today. As well as my older Japanese neighbours who had discovered this place some 30 years before and happily adopted me into our tiny but tight-knit neighbourhood.

I quickly found a comfortable way of life in Hokkaido and as the winter faded to spring I was utterly intrigued as to what the contrasting green season would look like in a place I had only experienced as a wild and white wonderland. I decided that instead of returning home I would stay for summer… and that was it. Ten years went by in the blink of an eye, my time filled exploring every corner of the island, chasing new experiences and expanding my mind and understanding of just what an incredibly diverse and beautiful island Hokkaido is. It was at about this point when friends and family started asking ‘are you ever coming home?’… guess not, I guess I live here now!

To make life here permanent I was lucky enough to find a very very old and very very derelict lodge who’s charm I couldn’t resist. It is one of the oldest buildings in Hirafu and, having only just saved it from the bulldozers, I’ve spent the last five years slowly renovating and restoring it to its original self (or as close as possible) in the hope of preserving some of Niseko’s history, while adding just a sprinkling of my own to what is the fastest-changing town in Japan.

In winter, I felt I was at the frontier of backcountry skiing, abundant snow across the island and more mountains than I’ll ever be able to ride in my lifetime. Summer is a temperate wonderland in Asia, where hiking and enjoying Hokkaido’s natural wonders of lakes and rivers is my favourite thing to do.

Hokkaido’s extreme climate is the engine behind a bountiful and incredible cycle of seasonal foods and it’s easy to take for granted the fresh produce from the farms and the oceans that you find on the tables of every restaurant across the island.

Eating well, living in vibrant untouched nature, with every kind of adventure activity at my fingertips and a landscape of photographic wonders… life in Hokkaido is a perfect match for me and represents a reconnection with the adventurous farm boy from Australia inside me.

It’s true what they say… many of the locals that now call Hokkaido home came for the winter –but it’s the summer that they stay for. A journey of learning and discovery my time in Hokkaido feels like it has only just begun.

There is always more to explore and another discovery to uncover. It’s sharing these discoveries that brings me huge joy and has prompted me to write ‘My Hokkaido’, a guide book for the island that will be published next year… In the meantime I hope to share small tales of my journeys with readers here. These tales will traverse Hokkaido’s seasons starting with the winter wonderland of Shiribeshi – home to some of the world’s best skiing!

Written by Aaron Jamieson; Australian, 15-year resident of Niseko.
Photographer, Director, Cinematographer whose artworks can be viewed at his Fine Art Photographic Gallery in Hirafu, Niseko.

Instagram: aaron_jamieson_

Special feature

The transition from autumn to winter brings hordes of migratory birds hurrying into East Hokkaidō. Their flocks are restless and noisy: geese and swans clamour at coastal lagoons; ducks, divers, gr...