Why you need to visit JAPAN (Part 1 – Snow)

We had huge expectations! Snowboarding in Japan had been on our bucket list for as long as I can remember. But, we had no idea where to go, everyone we spoke to suggested a different location, and we didn’t realise that Japan has over 500 skiing areas!

 

Our first view of Hakuba (from the train station)

 

HAKUBA, NAGANO

With a selection of nine ski resorts all within one large valley, a reputation of great powder and the incredible Northern Japan Alps as a backdrop – how could we resist?

Hakuba was not like any other ski resort that we had experienced. It felt more like a relaxed rural farming town that just happens to have some of the most impressive ski areas in Japan. Everyone was super friendly and polite, from the taxi drivers to the Hotel staff, it was almost like time has stood still there since they hosted the 1998 Olympics. We immediately felt safe and comfortable.

And, Hakuba is close to the crowd-pleasing Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani (something that was on our kids ‘must-do’ list).

 

The Northern Japan Alps
Front row seats on the ‘Resort Train’ from Matsumoto to Hakuba

 

THEY MAKE TRAVEL EASY

We set off on our journey with a VERY limited Japanese vocabulary (our daughter studied Japanese in Yr 7!?), we were a little concerned…

But, travelling to Hakuba was surprisingly easy. Following a 9 hour flight from the Gold Coast, we arrived in Narita at 6 pm, bought our JR Passes at the airport and before we knew it we were on our merry way to Ginza, Tokyo for the night. Early the next morning, we negotiated our way through the crazy peak hour traffic of the world’s busiest train station, Shinjuku, and caught an express train out to Matsumoto. The rail system, the Shinkansen (bullet trains) that run like clockwork and watching the conductors ‘pointing and calling’ gestures was nothing but fascinating.

From Matsumoto, we jumped on a quaint resort train, reclined our seats, relaxed, and watched the incredible journey ahead of us as we weaved our way along snow-covered railroad tracks through the amazing valleys of the Northern Japan Alps.

 

 

JA-POW!

Apparently, 2016 was the worst snow season in recorded history! All the locals kept reminding us that the annual snowfall was well under the average 10+ metres that they usually receive. Our first day of snowboarding and skiing was sunny and a little icy, but overnight it dumped an incredible 20cm of JA-POW, just like that! From day two onwards we found pockets of powder up to our knees, and you couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces. For us, the snow quality was still ten times better than anything we’ve regularly experienced in Australian and New Zealand Ski Resorts.

We spent most of our time at Happo-one, it was an easy 5 min walk from our Hotel, and it suited our kids (10 & 12 yo) snowboarding ability. They’ve snowboarded many times, but they’re still not keen on black runs or jumps. And, we found an unbelievably cheap mid-mountain curry stop for lunch on Happo-one with a great view, superb food and of course a vending machine full of beer.

 

DID I MENTION THE FOOD?

In fact, our whole experience of Japan and especially Hakuba revolved around some of the most delicious food we have ever eaten. Being only one hour from the Sea of Japan means Hakuba receives the freshest of seafood daily. Our first choice of places to eat would have to be Kikyo-ya. Hands down Kikyo-ya has the best Sashimi in Hakuba, and the traditional/homely atmosphere was warming. Standing at 6 foot 2, Cav initially felt a little awkward sitting on a tatami floor at the tiniest of tiny tables, but the exquisite food and the larger-than-life chef/owner made this our favourite food experience from our whole holiday.

 

View from our Hotel room

 

IT’S ONSEN HEAVEN

We stayed at Mominoki Hotel in Hakuba. After a long day on the slopes, the comfy western style rooms here suited the four of us perfectly. Their staff were super helpful, the Western and Japanese buffet breakfasts were delicious, and their onsen was just unbelievably good. They’re also across the road from Rhythm Snowsports Hire where we found good espresso – sadly not until our second last day 🙁

This was our very first experience of an Onsen… and there is no better feeling than soaking away the day’s aches and pains in a natural hot spring with fresh snow falling on your face. Believe it or not, you soon forget that you’re soaking in the nude with a bunch of strangers – Kind of like these little guys (below) must feel!

 

Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani

SNOW MONKEYS

Our final day in Hakuba we took a trip to the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park. Our kids were bursting at the seams to see these gorgeous Japanese Macaques chilling out in an onsen. It was crowded with fellow tourists but well worth it; the cheeky monkeys were amusing to watch in their natural habitat, and the 20 min hike through the stillness of a snow covered conifer forest was breathtaking.

Our snow travels in Japan exceeded our expectations. I’m not sure what was our favourite part, we all loved every minute of the experience, and the scenery was a photographers dream. Japan most certainly didn’t disappoint us and at the end of our journey, we all knew we would need to return again one day soon.

 

Snow Monkey Selfie (only kids would think to do this)
The beautiful 20 min walk through the forest to the Snow Monkeys.
Snow covered conifer trees at Jigokudani

 

Tech Tips:

  • My iPhone froze (literally)! It gets cold, really cold. Keep your iPhone as close as possible to your body when you’re on the slopes; it will stay warm from your body heat.
  • Wrap your camera strap firmly around your wrist when you’re at the Snow Monkey Park. These cheeky little guys are known to snatch any gadget right out of your hands.
  • When I travel, I pack one backpack with a selection of my favourite lenses from wide to telephoto – Because you never know what surprise is waiting for you.


None of the content and links in this blog post is sponsored or commissioned – all opinions are my own.

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