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Hakuba Snow Guide for Aussies

People ask me a fair bit about going to Japan so I thought I’d whack all the information I know into a post – using my recent snowboarding trip to Hakuba as an example.

Please use these prices as a guide only! Can’t help if things change here and there.

Mobile Phone access
I got two data only SIM cards this year – one for myself and one for my wife. Makes it much easier to communicate if required (Coverage on the mountains is typically pretty good – go with a DoCoMo sim) – Had them delivered directly to my accomodation in Hakuba. They need about 2 days to get it there, so book it prior to leaving. Great for using Google Maps – Using this in Tokyo you can actually select the Public Transport option and it will route you on the Tokyo subway system. Very handy!

No need for voice/sms access as we just used iMessage/Facetime/Skype/etc.

Few things to note if you change SIM on an iPhone – Beware that your iMessage/Facetime account is sometimes activated via your Aussie mobile number. You can go into your “Settings” – “Messages” and change the “You can be Reached by iMessage at:” and “Start New Conversations from:” – I had my Gmail and iCloud accounts so I just selected these as well. The Japanese SIM is data only you cannot get any SMS verification etc – This also stopped me from using WhatsApp as I couldn’t register the phone…it detected a new mobile network, and no way to verify!

If you have roaming on your normal sim card and use a Pocket Wifi – You’d probably get around that problem.

Costs:
4100yen for 1GB that lasts 30 days. (Sim card)

eConnect Japan

Flights
As of April 2014 there will be a direct flight from Melbourne – which will be awesome!

Don’t forget even though JetStar flights start cheap, they add up when you add all the crap onto them, especially if you are going to be lugging all your board gear up. All my boarding gear for a week inc my usual gadgets, came in at a touch under 20kg. If you take into account the booze and food consumed on the flight (and I went a bit nuts on the flight up) costs can add up – I spent about $100 on food and (mostly) grog.

If you can find a Qantas or Singapore Airlines flight (find a A380 flight, with a couple of hours stopover in Singapore – Arriving at Narita early morning) that would probably be preferred. Then you can spend the day looking around Tokyo and grab the Nagano Shinkansen to Hakuba.

Costs:
$1300-1600 per person – Make sure you factor in extra weight you might need for your gear. Also don’t forget travel insurance – This year we had some huge snowfalls which closed roads and shutdown airports!

$800-$900 per person if you can find a Jetstar sale flying in the right months..

Transfers
The past two trips I have jumped on the Hakubus – It connects with Jetstar flights and usually leaves around 830-9PM from Narita Terminal 2. It’s a long bus ride to Hakuba – around 5 hours (with 2 rest stops) – Can be a long day if you have spent the whole day flying already…

Next time I would look at getting into Tokyo earlier in the day and then jumping on a Shinkansen to Nagano and then connecting Bus to Hakuba.

Depending on which Shinkansen you get, it will take around 1:30-2hrs – The bus from Nagano to Hakuba is usually around an hour.

Costs:
Nagano Snow Shuttle (Hakubus) – 9900yen per person
Nagano/Hakuba Bus – 1500yen per person (or 4500yen for 4 people)
Asama Nagano Shinkansen – 7700yen per person (add 3000yen if you want a reserved seat on a green car)

Nagano Snow Shuttle
Alpico Nagano <-> Hakuba Express Bus Timetables
Nagano Shinkansen Timetables, Fares, etc

Accomodation
If you are staying in Hakuba – I recommend staying at Snowlines Lodge. Stephen and Sarasa are awesome hosts and provide great value accommodation in a very decent location. Happo-One is about 15 minutes if you want to walk, or walk 50m out the front door to their very own bus stop…then its only a 2 minute bus ride! There is a Lawson convenience store about 80m down the road, and Echoland is also just a short stroll up the road…Not to mention the liquor store that you have to pass with a massive selection of Sake – and spirits at prices that will shock any Australian…so cheap.

They have a cozy bar that opens at 4PM, excellent breakfasts and spacious rooms. Can’t wait to get back there soon!

Costs:
500yen tap beers
1000yen bacon/eggs breakfasts
6500-10000yen per night depending on room.
free fruit/cereal/tea/juice
free transfers to/from hakuba happo bus terminal

Snowlines Lodge

Lift passes
Nearly all resorts have a coupon/discount ticket that includes a 900yen lunch voucher. You can print these out or your accomodation will be able to give them to you. The Snownavi Website is probably the best one-stop place to get all the discount coupons for all the major Hakuba resorts. There is a whole load of useful info there as well.

Costs:
5000yen per person – Happo-one lift ticket inc. 900yen lunch (with coupon)
12500yen per person – 3-day Hakuba Valley all resort pass

Snownavi Hakuba English website

Hakuba Links/FB Pages/etc
Hakuba Tourism Website  – Check out their Essentials Guide
Hakuba Happo 【Official English Page】  白馬八方尾根 – Happo-one FB Page – Has daily updates on conditions, etc
白馬岩岳 Hakuba Iwatake – In Japanese, but you can figure out the snow reports.
Japan-guide.com – There is a WEALTH of info on this website – Be sure to have a good look through!

Luggage Transfer/Storage
I used this service last year and it saved me carrying my board bag on the bus/shinkansen/tokyo metro. Give 2-3 days and you can have your board bag delivered direct to the airport for when you depart.  We had Snowlines arrange this for us and take care of everything, worked out really well.

This year because of the heavy snowfalls – the roads were closed. I had to get my bag into the bus cargo hold from Hakuba to Nagano (Which was PACKED! Lucky we even got on! – 5 of us) – Once we got to Nagano, it was a quick shuffle to get onto the Shinkansen (We only took up about 5 rows of overhead storage – no one really cared though!). On arrival to Tokyo – getting the board bags around the metro system was a pain in the arse. Hugging the bag, making sure not to whack anyone, going up and down stairs – really gives you a workout. Then getting it to the hotel, and then back to a storage the next day (So we didn’t have to lug it around all day) was just a big pain in the butt.

I stored my board bag at the JR East Baggage Services desk at Tokyo Station near the Maranuchi North entrance. For my smaller bags I just used the lockers right near that entrance within the station.

Costs:
~2500yen – Takuhaibin/Ta-Q-Bin Courier Service – 165cm Dakine board bag loaded with about 15kg of gear.
300-400yen – Tokyo Station Lockers
500yen – JR East Baggage Services storage. They only operate from 730am to 830PM so not sure if they store overnight.

Map of Tokyo Station – JR East Baggage Services location
Airport Ta-Q-Bin Service
Japan-Guide Takuhaibin Information

Tokyo Subway/Narita Express (NeX)
Use the machines! Don’t waste your time lining up at the ticket desks. They all have an “ENGLISH” button on them and you should be able to work out what you need.

To get around the Tokyo subway system – it can be a bit confusing as there are a few different companies – Tokyo Metro, JR East, Toei – I find it much easier to just buy an IC card – Suica or Pasmo – Much like Melbourne’s Myki (Just not slow and shit) – load it up and off you go without having to worry.

Most vending machines and some stores can use these cards too.

To get back to Narita from Tokyo Station – Use the Narita Express (NeX) – They leave leave pretty frequently from this station. Timetables linked below.

Costs:
Pasmo – 1000 yen – 500yen deposit for card, 500yen for travelling. Top it up at the machines as required.
NeX Ticket – 2740yen per person (Low season is 200yen cheaper – JR East Fares & Charges page for more details)

Narita Express Timetables, Fares, etc
Pasmo English Tourist Guide
Pasmo English Website

Resorts
This is pretty much up to personal preference. I like Happo-One which is the largest one in the Hakuba valley and have also been to Iwatake, Goryu/Hakuba47 (Which are connected at the top..2 for the price of 1) – however there is a huge range to choose from so go explore!

Here’s a list of what you have access to..The furthest out is Cortina which is about a 45 mins bus ride away..Which also apparently gets a bit more snowfall too.

Sanosaka
Minekata
Happo-One
Goryu
Hakuba 47
Iwatake
Tsugaike
Norikura
Cortina

Thats about all I can think about adding for the moment.. Hope you find this useful! Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below. If I think of anything else I will add it as I go.

Written by Aaron Tan

February 23rd, 2014 at 3:14 am