Powder skiing in Niseko, Japan

Top of a chairlift in Niseko Village - photo by Rob McFarland

Top of a chairlift in Niseko Village – photo by Rob McFarland

GQ Australia – Dec 2013

“Perisher with chopsticks” is how a colleague described Hirafu, one of four ski resorts that comprise Niseko on Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido.

It’s a region famed for its annual deluge of snow – a dumping equalled by the number of goggle-wearing Aussies who now land there each season in search of superior white stuff.

Yet here, at the Hilton’s delightful Sisam Japanese restaurant, feasting on grilled scallops with truffle sauce, bogans and their collective predilection for garish ski kit have been welcomingly replaced by the stylish local set.

Read the rest of this story here: GQ Niseko (PDF)

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Kagaya Hotel, Japan

Traditional Japanese string instrument in hotel foyer - photo by Rob McFarland

Traditional Japanese string instrument in hotel foyer - photo by Rob McFarland

I’m sitting at a bar wearing a dressing gown, listening to a lime green-clad Mexican band singing La Bamba. I’m surrounded by dozens of similarly dressed Japanese, most of whom are smiling and clapping along as if this is a perfectly normal way to spend a Friday night.

It sounds like the sort of bizarre dream brought on by too much cheese before bed. What’s stranger still is I’m nowhere near Mexico and despite La Bamba being one of my least favourite songs, I’m smiling and clapping along, too.

Read the rest of this story here.

On the trail of geisha and samurai in Kanazawa, Japan

Samurai warrior costume

Samurai warrior costume

I swallow nervously. It’ll be my turn soon and I can’t remember whether I should turn the bowl clockwise or anti-clockwise. I’ve also forgotten the phrase I’m supposed to repeat back to the pourer and exactly how and when I have to bow. The expectant eyes of our hosts – two immaculately dressed Japanese women are following the bowl around the room and I’m starting to sweat.

Supposedly, samurai warriors would sit down to a traditional Japanese tea ceremony to relax before going into battle. The precise movements and etiquette of this highly ritualised process would help them focus their thoughts and calm their minds.

When the bowl reaches me, I’m feeling about as relaxed as a cornered meerkat.

Read the rest of this article here.

Japan’s summer festivals

Kiriko lanterns in the Wajima Taisai festival - photo by Rob McFarland

Kiriko lanterns in the Wajima Taisai festival - photo by Rob McFarland

This is going to end in tears. Fifteen young men with a five-metre high lantern balanced precariously on their shoulders sprint forward, scattering the crowd in their path. Among a crescendo of shrieking and whooping, they start spinning wildly, their bright yellow shirts a blur, feet skidding on the wet slippery road. Four men clinging to guide ropes attached to the top of the lantern are whirled around while desperately trying to stop it toppling over. Finally, exhausted, the group members lower the wooden structure back to the floor, wet hair matted to their grinning faces, and pause to gulp from large bottles of beer.

This is the Japan you rarely see. A giddy, joyous, playful Japan that is so often hidden behind centuries of ritual and reserve. The reason for this exuberance? It’s the Wajima Taisai festival, one of many summer festivals held throughout the country, and it’s an unmissable opportunity to see the Japanese at their most uninhibited.

Read the rest of this story here.

Plastic food samples in Japan

Local children making wax candles - photo by Rob McFarland

Local children making wax candles - photo by Rob McFarland

It turns out I’m a better cook than I thought. I’ve just whipped up some delicious-looking prawn tempura in under a minute. Admittedly, it might be a little on the al dente side given it’s made of wax but it certainly looks good enough to eat.

Spend any time in Japan and you will see countless displays of plastic food samples in restaurant windows. It’s a bizarre concept, given the samples don’t necessarily bear any resemblance to the dishes served inside, but that’s Japan for you.

People like to see what they’re going to eat, even if it’s made out of plastic.

Read the rest of this story here.