Hokkaido Kutchan Zaborin

At the foot of Mount Yotei, a Japan as seen by Western eyes

Japan’s beauty is sometimes captured creatively by a highly insightful outsider. This inn is one example of such a vision. Hotel Zaborin, at the base of Mount Yōtei, is built on a hill in Kutchan, bordering the town of Niseko. The neighboring area bustles with skiers with their sights set on the world-class snow quality found here, but the ryokan is situated as a place to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature, distant from the tumultuous slopes. The inn’s proprietor, a British subject who runs a shipping business, had apparently always dreamed of running a hotel that would showcase Japan’s aesthetic.

The proprietor of the inn met a Niseko resident from Australia, Peter Tony Grigg, commonly known as Shouya, who has a keen sense of aesthetics, and entrusted him with the creation of a hotel. The 15-room Zaborin is the result of his dedication. A space developed in minimal Japanese style, the inn is decorated with art from other parts of Asia as well as bonsai and suiseki viewing stones. Although combining the minimal Japanese aesthetic and ethnic Asian objects is common, it’s pleasing that in this case, it strikes just the right note.

Because the inn is surrounded by Japanese white birch reflecting the snowscape, nothing but the sound of the wind breaks the silence. Perhaps, as the name suggests, the transcendental state of mind induced by zazen reveals itself here. The entranceway comprised of a luxurious intersection of slender spaces leads through a lobby with a fireplace and then through a lounge to a bar with a spectacular view. A chagama (tea kettle) is readied upon a tea service table designed for a chair-style tea ceremony, so that tea can be made for you, should you wish. In each spacious guest room, glass has been used liberally so that through windows and other apertures, you may enjoy a fabulous view of the white birch forest.

Every room has been furnished with both an indoor and outdoor bath, with a tub carved from natural stone that looks as if it might have been brought all the way from Bali or some other place. From the end of a pipe descending from the ceiling, the water from a free-flowing hot spring drips constantly, trickling into the tub over the continually moistened rock face. Soaking in the hot water and gazing far away, you feel as if you’re bathing in the scenery itself. Mount Yōtei’s infinitely fluctuating countenance, engendered by changes in the weather, is sublime.

In accordance with the perfection of the fusion model in the physical space, the cuisine is both Japanese and modern. The manner in which the vessels are used is also not purely traditional Japanese style, but has a playfulness that conveys Hokkaido’s independent sensibility; it’s fun. The way in which sashimi is served, variously utilizing the products of the northern sea, has a cornucopian depth. Because the local ingredients like the game meat have been so thoroughly studied, we never tired of the food, even on a multi-night stay. The experience of having breakfast in the clear light passing into the room through the snowy birch forest gave us moments of great pleasure.