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Hakuba offers much more than world class skiing. It’s an unforgettable cultural holiday, a glimpse into an ancient past of castles, temples and tea ceremonies. A time to enjoy nature and all of it’s adorable inhabitants. It’s a holiday of sushi, ramen, and gyoza washed down with cold beer and warm sake. It’s modern comforts meets traditional hospitality. Not sold? Here are the 15 best experiences off the slopes in and around the Hakuba Valley.
The world famous Hot Spring Monkeys are an absolute must for first time visitors to the Hakuba Valley. These monkeys, who shot to global fame after appearing on Life Magazine in the early 1970’s, are the only monkeys in the world known to bathe in naturally occurring hot springs. The monkeys are located in a beautiful national park roughly 90 minutes from Hakuba. Tours leave daily from Happo, Echoland, and Wadano at 8am and 9am and also include lunch and a visit to Zenkoji Temple.
Tour Cost Adult: ¥13,000
Tour Cost Kids: ¥9,000Enquire Now
Zenkoji Temple is an 8th Century Buddhist Temple and said to house the first Buddhist relic ever brought to Japan. Touring the temple is a spectacular glimpse into Japanese culture, history, and society as Buddhism as been one of the driving forces in this island nation for over 1,000 years. The temple is located 10 minutes on foot from Nagano Station, and we recommend visiting the temple in conjunction with the Snow Monkeys. Alternatively, those Black Catting their bags can easily visit the Temple for a few hours before catching a Shinkansen Train back to Tokyo or elsewhere in the country.
Tour Cost Adult: ¥13,000
Tour Cost Kids: ¥9,000Enquire Now
Matsumoto is an incredible city roughly 60k from Hakuba and boasts two attractions of particular note. The first is Matsumoto Castle, known affectionately as the Crows Castle. Unlike most castles in Japan which are white, this stunning structure is black as iron and sits in the middle of an open plain where most castles are perched on a hill for siege defense benefits. You can walk to the castle from the train station and it’s free to enter the castle grounds and ¥600 to tour the interior. It’s the oldest standing castle in Japan and has been designated a National Treasure by the Japanese government. This should be coupled with a visit to #4 on our list, Matsumoto Art Museum. Take the train from Hakuba Station to Matsumoto Station. It takes roughly 2 hours and costs ¥2,200.
Castle Admission: ¥610 (Adults)
Castle Hours: 8-17:00 (Last entry 16:30)
Yayoi Kusama is one of the world’s most popular artists with 2020 exhibits in museums in New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, Boston and Tokyo to name a few. Fortunately for us, this all-star talent was was born in nearby Matsumoto and the local art museum has a phenomenal permanent exhibition displaying her work. While her exhibits in major cities often sell out or have long queues to enter, you will not find that problem with the Matsumoto Art Museum. Admission is ¥410 for adults and you’ll likely have the place to yourself.
Museum Admission: ¥610 (Adults)
Museum Hours: 8-17:00 (Last entry 16:30)
The quintessential Japan experience. Onsen (or Natural Hot Springs) are ubiquitous in Japanese culture. The Japanese visit onsen after-work, they go as a family on the weekend, and even take holidays centered on onsening. It’s an incredible way to relax and unwind and rest that tired body. Hakuba is blessed with an array of onsen and many hotels even have them for guests and outside guests (at a cost). You can visit an onsen for between ¥650 and ¥1,000.
Tour one of the regions oldest Sake Breweries, Ichinoya, and enjoy sake tasting with a traditional Japanese lunch. The tour will begin at Wachigai Restaurant, a traditional Japanese restaurant which includes water tasting, sake tasting, and of course lunch. You’ll then be guided across the street for the brewery tour. You can catch a 12:20 Train and return to Hakuba on the train leaving Shinano Omachi at 16:40.
1 Course Lunch: ¥5,500
2 Course Lunch: ¥7,000Enquire Now
Festivals are an incredible way to immerse yourself in Japanese culture and there are quite a few phenomenal options in Nagano. The most popular festival is the Nozawa Fire Festival. Locals build a 3 story wooden structure and 25 year old men defend it while torch wielding 42 year old men fight to burn it down. It always ends with a climatic inferno and spectators are treated to complimentary sake throughout. There are tour buses that transport 90 minutes each way for between ¥9,000 and ¥12,000 (includes dinner). Below are a other great festival options.
Looking to truly experience authentic Japanese culture? Then perhaps the Kimono Experience Tour is right for you. Held in a local Traditional Edo Period Home, participants will experience a a kimono dressing with a real kimono teacher followed by origami and a Japanese Tea Ceremony. The tour includes a Japanese lunch box with rice, soup and seasonal fruits. The tour provider will pick you up from your accommodation around 9:30am and drop you off again at 1:15pm. This tour is for women only.
Cost: ¥9,000 per personEnquire Now
This gourmet seafood tour in Itoigawa on the Japan Sea is perfect for the adventure seeking foodies amongst us. The bus leaves Hakuba around 17:00 and returns before 23:00 giving you about 3 hours to restaurant hop in Itoigawa. There are roughly a dozen restaurants to choose from once you get off the bus, and many offer great deals on the freshest seafood in Japan.
Transportation Cost: ¥1,000
Enjoy some time out snowmobiling on the Hakuba Foothills with our partner Lion Adventure. For an affordable price you can enjoy solo or tandem rides with an experienced bilingual guide. The tour does not require prior experience and includes pick up and drop offs from accommodation in most areas of Hakuba. The tour is 60 minutes.
1 Adult Price: ¥12,000
Tandem Adult + Kid: ¥14,000
Tandem Adult Price: ¥18,000Enquire Now
Chausuyama Zoo near Nagano Station houses 78 species and over 700 animals within its vast ground of 15 hectares, including adorable red pandas There is also a petting zoo section, where visitors can touch small animals such as rabbits. To access the Zoo take the bus from Happo Information Center to Nagano Station and either cab the 15k to the zoo or take the JR Train 4 stops to Shinonoi Station and walk.
Hours: 10:00 – 16:00
HakuBounce is the first ever trampoline park in Nagano and offers visitors access to a variety of trampoline courses and air-soft shooting activities like survival games and a shooting range. Located near Goryu/ Hakuba 47 Resorts, it’s the perfect place to get a bit of exercise on an off day. Prices vary based on activity so it’s best to visit the HakuBounce site for more information.
Hours: 10:00 – 21:00
True Players is a learner friendly skate park near Mizuku no Yu Onsen off the Olympic Road in Happo Village. The park offers a 12ft vertical ramp, 3 mini ramps, with a spine transfer in-between, street style banks, ledges and rails. It’s open daily 9am to 11pm and you’ll need to bring your own board as rentals are not available.
The Togakushi Shrines sit in an ancient forest 40k from Hakuba. Togakushi consists of 5 Shinto Shrines connected by roads and hiking trails lined with trees all over 800 years old. It’s a stunning example of the fusion of nature and religion within Japanese culture. This area is not easily accessible by public transport and you will need to rent a car to visit.Enquire Now
Is a trip to Japan really complete without seeing Japan’s most iconic landmark? Are you an adrenaline hound looking to get your blood pumping on your off day? If you answered yes to these, I may have the perfect plan for you. Mt. Fuji is about 200k from Hakuba and at the base of Mt. Fuji sits one of the world’s most exciting theme parks. Seriously! Fuji Q Highlands has several rides that were once world record holders for speed, acceleration, spins and rotation. The trip is certainly doable in a day with a bit of planning. You will need to rent a car in order to ensure you can make this happen, but if you have an international license and are up for a bit of an adventure, this is the day trip for you.
Hours: 9:00-17:00 (subject to change, please check website)
Tickets: There are a variety of plans but a 1 Day unlimited rides ticket for adults is ¥6,000
Don’t forget about all off the wonderful places to eat and drink across the valley. There are dozens and dozens of options spanning from fine Italian dinning to Japanese pub food on the cheap and everything in-between. Here’s our list of the best places to grab a drink in Hakuba.
We hope everyone is staying safe and taking all necessary precautions in these uncertain times. Before you know it, life will return to a state of normalcy and when that day comes, we’ll be waiting for you here in Hakuba. If you’d like to talk about next winter please email us at [email protected] or click enquire below. All our properties are 30% off, and as no one knows what the future will bring, we’re offering 100% refunds for all bookings cancelled by October 15th. Stay safe!Enquire Now
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