Oct 25, 2022
THERE IS A CLASSIC Chinese Tang Dynasty poem, “Setsu Getsu Ka,” that invokes the beauty and purity of setsu (snow), as well as seasons: getsu (moon) in reference to autumn, and ka (flowers) as experienced in spring. Nestled near the base of one of Japan’s—perhaps one of the world’s—greatest powder playgrounds, with floor-to-ceiling windows letting in nature and photography reflecting it on the walls, the new Setsu Niseko embraces its name in full.
However, it’s the snow theme that dominates and the cozy après-ski vibes are immediately apparent from the moment I enter the lofty lobby. The first visual, an imposing mounted deer head by sculptor Kohei Nawa, covered in crystal spheres of various sizes, is a modern take on that old (tired, in my opinion) mountain-lodge practice of taxidermied decor. Bold brush strokes depicting the kanji for “Glitter of Snow,” draw my eye to the reception desk. The powerful piece was crafted by Niseko-based artist Yoko Arano, who draws on more than six decades of calligraphy practice and only brings out her oversized brush when the local temperatures drop below freezing.
On the opposite end of the communal space, crisp and comfy white cushioned couches, framing a roaring fire, and the first Japanese outpost of sophisticated wine bar Park90 (with sister branches in Singapore, Taipei and Aspen) add to the draw of the property for a post-powder wind down.
A little further down the hall is another dining destination that may sound familiar. Here is Japan’s northernmost outpost of Afuri, a famous ramen chain that got its start near Mt. Fuji more than two decades ago. Lengthy shared wooden tables and a long booth spanning an entire wall, along with counter seating around an open kitchen, invite socializing over umami-rich bowls of the popular noodle soup. The bar, tucked away in the corner, and the creative cocktail menu including nature-named drink flights, will likely add to the convivial nature when winter sets in. The noodles are handmade in-house and the restaurant works with local growers for the ingredients of each dish.
Meli Melo – Yuki No Koe, the main restaurant in Setsu Niseko, also prides itself on going local—right down to the chef behind the whole concept. Hokkaido-born restaurateur Hironori Sato guides the offerings at this casual outpost that is based on his Michelin-starred Sapporo restaurant. Multi-course menus here come back to the purity and delightful flavors inherent in the local produce, meat and seafood. With no lengthy explanations in sight, my vegetarian meal got straight to the point with the Japanese descriptions being just the names of the star ingredients each go round. Every dish, from perfectly roasted potatoes to plump muscat grapes, shines on their plates. Sato’s experience is rooted in French cuisine and his rich knowledge comes through in the French- and Italian-inspired menu.
From the winter season, omakase dining experiences Tempura Araki and Sushi Kato Inori will open at the hotel. Next year comes Singapore stalwart Luke’s Oyster Bar & Chop House—I’m hoping they bring along their famous bloody Marys, too.
Another experience synonymous with winter in Japan is onsen. Setsu Niseko has both public and private hot-spring-fed baths available to in-house guests. The main onsen features indoor and outdoor bathing with naturally rugged stone landscaping, while the four private baths, that can be booked by 45-minute slots, overlook calming stone gardens through towering glass windows.
The onsen area is flanked by more wellness pursuits. To one side sits Studio En, a peaceful and spacious studio with an array of English-language yoga and pilates classes. Rikka Spa, with five treatment rooms, is on the other side of the nourishing baths and is run in collaboration with an award-winning Tokyo day spa, Lapiderm.
Treatments here also look to nature and engage the senses, from the essential oil blends named after the elements and the natural sounds of wild birds and flowing water that plays in the treatment rooms, to the sound healing that’s incorporated into certain therapies. The simple and elegant wooden interiors of the spa, including latticed shoji doors, mirror the design of the resort’s array of studios and suites.
I stayed in a two-bedroom Yotei Suite, named for its stunning view of one of the island’s most picturesque mountains. As it was more equipped than my own Japanese home, with everything from a dishwasher and oven to a full-size fridge, I could easily imagine spending a week or more here with family and friends. Japanese design runs throughout with wallpaper textured like washi and shoji screens dividing several of the spaces.
Nature photography, including strikingly beautiful elemental pieces by Niseko-based Aaron Jamieson, decorate the room interiors and can also be found in the Setsu public spaces. Also adorning the common areas are intricate Ainu carving displays from Hokkaido’s indigenous people.
The unique overall design by architect Mok Wei Wei features 11 elevators and as such there are six different penthouses with direct entry into the palatial abodes when the lift doors part. A spacious open-air courtyard, lined with trees also sits at the heart of the property.
Setsu Niseko is located at the base of Grand Hirafu, the largest ski resort within Niseko United, which includes four resorts spanning the one mountain and has roughly 50 kilometers of slopes. The terrain here ranges from the beginner friendly, which is even more friendly with the soft landing the powder offers, to the advanced. There’s also some epic side-country terrain, where untracked powder can be accessed through gates from the main resort area. The hotel is just a two-minute shuttle ride to the Grand Hirafu Gondola or less than a 10-minute stroll to get the blood pumping for an epic day of enjoying that world-renowned “Japow.”
setsuniseko.com; room rates from JPY37,600, with the property’s Winter Opening Discount applied. Rhythm Japan runs a ski rental shop on-site and there are ski lockers on site to store your equipment during a stay.
All photos courtesy of Setsu Niseko.