The Hakuba Valley is gradually gaining recognition as one of the best ski resorts not only in Japan, but in the world. Deep powder (an average of 11+ meters of annual snowfall) and a lively night scene are what draw snow hounds from around the world. What keeps them coming back year after year are the 11 resorts with a myriad of terrain and endless runs, rejuvenating hot spring baths, world class accommodation and cuisine, full support from babysitting and ski schools (with English language instruction!) to hardcore backcountry guided tours, and the Japanese small-town countryside warmth and rich heritage, all with the stunning backdrop of the magnificent Northern Japan Alps.
“Hakuba” means “white horse”, referring to the shape of a patch of snow that forms in the spring near the top of Mt. Shiroumadake. The locals use it as a sign to start preparing their fields for planting rice. Hakuba stays true to its agricultural roots which is likely why the influx of skiers from overseas enhances the town with an international flair rather than inundating it.
Down in the Village
At the base of the mountains are the 3 smaller neighborhoods (woodsy Wadano to the north, more commercial Happo in the center, and jazzy Echo Land to the south) that make up the center of Hakuba. Here you’ll find a wide range of accommodation (from budget backpackers to 5-star ski lodges) and eateries (eclectic vego, quintessentially Japanese izakaya pubs, arguably the best Mexican in the entire country, and oh so much more!).
With Hakuba’s pristine mountain water comes great agriculture and rice farming. That means delicious rice for sake making and, more recently, craft beer brewing, in Hakuba and the vicinity, all proudly served by the establishments in the village.
Around the Valley, Around the Year
Overall, the Hakuba Valley stretches to quiet Otari Village in the north, and south past the 3 Lakes of Nishina to Omachi, the gateway to the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route.
The 3 Lakes and the Alpine Route are just some of what makes Hakuba Valley such a rewarding destination during the green season, too. Many alpinists make Hakuba their base for trekking the surrounding mountains, made enticingly accessible by the chairlifts that operate year-round.
Recently outdoor enthusiasts have been flocking to Hakuba in the non-snowy season to enjoy canoeing, mountain biking, canyoning, paragliding and other adventure excitement. Popular day trips from Hakuba include going to see the snow monkeys at Jigokudani, the Daio Wasabi Farm and Matsumoto Castle.
True to its nickname “The Roof of Japan”, Nagano Prefecture features additional outstanding ski areas, such as the hot spring village of Nozawa Onsen and the expansive wilderness of Shiga Kogen (highlands). But if you want Olympic-caliber skiing (Hakuba was the main alpine and Nordic venue of the 1998 Nagano Olympics) along with a vibrant apres ski scene combined with Japan’s renowned warm service, then come to Hakuba!
By Public Transportation
Express busses connect Hakuba with Nagano City (70 min, hourly during the ski season) and Matsumoto. Nagano Station is only 1hr 25 min from Tokyo via the Hokuriku Shinkansen (bullet train). There is also train service from Hakuba to Matsumoto and from there to Nagoya (and on to Kyoto / Osaka). Highway busses offer service from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station (5 hrs 13 min, 5-7 per day, 4850 yen).
For visitors coming directly from the airport, during the winter Alpico and Nagano Snow Shuttle offer busses direct from Narita or Haneda (5-6 hours, 1-2 per day, from 9000 yen). Or take a train into Tokyo Station and take the afore-mentioned Shinkansen to Nagano, then express bus to Hakuba (train/train/bus combo 4.5-5 hrs, regularly scheduled, approx. 12,000 yen). Chuo Taxi’s airport shuttle service is also available, with a greeter at the airport and drop off straight to your ski lodge (5-6 hours, from 13,900 yen).
The Tourist Information Center is located next to JR Hakuba Station.
You’ll find practically any type of accommodation you can imagine within Hakuba Village, from guesthouses to 5-star hotels as well as traditional Japanese ryokans.