Ian Miller came to Japan to snowboard when he was 19.
“I was really into snowboarding and met so many Japanese people back in the States who were great snowboarders. I thought to myself, “I could build a life for myself in Japan by learning the language and getting a job in the snowboard industry.”
The Atlanta native learned Japanese and moved to Japan, but instead of working for Burton or Sims, he found himself employed in a bank in central Tokyo for 15 years.
“We’d finish work at 5 p.m. on Friday and hop on the Shinkansen,” Ian’s wife Sayaka remembers. “We had a car at Nagano Station, so we’d drive to Hakuba and ski for two days in the winter or hike and bike in the summer. Then we’d return on Sunday night.”
After several years of rushing to the mountains every weekend, the Millers knew they wanted to move to Nagano full-time but never had concrete plans—until now.
The Hakuba Panorama Hotel, located just 400 meters from the ski slopes in Hakuba Happo-One, was on sale. Ian took this opportunity and purchased the hotel with a bigger plan in mind: to make this hotel an all-season hub for outdoor enthusiasts.
“Most of the hotels are closed in the green season, but there’s so much you can do in Hakuba even without the snow: mountain biking, kayaking, hiking and visiting temples, snow monkeys and Matsumoto Castle,” Ian explains. During Golden Week, sakura are in full bloom, and visitors can behold the vistas of snow and cherry blossoms at the same time.
Along with the hotel purchase, Ian wanted to give the restaurant a new feel.
“I love craft beer, especially Baird Beer, so I reached out to them about opening a taproom in Hakuba. We’re the first Baird taproom not owned by Baird Brewery,” he said.
Hakuba Taproom serves most of Baird’s year-round beers including several seasonal specials and one or two guest beers such as local brewer Hakuba Brewing Company. Conveniently enough, the hotel manager is a yakitori chef who prepares these traditional skewers with a modern twist to match everything from stouts to lagers.
“It’s very family friendly here,” Ian says, as his daughter Maddie plays a few feet away with other guests’ children in the toddlers’ play area.
“My kid’s here all the time, we’re here, it feels just like home. I’ve been coming to Hakuba for 15 years, the mountains are my home and I want to show our guests around my backyard.”
With a delicious variety of beer, outdoor fun, live music on the weekends and an on-site onsen, Hakuba Taproom is an ideal spring escape from the Tokyo crowd.