Habitat Hokkaido founder Henry Turner on why Makkari is “a diamond sticking out in plain sight”.
I first visited Hokkaido in the winter of 2007–2008 and spent a week in Niseko. I instantly fell in love with the area and just a few months after returning from my holiday, took the plunge and bought an off-plan unit in Upper Hirafu. From then on, I proceeded to visit Niseko at least once or twice a year for the next eight years.
In 2016, my wife and I decided to move to Hokkaido when she became pregnant with our first child. We quickly made what, for us, was a very easy decision to leave everything we had and had become accustomed to, to begin a new life as a family here in Hokkaido. We had both spent ten years prior in Singapore, meeting five years in – I worked as an FX Options broker, Megumi in advertising.
Through relationships with a number of Niseko ‘pioneers’, I was able to find employment before touching down, and upon arrival turned my hand from broking currency options to broking property deals for one of the leading real estate agents and developers in Niseko.
I did this for three fantastic years and will be forever grateful to my former colleagues and mentor for everything they taught me and the manner in which they treated me.
Towards the end of my first winter season and after spending a hectic, yet thoroughly enjoyable, six months living and working in the heart of Hirafu, I set about finding a more conducive environment and home for raising our family.
By absolute chance, I found what is literally my ideal patch of heaven on earth, and where I now firmly call home – Makkari.
At first, we were concerned with the distance from Kutchan and Hirafu and how this would impact our daily lives with regards to shopping and accessing facilities such as schools, clinics, shops and the daily commute to and from work. However, this quickly became a fleeting concern as we soon realised just how easy a 15–20 minute drive is, regardless of season or weather condition. In fact, the distance from Niseko and Kutchan has become one of the things we love most about living in Makkari.
At the very start of the 2019–2020 winter season in December, I left my job in Hirafu and my wife and I started planning for a future of working together and for each other.
“…the distance from Niseko and Kutchan has become one of the things we love most about living in Makkari”
Our goal with Habitat Hokkaido, which has been operational since June this year, is to help people find a family home or holiday home, whether they’re local, domestic or international. We’re also looking to help local residents of Makkari and the wider Hokkaido region sell their properties – all in the hope of injecting more life and vitality to the local community and economy.
Benefits of investing in Makkari
For me, Makkari was a diamond sticking out in plain sight, yet almost completely ignored by the established ‘old guard’. This seemed to be for one reason only – an entrenched belief that it was too far from Hirafu and that visitors would not be happy driving the distance. I wholly disagree.
During my first visit to Niseko, I spent a week at the mercy of the hotel and ski shuttle buses, and was almost bankrupted by the local taxi fares. I decided at that point to never not hire a car in the future. Every trip I made from then on, I rented a car at the airport and drove around, regardless of the season or weather.
I would stay at my property in Hirafu, but get up early every day and drive to Rusutsu for first lifts and incredible powder and terrain. The slopes in Niseko were, and still are (pre-Covid) too crowded for my liking, and the runs too short. I preferred to ski/board in Rusutsu then drive back to Hirafu for dinner and drinks. It also allowed me the ability to explore more of the area and gave me total freedom in my movements. Perfect for those days you choose not to hit the hill.
Making the rather bold assumption that there must be others like me, I instantly started to believe areas under 30 minutes’ drive from Hirafu and Kutchan would soon come into play. This belief has only been solidified by my own living experience.
After moving to Makkari with my wife and family in the Spring of 2017, each consequent winter season I have seen the growth of traffic along Route 66 to and from Niseko to Rusutsu, with many visitors to Niseko wanting to experience Rustutsu at least once during their stay and vice-versa for those in Rusutsu.
Living in Makkari, I’ve had the pleasure of choosing either on any given day – a fortune I’ve become very aware of.
But this is just one of several reasons I moved to Makkari and have since further invested in the area, and why I am banking on others doing the same.
Property in and around Hirafu has gone from representing tremendous value only five years ago, to representing the wealthiest people on the planet. With prices in Upper Hirafu mirroring those in central Tokyo, many who visit the area now can no longer afford to buy, and for those working in the area looking for a home to buy, Kutchan can also be out of reach.
Makkari and other areas outside of Hirafu, in comparison, are priced much lower per tsubo (per sqm) and thus offer affordable entry into a wider section of the buyer market.
Makkari’s locale genuinely allows you to pick and choose where to go on any given day without the hassle of any forward planning. Situated almost precisely equidistant from Niseko and Rusutsu, Makkari offers incredible access to the very best skiing in Asia, being just 15–20 minutes from Annupuri, Niseko Village, Hirafu and Rusutsu and under 30 minutes from Moiwa and Hanazono. It’s also under an hour drive from Kiroro.
Makkari is also only a short (25 minute) drive to Lake Toya, which is beautiful during all seasons and especially fantastic during summer when the lake temperature is perfect for swimming and all sorts of water activities.
Hirafu and Kutchan have experienced huge increases in property and land prices over the last 10 years, and even though I believe prices there will continue to rise, I expect them to do so at a significantly slower pace. Makkari, on the other hand, has so far escaped the attention of its close neighbours and has remained largely under-scrutinised and under-valued.
I don’t expect this to be the case for much longer!
Potential for growth
The potential for growth is evident when analysing any of these previously mentioned points, but with the three combined, Makkari is clearly positioned favourably for genuine growth. Just as Hirafu and Kutchan witnessed prices doubling and tripling in under a decade, I envisage the same for Makkari – though I see it happening over an even shorter timeframe.
Space and natural beauty
There has definitely been a recent shift in demand from international and domestic metropolitan area buyers. The condo market is less heavily subscribed to, and although there will always be strong demand for genuine ski-in-ski-out units, buyers today seem to either want that convenience of on-slope accommodation OR they want the space and luxury of a real holiday home with space both internally and externally for use in the non-‘white’ seasons.
It’s now almost impossible to acquire a land plot in the greater Hirafu area larger than 200 tsubo (665sqm), nor for that matter under 1 million yen per tsubo. And with prices around 100,000 yen per tsubo just a 10-minute drive away, building a house for anything less than US$1 million is not an easy feat.
Yet, if you just drive an additional five minutes from Hirafu into Makkari, it is possible to acquire larger plots of land for a fraction of the price, allowing you to achieve so much more for your money.
With its forests, rivers, sprawling fields and stunning vistas, Makkari is therefore the perfect choice for those seeking their idyllic family or holiday home set amidst picture-perfect Hokkaido surrounds.
Offering more space for less cost, those dreaming of a residence with greater internal space to accommodate friends and family, and with plenty of land for kids (and grownups) to run around and have BBQs in the garden, there really are few places better than Makkari, and even fewer which are so affordably priced.
Why we fell in love with Makkari
What we personally love about Makkari is the genuine experience of being in rural Hokkaido.
Surrounded by stunning views of dense forests and majestically manicured farmland, we can look out over the garden and feel like we are a million miles from everywhere. Yet, in reality, and ever so conveniently, we are a mere 15 minute drive to two of Asia’s best ski resorts in Niseko and Rusutsu, a similar distance from Kutchan for supermarket shopping, and just 25 minutes from Lake Toya, which we visit regularly throughout the year.
However, for us, Makkari’s beauty is not defined by its proximity to other places. Rather, the beauty of Makkari emanates from its laid back vibe, unpretentious realism and simplicity of daily life – all played-out to a backdrop of truly stunning vistas of woodlands, picture-perfect fields and the ever-present awesomeness of Mt. Yotei.
“…we are a mere 15 minute drive to two of Asia’s best ski resorts in Niseko and Rusutsu”
Simply put, we cannot think of a better environment for our two young children to grow up in.
In fact, we truly love living here for so many reasons it’s difficult to express them all.
Indeed, it’s a lot easier to mention what we don’t like, or more accurately, what we miss. And that is really only ‘city-life’, something we made the conscious decision to move away from, and which we can easily dip our toes back into as and when we please, with Sapporo less than 90 minutes away.
On Makkari’s development over the next five to ten years
Our hope is that Makkari will develop in a different manner and fashion from Niseko.
I suspect the central Makkari village area to become a highly sought-after location for those working in the ‘resort’ industry, either on long-term contracts or more permanently. With its equidistant location between Niseko and Rusutsu, its schools, clinics, restaurants and shops, Makkari is an ideal place for families to settle.
I am therefore very bullish on both the sales and rental market in Makkari in the short-to-medium term, with rentals more likely to prominently feature in the medium-to-long term as the world recovers from COVID and resumes to (the new) normal.
I believe the outer areas of Makkari, which border Niseko, Kimobetsu, Rusutsu and Toya, will start to see more and more interest from domestic and international buyers looking to establish weekend and holiday homes, as well as interest from the very top end of the market seeking larger properties which can accommodate more American-esque ‘ranch’ compounds and English country home ‘estates’.
All of which I strongly hope and anticipate will be done with careful and considerate planning, which protects the existing beauty of the Makkari habitat whilst contributing to the local economy and vibrancy of this stunning area.