More about your Oliver: Courtney Gerlich
TRIP Type: adults
Ideal trip length: 4-5 days for skiing and 2-3 days in the city is enough time however if you have more vacation then spread it out longer
- Flying from Seattle is extremely easy with a direct flight on Delta. Other airlines that fly direct from Seattle are ANA and United. If your final destination is Tokyo, it's more convenient and closer to the city flying through Haneda. San Francisco has a direct flight on Air China.
- When we fly into Narita we typically get in around 4pm and head straight to the mountains from there (and do city time in Tokyo on the tail end of our trip). We get reservations on a shuttle bus called Chuo Taxi Airport Direct which takes us directly to Hakuba from the Narita airport. With 2 stops, it takes 5 hours or so. It costs around $150 per person and they drop you off at your lodge or chalet. We book it directly through our accommodations in Hakuba but you can also go online yourself.
- Another option is to either stay a night in Tokyo and take the bullet train which only takes about an hour and a half to Narita (then a 30 min bus ride from there to Hakuba) or if your flight gets in early enough in the day you can take the train day of. You'll need to take the NEX Narita Express to Tokyo Station and then transfer there to the bullet train. If you want to spend some time in Tokyo before heading to the mountains, you can also arrange to have your ski luggage delivered through takkyubin (Japan wide luggage delivery service) service located right outside customs.
- Our favorite place to stay in Hakuba is Morino Lodge - The owners Craig and Matt (along with the entire staff) are SO friendly, accommodating and knowledgable which makes our stay and experience as good as it can get! Their lounge/living area is super comfortable and relaxing not to mention the breakfasts are top notch.
- Our last trip to Hakuba we stayed at the Alps View Chalet that Morino Lodge manages. We had a group of 7 and with 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms it was plenty of space and provided a great home base for us all. Not to mention it's great location to Hakuba Gondola (5 min walk) and walking distance to tons of restaurants in town. There's also a free shuttle minutes away to the neighboring ski resorts, the furthest being no more than 20 minutes away.
- In Tokyo we always stay at the Park Hyatt Tokyo (if you've seen Lost in Translation you know the spot) - The views are to die for and the service is remarkable!
EAT & DRINK
When in Hakuba there are many musts when it comes to food. Some of our favorites include:
- Maeda - Every year we go back to Hakuba my husband and I make this restaurant a must for lunch. It usually happens on our first day in town because we’ve been thinking about it for a year and just can’t wait any longer. They have the best soba I've ever had!!! I always get the tempura soba with a side of kimchi and Japanese pickles. My husband and I also get a katsudon to share...it's ridiculously good. Talk about a glutinous lunch.
- Zen - Although Zen is known for it’s Soba, their Japanese small plates are a great option as well, especially for larger groups. Reservations are recommended although not necessary. Typically tatami mats can be a little uncomfortable but here they have seat backs to help your back and make it a little more comfortable. The menu is quite large so if you have a good group you can get away with ordering a lot of dishes for everyone to try.
- Deneshi - A favorite of ours that we go to every time we're in town. The restaurant is run by a husband and wife duo out of their charming French inspired home. There are two set menus to choose from; Japanese and French (we always choose the Japanese). If you’re ever in Hakuba this place is a must. You’ll be so thankful you discovered it.
- Le Vin Sur La Table - We found this charming little restaurant from the staff at Morino Lodge. The chef had spent a couple of years working in the south of France before opening his own restaurant in his hometown of Otari, about 30 minutes from Hakuba. It’s not very convenient unless you happen to be in the Cortina area. If you ski there I highly recommend making the 15 minute drive to this spot for an impressive meal.
- Kikyo-ya - Sushi...that's what you came to Japan for right?! If you're feeling adventuresome order the Fugu (blowfish - known to have a deadly toxin therefore only specialized chefs can prepare it properly), otherwise you can't go wrong with anything on the menu.
- Windy's - Have a craving for Kobe & Wagyu beef straight from the source? This is your place! Cook vegetables and beef table side on your own griddle and be prepared to make some serious out loud groans out of pure enjoyment. Be prepared to walk out smelling like your food but it'll be worth it...absolutely delicious and satisfying. Bonus - the restaurant will pick you up and drop you off at no charge!
- Ski, ski, ski! Be sure to coordinate with someone English speaking that knows the area well. There are guides to hire otherwise contact your accommodations and get in contact with someone that can help you determine where to ski based on the snow and skiing ability of your group. The back country is the gem of this area and why we travel across the ocean to ski here. Be respectful of the locals and know the rules before you set out. We always travel with airbags and the appropriate avalanche equipment. For whatever reason (unless you have a battery operated backpack) you can travel to Japan with CO2 canisters and/or oxygen canisters
with no problem however when bringing them back to the States, you'll need to blow them before heading to the airport. *Be prepared for security to find you at your gate, it happens to my husband every time. You'll just need to prove to them that your canisters are empty.
- If there are down days when the weather isn't cooperating, people are tired or you just want to switch it up, go see The Monkeys Onsen (jigokudani). It's about 2 hours away from Hakuba, hence the recommendation to go on an "off day". There are about 200 monkeys at the hot spring so no need to worry about spotting one.
- Onsens - Otherwise known as a Japanese hot spring, are everywhere in Hakuba so it's all about finding the one that's closest to you or the one that best suites your needs. Some require nudity, others are coed and allow bathing suits. Some are indoors, others offer the best view in the valley.
- The Japanese are very timely so be sure to stick to reservation times and abide by rules. It'll go a long way in your favor!
- Don't tip! It's not something we're used to but it's not customary in their country and definitely not expected.
- Do something weird in Tokyo - have coffee at a Hedgehog café, go to a Robot Restaurant or stay up until the wee hours of the night at a karaoke bar...why not?!
- Don't feel the need to show up at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo at 3:30am to see the tuna auctions. It's a lottery system now and there's no guarantee you'll get in. It's still a sight to see but just go in the morning at a more reasonable time (8am) and explore a little. Definitely have sushi for breakfast.