Friday, February 7th, 2014

Well, we have finally made it to Hakuba for our third and final destination of this trip. This area was home to many of the skiing events from the 1998 Olympics when they were held in Nagano which is at the bottom of the valley a 45 minute drive away. We are all settled in the hotel and just relaxing after what has been a lot of travel.

The day started with our defying tradition of eating the continental breakfast in the main floor cafe but instead trying the buffet on the first floor. Having been doing some last minute packing we made it to the buffet just before it stopped serving breakfast. It was not as nice as the one in Tokyo but had a great variety of food with British food (sausages, eggs, etc.), Japanese (miso soup, sushi, etc), Chinese (dumplings, congee - rice soup, etc.) and Korean (kimchee, barbecued meats, etc.). It was reasonably tasty though I have to say I was drawn to the hash brown potatoes, sausages and bacon (though the later was not so good). There was a lot of fresh fruit on offer so it was a good way to start what was going to be a long day.

The train from Kyoto was scheduled to leave at noon so after breakfast we checked out then went to wait a few minutes for the hotel shuttle to take us to the train station. There was a bit of tension during the trip to the station as we did not see mother’s large bag being put on the van but were relieved when I saw it had been put onto the front seat. We were not the only ones going to the station so it was a bit crowded.

The bags were a bit heavy but we managed to get to the platform fairly early to wait for the train. We were repeating what we had done for Takayama in that we had to transfer again at Nagoya so we were taking the Tokyo Shinkansen - just getting out early.

Waiting for Shinkansen in Kyoto

It's Here!

As always we had window seats and the trip was uneventful. We transferred at Nagano to a smaller local train for the long trip to Nagano - About 3 hours.

Train to Nagano

Local Food Available on Platform

Ticket Inspector - Very polite, of course!

Though we travelled in roughly the same direction as Takayama we were heading further north and west along a valley to the west of where we were previously. It was still a very nice train but travelled quicker than the more touristy one to Takayama. The scenery was interesting but not as pretty though we took plenty of pictures anyway - Taking turns to sit on either side of the carriage that gradually gained people as we got closer to Nagano.

Nice View from Windows

I noticed that the gentleman sitting in front of was reading an interesting magazine that seemed to have lots of articles on business, real estate, porn (featuring very young looking woman) and how to pick up girls…Oh dear. Social norms are quite different here.

Flat Near Nagoya...

Into the Mountains

We came upon Nagano quite quickly coming through a tunnel quite high in the mountains - It was immense, spread out in the valley in front of us. As we got closer we could see the snow-capped mountains to the west - “The Japanese Alps”.


Just before 4 pm we arrived at Nagano and exited the train platform to search for our ride. For this part of the trip I had arranged everything with a ski tour operator specializing in skiing in Japan. He had set up the transfers to the hotel, the accommodation, the ski rental and the lift passes. So it was now that I was to see if everything was actually working…and it was. Walking through the crowd I caught a glimpse of the sign: “Stephen Rice”. Excellent. He guided us out of the small station where we caught an elevator outside to the ground floor where he had the car waiting for us. It was quite cool and there was a bit of snow on the ground as the driver pulled out of the station.

It took us quite a while to get out of the city as he took some back roads - presumably to avoid traffic. All of the roads here were quite small - one lane in each direction - with only a few at the train station itself any bigger. The road led us up out of the Nagano valley and across a dam then wound it’s way along a valley. We passed by a number of small villages on the way with paddy fields clearly visible.

Buildings on Road to Hakuba

The further we travelled the more snow we saw on the ground - Good news for skiing then! We were a bit worried when we saw no real amounts of snow in Nagano. The traffic was light and the road, which was put in for the Olympics, is in very good shape. Eventually we came up to a toll booth which we passed through to enter a tunnel that marked the beginning of the final part of the journey.

Hakuba Toll Road

Hakuba seems to be made up of several small villages and ski resorts attached together as we passed signs to different areas - Interestingly, all of the signs on the road are in English and Japanese (not just this road, even the ones we saw from the train) and they clearly indicate directions - Wish they had signage this good in the UK! As we drove along the road we came around a mountain to see two massive ski jumps that were used in the Olympics. Incredible. There seems to be a lot of farming here with ice paddies all along the road even as we entered Hakuba…

Are Those Ski Hills???

Eventually we turned off of the main road through the valley, past the tourist information building…and got lost. The driver clearly had no idea where he was going. We followed narrow single-track roads around various buildings, hotels and restaurants searching for our hotel - A rabbit warren with little in the way of signs on buildings never mind roads. At one point he got out of the car and was asking local people for directions so I got out and showed him our map to try to help him out but I knew not a lot more than him but I did have a hunch that it was over in a particular direction…urging him on from the back seat we managed to find the place only a short distance from where we had been wandering.

Our hotel, Hakuba Hifimi, is a small 3 story building that offers traditional Japanese-inn accommodation. As we pulled in our bags were taken by hotel staff into the hotel where we would not see them until later when we were in our room. The front door slid open automatically for us. A staircase leading to the basement on the left is where we are to keep our ski equipment. Continuing through the next automatic sliding door we entered into the main foyer of the small hotel where slippers were lined up so we took off our shoes and visited the front counter to check in.

Front Desk

The owner met us and has been incredibly helpful. After taking care of the paperwork he invited us to have a seat at a small table in the bar area where we were served tea as he explained the hotel and how things work.

The Bar Area

They offer dinner (of various qualities) and breakfast (with our breakfast included with the room). Breakfast can be either “western” or “Japanese”. They have a ladies and a men's onsen - public bath (in the morning the ladies is on the main floor and the men's is on the first floor then in the afternoon they change places…or perhaps I got this the wrong way around?) - as well as a private onsen that you can book by simply writing your room number beside a time (in one hour slots) on a blackboard posted outside of the bath. He indicated that they can book things for us. Hearing about our ski rental company he assured us they were very good (better than the local one he normally recommends) and he would call them to arrange for them to pick us up from the hotel tomorrow morning. He even handed us an envelope containing our ski coupons for the week - He explained that every day you had to exchange one of the coupons for a day pass at the resort you wish to visit (you can only visit one resort a day - they are not really connected to each other so it is not possible to ski from one to another anyway). This seemed a bit odd to us having been used to skiing in Europe where we are given an electronic pass for the week that is good for wherever we wish to ski…He also provided us with printed information about the hotel and the area - Very helpful indeed.

We were then shown up in a tiny lift to the third floor where our room (308) is. The room is traditional Japanese so the main room is covered with tatami mats and has a low table with two seats that are not much more than a seat back and a small cushion on the bottom. Our beds are simple futons that were laid out for us by the time we returned from dinner later in the evening.

Our Room

We have a small television perched on top of a safe with a small wardrobe off to the side.


There is a small enclosed area between this room and the exterior balcony with two chairs and a table as well as a small fridge. We could see lots of snow outside in the trees that are immediately outside. Looking out we can see the ski slopes to the far right through the other buildings in the area.

A bonus here is that there is free wireless internet on each floor so we will be connected for our entire visit! Hurrah! Not sure why the place in Tokyo charged us…an antiquated way of doing business trying to make money for Internet - Very cheap of them.

The bathroom has a tiny bath that if you sat down in you might not ever get out of and a shower that operates from the tap from the sink (just turn a lever). We have yet another one of those smart toilets as well. The entryway has a set of shelves that we quickly piled with our ski gloves, hats, scarves and the like.

We arranged dinner for 7 pm - “Japanese Casual” at 3,150 yen each. We had a bit of time before this so we decided to go for a bit of a walk to see what was in our area. Before we left we talked with the owner and arranged a trip to see the famous Snow Monkeys on Wednesday (10,000 yen each which we paid for by credit card over the phone) - We figured it is good to have a break between a solid six days of skiing we have booked and, of course, it will be amazing to see them! The owner has been so very helpful to us and his English is very good indeed.

Just down the road where we had circled around and around with the taxi driver is a ski shop that also has souvenirs and groceries so we had a bit of a look. They have a large number of food souvenirs here - Soba noodles appear to be big but we also saw honey and cookies as well. The grocery store had a huge assortment of wines and, I am sure, sake as well as a lot of junk food and instant noodles. In the corner of the grocery area we found a huge box of souvenir pins from the Nagano Olympics so we dug around and picked up a few. At the counter we found out that they were not 100 yen each but 3 for 100 yen! Oh dear. Sounds like way too many were made and here, 16 years later, they were still for sale.

There are a lot of small buildings scattered everywhere here with no apparent order. The roads are not straight and wind in amongst them. There are a few restaurants serving a variety of food (at our corner there is a German restaurant and upstairs of the grocery store there is an Indian restaurant - down a small road just behind there is a Japanese-style tavern).

On the way back we noticed a large direction board at the corner we had passed several times in the taxi that clearly had our hotel (in Japanese characters but even I could recognize them) with an arrow pointing directly to it…(sigh)

Back at the hotel for dinner we headed down to the dining room on the main floor just off of the lobby. It is quite a simple, elegant interior with black furniture throughout and each table screened from the others. Our dinner was absolutely amazing - six courses of some of the best Japanese food we have ever had. I am told that Japanese tourists expect the best food possible when they stay at a Japanese ryokan and we were not let down.

We started with a bowl containing a cylindrical piece of turnip in a slightly sweet sauce. Perhaps not the best start but tasty anyway. Next course was a selection of sashimi including salmon and squid but also some local fish which we did not recognize. Next course was a crispy deep-fried fish on the bone with a light, sweet sauce. Did not look appetising but tasted really good. I ate the whole thing as I know this is what you are supposed to do but mother took her time and took the flesh off of the bone…The main course was “sukiyaki” where a pot containing broth was boiled at the table into which local pork and vegetables was added. We were given a small bowl that we added raw egg to that you dipped the cooked pork into before eating. It was amazing. Of course, this was served with miso soup and a bowl of rice. Very nice. Desert was a custard containing local apples. Probably one of the most delicious meals I have ever had in a hotel and the staff were amazing - Dressed in kimonos they helpfully explained each course and how to eat it.


Returning to the room it was boiling. We cannot figure out how to turn off the heat and it must be close to 40 in here. I hope we figure this out…The bedding has been laid out for us and we are pretty much all settled in now. We have been watching the television which has no channels in English…but you can still figure out what is going on.

I am looking forward to tomorrow with a bit of trepidation as I do before skiing every year. I am not in the best of shape and I certainly have not been exercising in preparation for this trip (unless you count all of the walking we have been doing for the last week…which I suppose SHOULD count). I always wonder if I will hurt myself and how we will be able to cope with unknown skiing conditions. This is all new for both of us.

>> Next: Day 11

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