Bustling shopping plazas, Melbourne-style laneways and big-name food outlets. It is an ambitious vision for Niseko that will soon become reality as Metropoly – a Hong Kong-based real estate development firm – begins clearing the 29,000 sqm of land in lower Hirafu that will transform into Niseko’s new high-end plaza and walking street.

The complex will be delivered in three phases, the first of which has been tentatively scheduled for completion in early 2022. It will comprise a mix of retail, hotel residences and apartments, which will be underpinned by a central walking street called Aruku-zaka.

The street will run from Hirafu’s main 343 road down to the bottom of lower Hirafu, opening up a large section of the village to pedestrian traffic and creating what the street’s designers hope will become an “event-driven venue”. Up to eighty new shops are expected to open in the space, which will include cafés and restaurants, lifestyle retailers, and a variety of other services. A side street will facilitate vehicle access to an underground car park that will have space for up to 280 cars.

Aruku-zaka progress

An aerial photo taken on September 19, 2018 shows the area that has been cleared from the Aruku-zaka project. Image: www.arukuzakast.com

The development is one of several major changes headed for Niseko over the next few years (Hyatt and Marriott are also progressing with their own plans), but this is perhaps the one that will make the biggest impression on the look and function of the resort. It is a challenge that is not being underestimated by Metropoly’s development team.

“The size and scale of it [Aruku-zaka] will allow us to create an enormous impact on the village. For us, it’s very important that we create a positive impact, as opposed to just creating an impact.

“What we’re very sensitive about is that the scale of the buildings we’re bringing are actually quite large.

“What we don’t want to do is make them all the same, and create these huge behemoths. What we’re trying to do is to break them down into smaller buckets, and to create different architectural styles that will create a more eclectic look and feel.”

Aruku-zaka, Niseko

The street’s two largest buildings will intersect the 343. They have been designed with brick, black steel and glass – a nod to the architectural style of the Nikka Whiskey factory in Yoichi. Image: www.arukuzakast.com

Winter guests of the street’s hotel residences will be well positioned to hit the slopes, just short walk from the top of Aruku-zaka to the Family run – one of Niseko’s favoured beginner areas. It is an area that has suffered from congestion in the past, but improved considerably in 2016/17 with the addition of a high-speed quad.

While the focus will naturally fall on Aruku-zaka as a future winter hotspot, the Metropoly team is equally optimistic about the Niseko green season.

Aruku-zaka, Niseko

Metropoly sees “tremendous potential and opportunity in the summer business” and will commit to a leasing strategy that will ensure as many tenants as possible remain open during the green season. Image: www.arukuzakast.com

“All the things you need for a great summer market are already there; they’re not man made, they’re natural. The lakes, the water, the weather, the beautiful views, scenic trails for hiking and cycling – they’re all there. You just have to build infrastructure for all that so it’s successful.

“We’re certainly very interested in making sure it [Niseko] grows the summer business, and we’re very driven to do that.”

Aruku-zaka, Niseko – map

A map of Niseko Hirafu showing the location of Aruku-zaka walking street. Image: www.arukuzakast.com

Metropoly report that they have already seen strong interest from the local community in the new retail space, which – in addition to the hotel residences – will continue under their ownership. The firm has now finalised its agents for the sale of the apartments, which will likely go to market in Winter 2019.

The team is keenly aware that the project will bring major challenges, but is positive about the changes it will bring.

“We are all very invested in the area and we have a vested interest in making sure whatever we do is positive and it grows the community as a whole.”

“We want to be long-term players in Hokkaido.”

For more information about the Aruku-zaka project, visit www.arukuzakast.com or email info@arukuzakast.com.