《Hokkaido: the migrants’ choice – from Niseko》

From the town of Niseko in the Shiribeshi sub-prefecture, where many migrants gather, we introduce stories surrounding the ‘choices’ of people who decided to relocate.

March 12, 2021

Special feature

《Hokkaido: the migrants’ choice – from Niseko 》⑨ Returning home after an earthquake, and experiencing exhaustion in the medical field finally led to “the aroma of Niseko”

The Sawadas holding Hikobayu products. Both Kento and Kayoko have gentle personalities but sense they have been colored by the aromas.

 On March 11, 2011, Sawada Kento, a hair stylist in Vancouver, Canada, was called by a friend. “Kento, Japan’s in big trouble!” The country had been hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake. A huge tsunami had occurred and there had been radioactive leakages at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture.
Sawada’s parents lived in Fukushima prefecture. After confirming their safety, Kento sent a hurried message to his patents. “Japan is not safe. Come to Canada.”

 Once things had settled down a little, Kento sensed the risk of living overseas. “In Canada, I couldn’t help my parents. I couldn’t even say ‘thank you’.” The following year he decided to return home to Japan.

 After returning home, Sawada aimed to open a salon in his hometown in Aomori, but things didn’t go to plan. With no outlook for the future, he visited Niseko to snowboard and lived in a share-house where, among all the foreigners who lived there, he met Kayoko.

 Until immediately before that, Kayoko had been a nurse in an acute care unit of a university hospital in Tokyo. Despite patients being kept alive medically, many were bereft of quality of life. “They were bed ridden. At first, family members would visit but I could see them come less and less and the patients becoming more and more lonely,” she said emotionally.
In the 3 years she worked there, the mental stress accumulated. She decided to take a break for 6 months, quit the hospital and made the decision to enjoy the winter, snowboarding in Niseko.

 To Kayoko, who didn’t speak English, Kento’s presence was huge, and brought them closer together. One day, they discovered a campaign to recruit ‘local vitalization cooperators’ in Niseko. From the following year, they both began to live in the town, working as such cooperators.

 But what would they do to make a living there? Kento remembered a company in Vancouver, which made aromatic oils and candles from local ingredients. “Maybe we can do that in Niseko,” he thought, as he used a pot to make a distiller with which to extract the oil.
In July 2016, Kento and Kayoko married, and the following year established a company. Business has taken off and now sales channels of “Niseko-no-Kaori” (the aroma of Niseko) are being expanded.

 Business activities utilizing the blessings of the forest led to Kayoko cherishing the sense of coming into contact with life.

 She believes that feeling probably comes from her experiencing the severity of the medical field herself, in the past. “Even if you cut a tree down, buds grow from the roots, leading to more life. Because I came into contact with people’s lives, I sensed both the fragility and, at the same time, the strength in the natural world.”

 The company name and brand name, ‘Hikobayu’ comes from the Japanese word hikobae, meaning young buds that sprout from tree stumps and the roots of old trees. The aroma named after the region’s nature and persistence of the forest is currently creating new values in Niseko.

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