If you are starting out your snow holiday in Niseko or anywhere else on Japan's northern island, and will then be joining us in the Hakuba Valley, you should be prepared for at least one day of traveling. I have been asked many times "What's the best way to get to Hakuba from Niseko", and although I have done the journey several times I have never taken the easiest or the fastest route because for me, the best way to travel is the most adventurous way. I have once taken an overnight sleeper train from Tokyo to Sapporo and and I have taken an overnight ferry from Niigata to Otaru. I will try to provide as much information on as many possible routes as I can, and leave you to decide what is the best way. Bear with me if it takes me a while to compile and post all of your options.
The Most Direct Route
BUS: Hirafu Welcome Center - New Chitose airport (2-3 hours ¥2300)
FUJI DREAMS FLIGHT: New Chitose Airport - Matsumoto Airport (1hr 45 min ¥26,800)
ALPICO BUS: Matsumoto Airport - Matsumoto Station (25 minutes ¥540)
JR OITO LINE TRAIN: Matsumoto Station - Kamishiro Station* (96 minutes ¥1110 )
*You may need to transfer once in Shinano Oomachi. This may just be a quick change from one track to the next. Some transfers may only give you 2 minutes to switch trains. *
The easiest way to get to the New Chitose Airport is to take a bus from Hirafu's Welcome Center. There are several bus companies offering this service. It is possible to buy a return bus ticket (to/from the airport) for about ¥4000, or ¥2300 one way. The one way journey usually takes between 2 to 3 hours but I would give yourself at least an extra hour in case of delays due to road conditions.
Fuji Dream Airlines has a once daily direct flight between the New Chitose Airport in Sapporo and the Matsumoto Airport in Nagano Prefecture departing at 14:15 and arriving at 16:00. If you book more than 1 month in advance the adult fare is ¥26,800 one way, while the regular rate is ¥35,600. It is possible to book this flight through JAL's English website.
The Alpico Bus Company provides buses from Matsumoto's Airport to the train station. Bus departure times are scheduled according the flight arrivals. The journey takes about 25 minutes and costs ¥540.
There is a 16:47 train bound for Hakuba (with a quick change in Shinano Oomachi) that arrives at Kamishiro (the closest station to Lodge tabi-tabi), and at 18:15 and Hakuba's main station at 18:22. If you miss that one the next departure is about an hour later at 17:59, arriving at Kamishiro station at 19:28.
NOTE: If you are joining us at Lodge tabi-tabi please get off at Kamishiro Station NOT Minami Kamishiro Station which is one station prior. From Kamishiro Station you can walk Lodge tabi-tabi in about 10 minutes, here is a map. Or order a taxi by calling: 0261-72-2221
The Cheapest Way
So I was going to write here about taking the slow boat from Otaru, Hokkaido to Niigata and taking the train from there onward to Hakuba. However, it seems the ferry service will be stopped (hopefully temporarily) on January 6, 2014. If you are travelling before this time, you should know ferries depart at 10:30 a.m. from Otaru and arrive 18 hours later in Niigata. For trains schedule to/from the Otaru and Niigata, please check hyperdia.
Google "best sushi in Hakuba" and you will undoubtedly be sent numerous links to reviews for Kikyo-ya. Don't trust the inter-webs? Then maybe you should have a look at the writing on the wall. Here are just a few of the enthusiastic messages written by Kikyo-ya's devoted customers:
Kikyo-ya is on the 148 not far from Hakuba Station, directly across from the Boarding Co. Look for the Japanese cherry-blossom emblems outside. I suggest you sit at the counter for the ultimate sushi experience, and watch the master chef at work as he slices the most delicate fish to create Japan's most celebrated cuisine. The charismatic owner will also help you choose another sake, while their extensive seafood menu (also in English) will make you want to come back for more.
There seems to be a lot of confusion about lift passes in Hakuba. Considering Hakuba has over 10 resorts in the valley, the "All-Mountain Pass" sure sounds like a good deal but actually, I never recommend it. One thing most people don't realize is that it needs to be used within a set number of days (this is written on the pass in Japanese only!). The 2 day pass must be used within 3 days, and the 3 day pass expires after 5. Although the All-Mountain pass includes all of the resorts in the Hakuba Valley, you can only use one resort a day. Furthermore, you still need to make your way to the ticket counter to exchange your All-Mountain pass for a day ticket at the resort of your choice and to top it all of you don't actually save all that much money. The Multi-Day passes from the resorts themselves provide better saving and more flexibility. So until the Hakuba Valley gets it together with interlinked resorts and passes, I say, leave the so called All-Mountain pass alone.
Some of the better deals to be had are:
A 3 day pass (non-consecutive) at Hakuba Goryu/Hakuba 47 is ¥12,000
(NOTE: the 2 day pass is a 2 day consecutive ticket)
A 5 day weekday pass (any 5 weekdays) at Hakuba Goryu/Hakuba 47 is ¥16,500
A day pass with lunch and onsen (spa) at Cortina is 3500 yen with a coupon.
A day pass at Kashimayari is 3800 yen
A day pass at Sanosaka is 3800 yen
A day pass at Yanaba is 2500 yen
A Hakuba Alpen Resort Pass
(valid any days of the season at Happo, Iwatake & Tsugaike)
2 day is ¥8,600
3 day is ¥12,000
4 day is ¥15,600
5 day is ¥19,500
6 day is ¥23,400
If you are a beginner, you are better off not buying a day pass at all. Instead, there is a point pass (kaisuken) available that deducts points from your pass as you use the lifts. At Hakuba Goryu/Hakuba 47 a point pass with 11 points is ¥3800. Each lift is 1 point, while the gondola will deduct 2 points. Unlike day passes, the points do not expire at the end of the day, so if you only use a few points one day you can use the rest on any other day.
There is a new burger shack in town and what a pretty shack it is! This is actually Little Alaskan's second location. Their first cozy cabin is still up and running on Olympic Road near Happo One Ski Resort while this colourful second shop is conveniently located right across Escal Plaza at Hakuba Goryu Ski Resort.
Both locations serve excellent chargrilled gourmet burgers. They have a choice of beef or chicken paddies and offer a huge assortment of toppings including the less obvious avocado and pineappple. The Olympic Road location also serves a fish burger which I am hoping they will add to the menu in Goryu.
A gourmet burger of your choice is around ¥1000. French fries or homecut fries are an extra ¥300 to which you can add toppings like cheese dip for another ¥100.
To wash it all down they serve beer on tap, soda, and juice.
Open: 12:00 - 20:00
Tokyo has the easiest and most direct access to Hakuba so if you are trying to choose an airport to fly into, pick Narita or Haneda. For travel options from the Tokyo area, please check out our transportation entries here. If you have been exploring the country, hanging with the geisha in Kyoto, or got a good deal on a flight to Osaka, then you will have fewer transportation options when making your way to Hakuba.
If you are travelling on a JR rail pass then best stick to JR trains. From Shin-Osaka, Shin-Kobe, and Kyoto, you can catch the Takaido Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagoya and then change to the Shinano line bound for Matsumoto. In Matsumoto you will need to change to the Oito Line, where there are a few direct trains to Kamishiro/Hakuba but others will stop in Shinano-Oomachi where you will have to board a connecting train bound for Hakuba. If you will be joining us at Lodge tabi-tabi, be sure to get off at Kamishiro (NOT Minami-Kamishiro) station. From there we are a 10 minute walk or a 1000 yen taxi ride.
If you are like me, and don't mind a little extra travel time if it means less transfers and less hassles, then I suggest taking the Shinano Limited Express from Osaka at 8:58 am. This train will arrive at Matsumoto station at 13:03 where you can change to the Oito line bound for Hakuba. Although a little more out of the way, you can get off 50 minutes later at Nagano station and then take the Alpico Bus bound for Hakuba. Please note, the ¥1500 yen bus fare will not be covered by a JR Rail pass but all Oito Line trains from Matumoto are.
If you are looking for the cheapest way to get to Hakuba, and don't have a JR Rail pass, then I suggest taking the Hankyu Bus from Osaka or Kyoto to Matsumoto and the train from there. The 5 1/2 hour journey from Umeda costs 5,700 one way and 10,000 yen return. For a link to the Hankyu Bus schedule and fares, click here. The train from Matsumoto to Hakuba is another ¥1200 and you may need to transfer in Shinano Oomachi station.
If you are callin from overseas, drop the first zero and add the country code, "81".
I'm often asked to recommend a place to stay in Tokyo but since I live in the city 5 months of the year and have always had my own apartment, I have never had to look for accommodation, well, until last week that is. I moved out of my old place and while looking for a new Tokyo abode I had to find a place to crash for one night so I took this opportunity to look for an interesting place to stay. We had heard about Toco Backpackers and Nui Hostel from a friend, who's friend's friend, is part owner.
Nui is more than just a hostel, it's an amazing creatively designed space meant to bring together people from all over the world. Set in an old warehouse, it still has lots of industrial touches like the high ceilings, floor to ceiling glass doors across the front, and the over-sized freight elevator. Comforting touches of nature are incorporated with their 8 meter long tree-trunk bar, and a massive de-barked tree that stands in the center of the 1st floor lounge. The bathroom doors have original handles forged by a local lady black smith artisan. Nui has private rooms and dormitories available on the upper floors. They have free wifi throughout the building and a computer for all to use. I have no doubt that the yet-to-be-completed kitchen and library on the 5th floor will be another amazing creative feat of eclectic design.
If you are looking for something more Japanesy, you might want to try their second location, Toco Backpacker's Inn and Free Space Bar Lounge, an old ryokan built in 1920 and completely refurbished by the same creative crew that built Nui Hostel & Bar Lounge.
Although both locations are within easy reach of Narita and Haneda airports, you should keep in mind that neither neighbourhood, Iria or Kuramae, are in the must-see section of your guidebook. Instead, Nui and Toco, provide a great escape from the big city bustle with easy access to the rest of Tokyo.
Another amazing day in the backcountry! There is nothing like it! If you are fit enough to hike with pack, and are an advanced level skier or boarder, I highly recommend heading out into the backcountry to earn your turns.... with a qualified backcountry guide of course!!!! There are so many risks you may not be aware of. Knowledgable guides will be able to choose the terrain that suits your abilty so you can have your best day out ever! Moreover, you will need avalache saftey equipment to minimize the risks. I suggest you contact Evergreen Outdoor Center or contact Damian at Hakuba Mountain Life for more information about backcountry tours, avalanche awareness training, and equipment rentals. You will not regret it!
If you are craving some western food while on the mountain, you might want to try Pizza House Luis. They are conveniently located just below the gondola station at Hakuba 47. Luis Pizza House offers 4 different sauces to choose from; garlic sauce, basil sauce, codroe and mayonaise sauce, and your standard tomato sauce. These thin crusted Italian style pizza pies only come in one single serving size and cost ¥1200 - ¥1500 each. They also offer quick snacks like hashbrowns, fried chicken, curry buns, and saugages for ¥200 - ¥500. And serve draft beer and Italian wine to help you wash it all down and work up a bit more courage for your afternoon on the mountain.
After a long winter of snow-filled skies, I must admit I do look forward to a bit if sunshine, and Obinata-no-yu is my favorite place to catch up on my vitamin D. It's closed in the middle of winter but re-opens just as the days start to get a little longer and the clouds give way to more bluebird skies. When there is snow on the ground the taps and showers are also covered up so you have to wash the old fashioned way by sitting next to the hotspring and splashing yourself by dunking a bucket into bath. Don't forget to get wet, lather up with soap, and rinse yourself clean before lowering your (now goose-pimply) body into these alkaline-rich mineral waters.
Open: 10:00 - 17:00
Closed: November - February
道 (Michi) means road, の (no) is a possessive like our 's, and 駅 (eki) means station. Together you have "Road Station", which have all of the conveniences of train stations but is made for drivers and their cars. All michi-no-eki are organized by the government, and provide basic travel needs like free parking, 24 hour restrooms, and tourist information. Michi-no-eki is also the hub of many small towns providing them a place to promote tourism and trade. You can often find locally grown veggies, food stalls and restaurants with local specialties, souvenirs, hand-made goods, and sometimes even onsens! Michi-no-eki's merchants are carefully selected to represent the town so you can be sure to find the best food and the most welcoming folks at the road-side michi-no-eki.
Hakuba's michi-no-eki is an easy walk from Lodge tabi-tabi, check it out on our walking map here. They have a soba shop, oyaki shop, and in the summer, a gelato stand. They sell local veggies and souvenirs, and provide free parking and restrooms. If you have a car, I highly recommend visiting the Otari michi-no-eki. Otari is the next town if you are driving towards the coast. If you are driving to Nagano City, you will pass Poka Poka Land, Miasa's michi-no-eki, which has a spa with powerful jet-baths, sell cheap local vegetables, and has a great restaurant next door called Miasa Shokudo. Japan has close to 1000 michi-no-eki scattered throughout rural Japan so take note of the michi-no-eki symbol below and you'll know where to take a break the next time you are on the road.
Gu~ Steak House in Goryu has tender juicy steak to fit every budget. Set menus with slabs of sizzling meat on a hot plate and a bit of corn start at ¥800. Customers can help themselves to rice, soup, green tea, and water. They have a picture menu making it very easy for anyone to order. The above meal is a 150 gram steak alongside a 230 gram chicken fillet which comes with a side-salad, and all-you-can-eat rice and soup for ¥1000. If you go there for lunch, you can take ¥100 off each set. They also have minced meat paddies, rib steak, and if you want the best, their wagu beef is ¥4000 for 300 grams.
Lunch: 11:30 - 14:30 (last order 14:00)
Dinner: 17:00 - 20:30 (or until the meat runs out)
It's International Woman's Day today so this one is for the laydeez! Women have come a loooong way, so long in fact that women are now able to pee standing up! That's right Freud, time to scrap your male-centered penis envy theory. With the right gadget, women too, can relieve themselves anywhere anytime. Find yourself in a dirty john? Behind a skinny tree? A urinal? Or in the back-country above the tree line without a bush insight (and not wanting to reveal yours)? All you need is an FUD (female urination device). This season I have started using P-mate, a very simple origami-like funnel that catches your stream and sends it off, away from your pants and shoes, without the need to drop your drawers.
This product has been a goddess-send for a woman like me, who wears bib pants and spends most of her back-country days hiking with the boys. It's even easier if you wear boys tights underneath and make good use of the hole in the front.
P-mates are only $4.95 for a pack of 5. Although they are disposable, I re-use each one a few times by giving it a rinse before placing it back in the zip-lock bag. I ordered mine online direct from their website. International orders have a $15.00 shipping fee. Which is not bad at all if you stock up and buy some extra for your female friends.
True Player's Skate Park will have its grand opening in April, but they're already letting skaters ride the ramps. True Player's is an excellent indoor park with big well shaped ramps and other street skate items, and for ¥500 a day you can't go wrong anyway. True Player's is in a gym on the same road as Mimizuku Onsen near Happo. I will add it to our recommendation map here.
Open: 12ish to 9ish (everyday-ish)