Feel at home delves into Cafe Nupuri, a small offbeat cafe located in Niseko Station. The following article was originally written and published in print for Experience Niseko.
Eccentric trinkets, old-world charm and the delicious home cooking at Cafe Nupuri have world-travellers coming back for more.
WANDERING THROUGH the old noren (traditional Japanese curtain), the first thing many will notice is the dark wooden furniture, the aged metal kettle, and rays of sunlight from the cloudy glass windows. Wafting through the air is the faint smell of caramelised onion and fragrant spices.
Like a still scene from Hayao Miyazaki’s Ghibli films, this hidden gem tucked away at Niseko Station, is the perfect place to unwind, settle into a comfy seat and enjoy a quiet afternoon.
Treating the cosy cafe as their home, owners Yuko and Tamotsu Matsuda have been welcoming locals and travellers for over 28 years.
As seasoned travellers, the Matsudas opened the café with an aim to provide those who wander in a sense of belonging. “When people go on long travels, they will try and nd something that’s familiar to home,” Tamotsu says.
Having visited more than 20 countries in a small camper van and clocking over 18,000km across Europe, the couple are well-acquainted with both the excitement of travelling to new destinations but also finding home abroad.
“We want people to feel comfortable, just like they’re at home,” Yuko says. Emitting a homely feel, Cafe Nupuri’s exterior and interior reflect the owners’ hobbies and tell the stories of their life travels.
Every Piece Has A Story
Cafe Nupuri is an accumulation of the Matsudas’ life story. Combining their love for travel with meeting new people, opening the cafe within a station in Niseko was the perfect choice. First meeting each other here, the Matsudas decided to settle in Niseko because of its unique setting.
For Tamotsu, it was because of the summer activities. “I can hike in the summer and fly fish throughout the year, really, I decided to settle here because of this!” Tamotsu chuckles. For Yuko, it was the natural scenery. “Unlike other places, Niseko is surrounded by nature and beautiful mountain ranges and I think that’s the reason for me.”
Black coffee is served in dainty porcelain cups from a much bigger collection: antique wall clocks, vintage dolls sitting in the glass shelf, gas lamps, and wooden carved sh and bears. Each and every display in Cafe Nupuri are either tokens from their travels or handmade by the couple.
Items have been collected from flea markets across the world, while others have been bought from small antique shops. Point to any ornament and the Matsudas will be able to tell a story behind it. Take the train headlamp in the corner, which is from Scotland, where they encountered a wild highland cow!
The wall clocks, stopped at 2:46pm, mark the time of the Tohoku Earthquake with a caring message from the elderly couple. “Whenever someone asks us about the clock, we always give them a gentle reminder to be safe when travelling and it is also a great conversation starter between travellers,” Yuko explains.
Worldly people, the Matsudas are also extremely talented. Retiring from his professional skiing career, Tamotsu Matsuda is now a well-known fishing expert, enjoys wood crafting and playing the retro guitars in the corner of the cafe.
A master in the Japanese art of ower arrangement, Yuko Matsuda decorates the window seal of Cafe Nupuri with evergreens but also takes care of the exterior of Niseko Station.
“Even though it is a lot of work to maintain, the owers change the atmosphere around the station,” Yuko says.
During summer, expect to nd the exterior of Niseko station decorated with colourful owers hung in overhead pots and exotic plants plotted around, giving the area a distinct European touch and transforming the outdoor seating area into a small garden.
Niseko’s Stationmaster Hardy
Spending long hours at their cafe, the couple takes their young Akita dog Hardy to work every day. Delighting commuters and sta at the station, Hardy was given the title of “Stationmaster” for her popularity at the end of summer last year.
Since birth, Hardy has been spotted lazing around the outside dining area of the cafe. Naturally curious and friendly, she greets commuters and visitors to the station as any good stationmaster should.
Capturing the hearts of the local community, JR Rail made the decision to award the Akita dog with the honorary status of stationmaster. “We’re really happy that Hardy was given that title, the kids love to play with her,” Yuko says.
Famous Home Cooking
Every aspect of Cafe Nupuri is designed with travellers in mind, in particular, the food.
“Located in a station, many people who come in are commuters who don’t have a lot of time to eat. I wanted to serve something people could eat quickly, be full from but is also healthy,” Yuko says.
With this in mind, the menu is focused on healthy, hearty home cooking. Serving a range of traditional Japanese dishes, the choices go from curry served over white rice with a side of fresh salad, handmade udon to teriyaki chicken rice bowls, which are popular with Asian guests.
Over the years, the little cafe has become well known for their specialty dish, black curry.
“The colour makes it look more delicious and interesting than traditional yellow curry which is a lot spicier too,” Yuko says.
The recipe for creating the dark colour of curry roux has been a secret for decades. However, earlier last year, the couple shared their recipe with chefs at Lupicia in Niseko, a company famous for tea and food manufacturing in Japan. Touched by Lupicia Group Manager Hiroki Mizuguchi’s love for the area, the owners decided to share the recipe in order for more people to taste their specialty dish and introduce them to Niseko, where the black curry was born.
“We wanted more people to know about Niseko through black curry,” Yuko explains. Now, Niseko’s famous black curry can be purchased at Lupicia stores across the country.
Mildly spicy to foreigners, order a juicy hamburger steak or crispy bacon with Chinese yam curry; two of the most popular dishes on the menu. Take a satisfying bite into the pan-fried crunchy yam and savour the deliciously rich curry made from a unique combination of spices.
Here, everything comes together as a rustic family-style meal, from the fabric woven menus and simple utensils to the black curry presented in a neat blue porcelain dish; you’ll almost forget that you’re dining out.
Frozen in Time
The menu and interiors have been purposely left unchanged, almost frozen in time by the Matsudas. When asked why, the couple say “so you remember this place as if you’ve come home, no matter how long it takes you to come back again.”
Providing this sense of familiarity, the warm couple invites you to your second home, Café Nupuri.
Inside Niseko Station, Niseko-cho chuodori, Abuta District, Hokkaido, Japan.
Open every day, 11am-7pm (Closed Wednesday)
Tel: +81 136-44-2619
Read more on Niseko’s best produce-inspired contemporary restaurant, An Dining.
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Editor-In-Chief at Honest Food Talks. Combining her passion for food, languages, and adventure, she has travelled to some of Asia's most rural locations. She will order the weirdest sounding dish on the menu (and will do a lot in the name of food!).