By Chris Barnes
When it comes to planning a holiday in Niseko, one of the things that often slides down the list of priorities is basic food supplies. Whether you're coming to Niseko for a summer escape, or to experience Niseko's world famous powder snow, you'll more than likely find yourself staying in Hirafu Village, the hub of the Grand Hirafu Ski Resort. Whilst Hirafu Village is home to numerous Japanese and Western style restaurants, one thing the village does lack is a well stocked supermarket. The Hirafu Seicomart is very convenient, and stocks many basic food necessities, however lacks the product range and is often more expensive than the Kutchan Town Co-Op.
The Kutchan Co-Op supermarket stocks a wide variety of groceries and a selection of apparel and winter accessories. Located next to the Kutchan train station, the Co-Op is easily accessible by bus from Hirafu, a journey that will take approximately 20 minutes, and save you lots of money in the process. Co-Op stocks the usual range of groceries, but where it excels is in its huge range of fresh produce, noodles, beverages, beer, rice, a great range of prepackaged meals, a small selection of western style foods, and prepackaged meats and seafood. There is an impressive selection of alcohol for those who wish to try local Sake or Whisky, some of which is distilled in Yoichi, a town that's only 40 minutes away, and many choices of Australian, French, Spanish, American and Chilean wines.
There is a large range of off-the-shelf medicines, as well as a great range of heat and cold packs that are ever so popular in aiding those sore muscles. If you require sanitary, laundry and beauty goods, Co-Op also stocks a great range of these. There is a seasonal range of apparel - the standout being the ever so popular cartoon character "onesies" - a great range of winter gum boots, umbrellas, luggage goods, gloves and boot cleats which I recommend to save you the pain and embarrassment of slipping on icy roads.
My tip for anyone who requires medications is to kindly ask an English speaking Japanese local to write down your symptoms on a piece of paper in Japanese so that you can present this to the staff at Co-Op to save you the troubles of playing the guessing game. Also be warned that Japanese drugs are very weak compared to western standard pharmaceuticals, and often more expensive. The last time I required cough & cold medications it cost me close to $40 Australian for a course which only lasted two days. I highly recommend bringing your own assortment of medications from home not only to save money, but for the convenience of having it with you at all times.
Co-Op is open daily 10:00 ~ 21:00 and Sundays 09:00 ~ 21:00. Only Japanese credit and debit cards are accepted, so bringing cash is a must for foreign visitors. The Co-Op is located right beside Kutchan train station, which is also the terminus for the Niseko Bus, Donan Bus, and the Kutchan Night Go Bus. Alternatively, you can catch a taxi from Hirafu Village but expect to pay up to 3,000 yen each way for this service. Kutchan Co-Op provides boxes to carry your groceries, or you can pay 5 yen for a plastic bag, or even better, use your own bag.
- Shop later in the day and take advantage of the heavily discounted prices on meat & seafood
- Skip duty free alcohol, it's just as cheap, if not cheaper in Kutchan
- Stock up early in your trip to save yourself from having to visit again
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