More and more snow enthusiasts are traveling to Japan each year as the dry weather continues to sink the morale of ski towns across the Western US. This February was my first trip to the land of powder! The skiing in Hakuba is all you can dream of, but the culture shock is equally mind blowing! I was happy that I did my research because there are no signs in English! One of the most daunting experiences is figuring out how to get from Tokyo to Hakuba with all your ski gear.
If you haven’t looked at a map yet, Hakuba is located on Honshu (the main island of Japan) about 270km northwest of Tokyo. It’s about 44km west (an hour drive) from the city of Nagano.
To save you a lot of time and research, here’s the run down!
1. Decide whether you are flying into Narita or Haneda Airport.
There are two international airports in Tokyo. I suggest using Haneda Airport. It is brand new, less crowded, and actually in Tokyo. The other choice is Narita airport, which is an hour outside of Tokyo.
2. After landing, send your ski/board bag via courier to your hotel in Hakuba.
Because taking it on the trains is a bitch. (!!!) Trust me, you don’t want to do it. I guarantee that all the other skiers on your plane will also be lined up at the courier company. I used Yamoto Courier company because it seemed to be the most universal throughout Japan. As you exit the baggage claim area look for this sign with a big black cat (shown below), or ask one of the information desks for Yamoto. There will be no signs in English. It costs about $30 to send it to Hakuba by the following day.
3. Get to Tokyo Station
From Narita Airport, take a shuttle bus to Tokyo Station. (You can take the Narita Express train but it’s more expensive). As you exit baggage claim there will be ticket counters directly in front of you before the exit outside. The ticket costs about 1000 yen, which is about $10.
From Haneda Airport, take the Monorail to Hamamatsucho Station. Take the JR Subway “Yamanote” Line towards Tokyo and exit at Tokyo Station.
4. Take the Hokuriku Shinkansen towards Nagano
This is the bullet train to Nagano, which is the main city about an hour outside of Hakuba. It takes a little under 2 hours and costs about 7970 yen, or about $70.
5. Take a bus from Nagano to Hakuba
Taking the 1 hour bus from Nagano to Happo Info Center in Hakuba is the easiest route. From this info center you can grab a taxi to your hotel, or look at the free shuttle bus schedule for transportation between the villages of Hakuba. Most of the different neighborhoods in Hakuba Valley are all just a 3 or 4 minute bus ride from each other.
Transportation in Hakuba
Most of the transportation you’ll need while skiing resorts around Hakuba is free. There are some shuttles that will require a little spare change in your pockets. It’s a great idea to rent a van if you’re planning on making trips into the backcountry or nearby towns. They are pricey, but if you have a big group it might be worth it for a few days. You’ll need to reserve your van really far in advance because they were all booked up the entire time I was there.
Getting Back to the Airport
Getting back to the airport is a bit trickier if you need your ski bag with you up until the day you leave. It takes about a day and a half to be delivered via courier to the airport. I went through the horrendous experience of lugging my ski bag on all these trains back across Japan. It’s possible…but I wouldn’t recommend it.
What I would recommend is splitting a van ride with a group of friends or new acquaintances from Hakuba to the airport. It’s a long 5 hour drive, but not too expensive and much more pleasant! You’ll have to reserve this a few days ahead through your hotel.
Hope that was helpful! Feel free to ask any questions or share any tips in the comments section below!