Hakuba, Japan

Hakuba, Hakuba, Hakuba… Oh my… I could have stayed there forever.

Background Info
My husband and I love to snowboard.  Ryan started to learn a few years before me, then right after our wedding six years ago I decided I would give it a try… I was hooked!  Don’t get me wrong there were many tears, deep breathes and even some marital arguments but there was something so exhilarating about strapping on that board!  Over the six years prior to our Japanese vacation we enjoyed eight trips over three countries.  Japan was a holiday that we had put off for many years, especially since having children, as we simply thought it would be ‘too hard’… we were wrong!

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Itinerary
Traveling as 2 adults, a 2 year old (two and eight months exactly) and a 12 month old.
14 nights in total – 1 Tokyo, 10 Hakuba, 3 Tokyo.

Getting there
We flew Brisbane to Tokyo in under 9 hours. Once at Narita airport we opted to take a mini van style taxi to our accommodation in the city, this is only economical because we were in a larger group as we were travelling there with friends. Other options for getting into Tokyo city would have been the direct limousine bus or direct train (both easy to find and organise at the airport.)  Our first night was basically a transit night as our plane landed in the evening.  We opted to stay somewhere close to Tokyo Station, because that is where the bullet train to Hakuba would depart from the following day.  We chose the Marunouchi Hotel because of it’s proximity to the station (directly opposite.) The rooms were small but just what we needed, there was a yummy breakfast and cute little amenity packs for the children.

The following day we headed to the station to buy tickets for the bullet train to Hakuba. (You don’t need to book your tickets in advance, it’s fine to turn up on the day and buy one.) Tokyo Station is extremely busy so it is important to allow plenty of time to get from the ticket booth to your platform.  The bullet train is a high speed train travelling at over 300km an hour to Nagano. It took under an hour and a half to arrive at the station and then we had to get an hour bus to Hakuba. So hotel door to door the travel time totalled about 4 and half hours with all the extra stops and waiting times etc.

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The Hakuba Mountains
The Hakuba Valley is made up of eleven, 11 different ski resorts with over 200 trails, 5 gondolas, 138 lifts, great back country and amazing off piste action.   We only made it to 3 of the mountains!  There is a reason why its called #japow with over 11 metres of annual snowfall! Hakuba really is fantastic for everyone from kids, to beginners, to experts and we just loved it!

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Accommodation
There are so many accommodation options in Hakuba and the surrounding area that we seriously spent hours upon hours deciding where to stay. Hostels, chalets, hotels, self contained apartments, Air BnB places…  we found accommodation to be on the higher side in terms of price, but that’s most likely because we were trying to tick alot of boxes.

We finally settled on Gakuto Villas which are two bedroom, self contained apartments located in the Wadano Mori district of Hakuba.  There are 12 free standing double storey villas in total, all Western style but with Japanese detailing.  The villas are 100m2 and feature two bathrooms, a kitchen, living room and space from one car.  They sleep 6 people in total which could easily be done and of course this would have made it more cost affective.  Oh and did I mention the huge dreamy windows and heated flooring!  This place was seriously amazing, and everything from the cleanliness to how pleasant the staff were was top notch.  Gakuto were kind enough to drive us pretty much everywhere so there was no need to hire a car and in the couple of occasions that we visited more distant mountains we grabbed a cab. Gakuto also made all of our dinner reservations and had some great recommendations.  Their location is just perfect… within 10 minutes walk to a the Sakka chair lift, Rhythm, Happo Kids Club, Evergreen Center, local food shops, restaurants and much more. From our initial booking to checkout we honestly couldn’t have been more impressed.

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Childcare
Of the 9 full days that we were at Hakuba the children attended care for 8 of those (about 3 were half days.)  There weren’t many options for our 12 month old, as a lot of the places won’t take children until they are 18 months.  One choice was an villa babysitter which really was quite expensive I thought. Our other option was the Happo Kids Club, so we went with that and I couldn’t have been happier.  Both Ari and Chloe loved it and the ratio of children to carers was fantastic.  Though most of the ladies only spoke Japanese there was always one person there who spoke English.  Most of the days I made the children a packed lunch but you could also opt to have food included.  There was a good variety of toys for different ages as well as a room for sleeping.  I wrote down both children’s routines for sleep and eating etc. the they were followed perfectly.

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Evergreen Outdoor Center (Ski School/Childcare)
We enrolled Ari at the Evergeen International Ski School for lessons in their ‘Yeti Club.’  He was suppose to be three but I am sorry I faked his age (opps!)  The Yeti Club involved indoor and outdoor play as well as structured ski lessons.  They have two locations being Happo and Iwatake, and I personally preferred the Iwatake center, it was a lot quieter and he got more one on one attention.  He did three lessons in total and by the end of that had earned his ‘Yuki White Belt’ and was moving along on his skis.  On the days where Ari had ski lessons at Iwatake the manager approved Chloe to go to the day care with him.  I was told they are able to do this on quiet days so if you are wanting to put your child in an Evergreen Center but they aren’t quite 18 months it is worth asking.  All of the staff there speak English, lunch is provided and the staff even took Chloe outside to watch Ari’s lessons which I thought was lovely.  Evergreen does work out more expensive then the Happo Kids Club but seeing as my babies were in care for 8 days I wanted to mix it up.

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Eating
Being that our accommodation was self contained we ate breakfast in each day, this was fab for saving money!  There is a great supermarket in Hakuba were you can find everything you need.  The Japanese love their packet noodles so a couple of nights we went local and enjoyed those in our villa.

There are so many options in terms of dining, however if you have a specific restaurant in mind that you wish to visit make sure that you book in advance.  You can get all kinds of food in Hakuba from all over the world, and in all different kinds of settings.  Be aware that most places don’t have highchairs or children’s menus.  Our children are not very fussy eaters but we always took a few snacks out to dinner with us just in case there was nothing available that they like… or when in doubt I just meant with the crispy chicken and rice!  Also my husband and I are vegetarian which we found a little challenging in Japan as whole but we always managed to find something for us.

Here are a few of my favourite restaurant recommendations from our trip:
Penke Bar – Cute bar/restaurant with delicious food, yummy Chu Hi (Japan’s favourite alcoholic drinks) and great style… this place was my favourite!  A great mix of international food and so many choices for vegetarians.  Love love loved it!
Sharaku – More of a fine dining style but really well priced compared to Australian fine dining.  Western styling seating with tables and chairs and they have highchairs!! There were some really interesting dishes there with a mix of Japanese and more Western flare,  a favourite of mine was the Agedashi Camembert.
Tom Sawyer – Low key restaurant with Western style Japanese seating.  Some interesting dishes to try (for our non vegetarian friends) like liver and crispy cartilage!
Taco Taco – Located in Echoland this is a great choice if you are wanting a break from Japanese food.
Rabbit Hole – Situated at the bottom of a busy hotel, this place is more of a bar come restaurant with some really yummy pub style food.  Choices for vegetarians and meat eaters too!  Oh and one highchair yay!
Root Cafe – This is a great vegetarian café at the base of Happo One right next to the Evergreen Centre.  Perfect for a quick coffee or hot chocolate after dropping the kids off.

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Mamas Onsen Experience
Highland Onsen – Hot Springs.  I decided to keep the babies in day care for one morning but to take some time off of the slopes to enjoy this traditional Japanese experience.  Highly recommended by our accommodation and I am so glad!  This place has the most amazing view and I enjoyed a completely relaxing yet hilarious experience.    An Onsen is a way of bathing, naked, in a hot spring, all together (though men and women are separate!)  The water feels lovely and is full of minerals which are suppose to be extremely good for you.  I went with a female friend but if you don’t fancy that you can hire a private onsen where you can wear swimwear.

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Advice for families travelling to Hakuba
– If you have washing facilities at your accommodation pack light, you don’t want to lug around unnecessary baggage.
– If it is your first time in Hakuba try to stay within walking distance to childcare and the slopes, it will make your morning drop offs easier.
– If you are looking for nappies/diapers and other baby products head to the pharmacy, they don’t sell them in the normal supermarket in Hakuba.
– Rhythm are great for hiring kids (and adults) snow gear and equipment
– If you are searching for children’s snow gear in Australia I recommend Kathmandu for thermals and gloves etc. but keep your eyes peeled for 50% off sales as its pricey!
– Make sure you buy good quality children’s gloves and don’t let them touch the snow without earing them… trust me they don’t like it!
– Enjoy the heated toilet seats and tell your kids not to press too many buttons or they will get a surprise spray up there bum!!
– Relax and enjoy your trip!  We honestly thought that this trip to Hakuba with children would be so much harder then it was.  It is really well set out and organised, and public transport in Japan is extremely convenient.

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Until Next Time
I could honestly talk about this vacation forever, and when it came time to leave I was already plotting our return.  Hakuba we will be back time and time again!

Small-Signature-Nat

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