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Realestate myoko niigata

The idea of moving to another country to start a new business may be an aspiration for many, but the reality of hard work and longevity involved can make it a challenging pursuit. For Neil and Tayler Paulsen, their love for falling snow led them to the foothills of Niigata Prefecture in Japan, where their beloved accommodation properties grew from tireless years of dedication and inspired seeds of imagination.

We visited Tayler and Neil of Escape Myoko, whose personal drive and hard-working attitude have seen them succeed with a ten-guest-room lodge, a stylishly decorated private chalet-style stay, and a warm and cosy pizza bar in the gorgeous ski area of Myoko Kogen. Their busy lives revolve around their business activities, a tiny toddler, and more ideas that the couple is currently pursuing.

This tale is more than a simple shift of geography; it is a deliberate embrace of community, culture, and the slow, enriching cadence of mountain life. Their narrative, steeped in the rich textures of their chosen landscape, reveals not just the logistics of expatriate entrepreneurship but also the profound personal growth that such a leap can result in.

Myoko Ski Resort

Tell us about your background – where were you when you decided to move to Japan? What brought you to this life change?

I vividly recall a moment shortly after our wedding in New Zealand in February 2018. Just two days after the wedding, we escaped to a cosy Airbnb on the east coast, and both of us found ourselves pondering, ‘Now what?’ We were at a crossroads, with no concrete plans in place. So much effort, time, planning, and savings had gone into creating our special day, that we hadn’t really thought much about what would come next. At that point, Japan was not even on our radar.

After much discussion, we decided to obtain offshore qualifications and return to Western Australia in pursuit of opportunities in the hospitality sector, specifically within the offshore oil and gas industry. Surprisingly, within three weeks, we had completed all the courses we needed, made our way to WA, and found ourselves in the right place at the right time. Before we knew it, we were on our first helicopter ride out to sea.

About four months later, the idea of Japan resurfaced. We had spent two winter seasons in Hokkaido, helping out at backpackers during our two-year Asian adventure in 2014/15. My husband, Neil, had also spent several seasons in different parts of Japan, and we both held a deep affection for the country, so much so that we had often joked about owning our own hotel and spending our winters snowboarding and eating karaage chicken.

In July 2018, Neil had been talking with friends still living in Japan, and they told him about a small mountain town in Niigata Prefecture called Myoko, where properties were reasonably priced, and the snowfall was unfathomable. Unfortunately, at the time, I was working at sea and couldn’t join him. But the plan was for Neil to fly to Japan, stay in Myoko for a week, and conduct a reconnaissance mission. Perhaps we would find a house that we could partially use ourselves and rent out when we weren’t there.

I distinctly remember receiving a phone call from him a few days into his stay, and he enthusiastically announced that he had ‘found us a lodge.’ I’m still not entirely sure how we transitioned from potential homeowners to lodge owners, but the property was a steal, and the lingering question of ‘Why not?’ continued to go unanswered. So, by the time I returned to Perth, we had become the proud new owners of a 12-bedroom ski lodge in Japan, in an area I had never visited, and a region we knew very little about. What could possibly go wrong?


You obviously have a love for the snow. Is that the main reason you ended up in Myoko? Or was it something else that captivated you?

After spending two winter seasons in Niseko, Hokkaido, working at a backpackers and having the time of our lives, we were always left with this itch to come back. The mountains feel like home for my husband, who originally hails from New Zealand. His affinity for mountain life only increased after spending seasons in Canada, Japan, and Switzerland before we met. He was the catalyst for me also finding a special connection with the snow and mountain lifestyle after my first real winter experience during our initial trip to Japan in 2014. Moreover, the love we found for Japan—with its amazing culture, food, and people—was the sweetest cherry on top.


Tell us about the beginnings of Mountain Hut Lodge. How far into setting up your business were you when the COVID-19 pandemic hit? What happened next?

After our initial purchase of Mountain Hut Lodge in August 2018, we spent that first winter season just finding our way. The lodge itself was not very busy with guests as we faced delays in obtaining our hotel license, but that softer start allowed us to host lots of family and friends, enjoy ample time up the mountain snowboarding, and figure out all the logistical elements of running a business in Japan, especially when neither of us spoke much Japanese.

The following season of 2019/20, we were much more organized, and the business began to pick up to the point where we both finally thought, ‘This could actually work.’ We had tons of bookings, assembled a small but excellent team, and really started to feel more confident in our roles as small business owners. Then, COVID-19 hit.

When the pandemic began, we were somewhat isolated here in the mountains. Since we didn’t watch local news, primarily in Japanese, I think we missed a lot of the fear and uncertainty people were experiencing back home. We even traveled to Taiwan for a weekend getaway in late March, and after experiencing face masks, temperature checks, empty airports, and canceled flights, we realised pretty quickly that things were not quite right.

Upon returning to Japan, we debated about what to do next. We could stay in Japan and ride out the situation, not really anticipating that it would last as long as it did, or head back to Australia and wait it out there. Ultimately, we decided to return to Tasmania (my hometown) and just managed to get back into the country two days before they closed the borders to international travellers without the need for hotel quarantine.

Spending the entirety of the pandemic in my hometown of Binalong Bay on Tasmania’s northeast coast was a fantastic decision. During this unusual downtime, we used our time productively. We took advantage of free business and tourism courses, worked tirelessly on improving our website and other online systems for the business, got pregnant, bought a second property in Myoko sight unseen (of course), completed the renowned 14-week hosting masterclass course, built a tiny home on my parents’ property, and completed it just a few days before our son, Finn, was born in June 2021. Throughout it all, we tried to be patient and waited for the world to return to some semblance of normalcy.


After COVID-19, you moved back to Japan. Was it difficult to mold back into the Japanese way of life after being in lockdown in Australia?

Returning to Japan in March 2022 after being locked out of the country for two years felt like stepping into a distant memory of another life. We left home with mixed feelings of excitement, anticipation, and some anxiety, as it was our first time traveling as parents with our now 8-month-old son. Additionally, we knew that both our properties had been damaged from the unprecedented amounts of snow the area received during those COVID years, marking it the biggest snow season Myoko had seen in 60 years—quite typical timing. It was a rollercoaster of emotions, and we had waited so long to see our newest purchase, now known as SUGI Chalet, for the first time.

After getting back and brushing off the dust and cobwebs, we quickly remembered why we loved it here. We were over the moon to finally see SUGI Chalet with our own eyes and were relieved that it was as good as we had hoped. So, we quickly set to work renovating the chalet and addressing much-needed maintenance at the lodge. We settled quite quickly back into life in the Japanese Alps.

You are now raising a toddler in Japan. Is that difficult being so far away from friends and family? How often do you get to see your loved ones?

We are lucky enough to spend at least a few months every year back home now that international travel has returned to normal. However, saying goodbye never gets easier; in fact, it has become infinitely harder with a little one who loves his grandparents, aunt, and uncle dearly. Although we have been back to New Zealand, we don’t get there nearly enough. We are currently planning more family holidays with the Kiwi family as we speak.

Finn is now attending the local daycare (hoikuen) here in Myoko, which is fantastic. He attends full-time, which helps us manage the business. He has made some great little friends and is experiencing Japanese culture and language, as he has started speaking a bit of Japanese. It’s an incredible experience for him.

Myoko Japan
Myoko Japan

What inspired you to begin a second business? How did the purchase of SUGI Chalet come about?

After a successful season in 2019/20, just before the pandemic hit, we started actively looking for another property in the Myoko area as we realised the tremendous opportunities it offered. However, purchasing property here is not as straightforward as it is back home. The best approach is to visit during the green season and take the time to explore the area, contacting local real estate agents as they don’t typically advertise online. Fortunately, we had built good relationships with a local agent, and out of the blue, he contacted us via email in July 2020, mentioning a property that might interest us. Given the peak of COVID-19, we couldn’t travel back to see it in person, so we took a leap of faith. Luckily, that decision paid off, and we are proud of the work we put into creating our beloved SUGI Chalet.

Sugi Chalet Myoko - Before
Sugi Chalet Myoko - After
Sugi-chalet Myoko Japan
Sugi-chalet Myoko Japan

We now own a total of five properties in Myoko. Our third property, which we purchased in late summer 2022 and only just finished renovating last December, is a pizza bar and snow sports rental shop called Two Pines. We have been delighted with the positive feedback on our authentic stone-baked pizzas and unique atmosphere from both visitors and locals, and we have had a very busy season right from the start. We also have a home of our own, which has been an important goal for us for some time. Additionally, next door to our home, there is another property on a beautiful bush block setting, and while we are unsure of its final purpose, half the fun lies in figuring it out.

Two Pines Myoko

You’ve been renovating both properties over the past few years. How hard has it been to do in a foreign country? What were your goals and aspirations with the renovation projects? Was there anything in particular that you loved (or hated)?

Renovating in a foreign country has been both a rewarding and challenging journey. On one hand, it allowed us to bring our vision to life and create unique and inviting spaces for our guests. However, navigating the intricacies of construction and renovation in Japan, especially with the language barrier, has been a steep learning curve. Back in Australia and New Zealand, we had some experience with DIY projects, but we’ve had to step up our renovation game since starting our journey over here.

One of the most significant challenges we’ve faced is sourcing materials and navigating the differences in products and terminology compared to our home countries. For example, having easy access to a wide range of materials like paint back home is not the case here in Japan. Materials used are often different, and, coupled with the language barrier, it has been quite a challenge. Unlike in our home countries, the Japanese tend to hire tradespeople for tasks rather than tackle them themselves, which can be very expensive. Therefore, hardware stores here are somewhat more limited than what we’re used to. We’ve often found ourselves racing against time, whether it’s to complete projects before heavy winter snowfall or during our limited time in Japan.

But through plenty of practice, countless mistakes, and a lot of learning, our renovation skills in Japan have become pretty strong. We’ve gained a deep understanding of the products and materials we prefer to work with and where to find them – we owe a lot to Amazon, where we source about 60% of our materials, including paint, flooring, stains, and plaster.

Our approach to renovation has evolved, with more defined intentions for the finished spaces while still allowing room for organic evolution, especially when working with limited materials. Our goals and aspirations with the renovation projects were to transform these properties into comfortable and modern spaces while preserving their unique character and charm. We wanted our guests to feel at home while experiencing the beauty of Japanese design and culture with our own style and twist. It was a delicate balance between contemporary comfort and traditional aesthetics. Renovation projects always come with surprises, but the end results have been immensely satisfying. Even though we’ve done 90% of the work ourselves, we have a deep appreciation for the craftsmanship and skills of the local workers we’ve had the chance to collaborate with.


What is the food scene like in Myoko?

Myoko’s food scene is a delicious blend of Japanese and international cuisines, reflecting its growing popularity among both locals and international tourists. In the Akakura area, you’ll find most bars and restaurants with a focus on Western tastes. Ikenotaira offers traditional Japanese options that are open all year round and serve incredibly delicious homemade Japanese food at affordable prices; we are regulars at all of them. However, Suginosawa has very few dining choices and is the most underdeveloped village in Myoko, inspiring us to open Two Pines.

There is an abundance of fresh and seasonal ingredients, which make the local dishes truly special. You can enjoy Japanese favourites like sushi, sashimi, tempura, and ramen, prepared with exceptional care and flavour by the locals. These dishes pair perfectly with sake made from the famous Niigata rice grown locally. As this area continues to grow in popularity and attracts more investment, the local food scene will surely expand, creating great opportunities for anyone eager to dive in.

Myoko Japan

Many people travel to Japan to ski the famous slopes in Nagano. Is Myoko a very popular destination? What would you say is special about the area?

Myoko has become increasingly popular among snow enthusiasts over the years, and it’s easy to see why. The Nagano and Niigata prefectures have always been a magnet for powder snow seekers, especially during Japan’s ski boom in the ’80s.

One of the main reasons we initially came to Myoko was the fact that it was a ski destination, which is also why it has grown in popularity over the past decade. Mount Myoko itself is divided into four main ski resorts and is close to several others, all within less than an hour’s drive. The diversity of ski resorts in such a relatively small area is quite unique. If you compare it to ski destinations in the world where resorts are more spread out.

While winter is fantastic, after spending more and more time here in other seasons, Myoko has so much more to offer. Autumn is one of my personal favourites. The mountains turn into a fiery canvas, and the weather is just perfect. Summer, on the other hand, transforms the place into a hot, humid jungle buzzing with wildlife. And let’s not forget about spring – cherry blossoms everywhere! It’s quite unbelievable to witness such dramatic seasonal changes in one place. Myoko has a way of captivating you no matter the time of year.


What’s your favourite thing about living in Japan? How do you feel when you’re there? Have you taken up any new hobbies since you’ve been there?

Living in Japan has been an incredible experience, but to be honest, we’ve been so busy with our renovations, business, and parenting that we haven’t had much time to take on new hobbies. Pre-winter, Neil was running a fair bit and ran his first ultramarathon in Myoko, which he really enjoyed. During winter, we are just stoked to get up the mountain and go snowboarding when time allows. As for me, I’ve been happy just to make some amazing connections with new friends in the area. Japan has a way of making you feel both at home and in awe of its unique culture and natural beauty. It’s been a whirlwind adventure, and we’re loving every moment of it.

Where have you personally traveled? Where’s next on your list, and what dream properties are you dying to stay at?

Both Neil and I have been fortunate enough to spend the best part of the last 20 years traveling, exploring regions in Australia, Asia, Europe, Canada, and even some parts of the US and South America. Our future travel plans have definitely changed a bit now as a small family of three, but we have our eyes set on visiting more regions in Japan that we haven’t had the chance to fully explore yet. We’re also planning to spend extended periods in more tropical climates like Far North Queensland, Indonesia, and Thailand. After a winter season here in Myoko, we’re both craving some vitamin D and much-needed beach downtime.

What does slow travel mean to you?

Slow travel to us means embracing a more leisurely and immersive approach when visiting a destination. It’s about taking the time to truly connect with a place, its culture, and its people. For us, it’s a way to bond as a family, especially when life can be so busy. Instead of rushing from one tourist hotspot to another, we prefer to settle in, unpack our bags, and really get to know the local community. It’s savouring the small moments, like enjoying a leisurely meal at a neighbourhood eatery or striking up a conversation with a local artisan. Slow travel allows us to go beyond the surface and experience the heart and soul of a destination, which has always been the essence of why we love to travel. It’s those quiet, simple moments that often leave us with the richest memories of all.

Katie Gannon

Life Unhurried co-founder, Katie Gannon, has long sung from a sustainable song sheet having created and run her own successful indie fashion label, Mother Maria, before transitioning to graphic and web design. She now puts her stamp on tourism content and sustainability campaigns for clients such as City of Sydney (when she's not walking her two dachshunds, Ruby and Rafa).

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