The Best place to stay in Hakuba during the snow season || Story time
As I write this recount of my week, I'm currently staring out the window at one of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen. This view, however, wasn't possible without a little bit of struggle. The plane ride from The Gold Coast to Tokyo was okay, It certainly wasn't the worst flight I have been on ( Flashback to 2009, after a 8 hour flight to Singapore, sixteen high school girls & two teachers found themselves delayed 6 hours in Singapore airport en route to Frankfurt. I will add that at this point I had been up for 24 hours straight & my head hit the pillow 48 hours after that...daaaayummmmm!)
When checking into my flight I had a little peek at my seat allocation. I had the option to move my seat & saw that the seat next to me was vacant. YES! I had landed myself in Redneck First Class. No need to move....jks on me. Jetstar you've done it again. Why give me the option to move to the seat beside me if it's taken? Good thing I didn't move otherwise I would have been sitting on the lap of a very sleepy Japanese man ( He slept the entire flight like it was going out of fashion. Im still shook.) Meanwhile, I watched two movies ( I had to fast forward the last movies ending as I was on 2% battery & I had to know what the hell happened. There was no way I was spending the next 4 hours wondering!)
Wait, wait, wait. I forgot my first mess up. To calm my nerves of flying I was prescribed some diazepam by my doctor. I took it before eating my breakfast, at it took me waaaaaaaay longer to eat my overpriced food than it should have. I then entered security. In my hazy state, I walked away from the Xray machine without my laptop. Meanwhile, in my foggy brain, I was wondering why my carryon was so damn light. DOH!
Ran back to find my laptop in one of those blue baskets at the bottom of the pile. But at least I was calm about the whole situation...amirite..... One of the security guards took advantage of my dumb ass & took the opportunity to do a "random" bomb scan.....I was fine btw. Not about to commit acts of atrocity on my holiday.
NB: Make sure you check local laws on medication. In Japan, they have strict laws regarding medication & I had to apply to the Japanese government for a Yakkan Shoumei.
8 hours later....I landed at Narita airport. Sped through immigration, only to be asked by the immigration officer what I'd be doing in Japan for 3 months (eating ramen duh!) & when the hell I was leaving. She looked too tired to care about my ferry ride to Korea, & decided I was okay & let me through.
At the baggage carousel, I waited for an EON for my luggage. I was starting to panic at the 15-minute mark because MY ENTIRE LIFE was in that bag. Finally it arrived. I picked up my bag (with buckling knees) & set off to the big smoke. Tokyo here I come! I took the Narita Skyliner to Ueno then to Asakusa where I was to stay in my capsule hotel. It was nice, quiet, clean & tiny. After my first trip to Japan in 2015, I realised the meaning behind those " I'm big in Japan" t-shirts. Ya girl is a giant.
Within 24 hours I was already busting out the first aid kit. My thumbnail was literally falling apart & I feared that I might have to amputate. I smashed my thumb into the kitchen bench at work a week prior & my thumb was not looking too hot flash....its still not. ew. Whilst rustling through my first aid kit I realised I had left my Canesten cream at home....on the table.....next to all the other things I probably forgot....
Now for someone staying in a multitude of shared living spaces, canesten is key. I really didn't want to get athletes foot OR thrush ( Not that it ever happened to me, BUT South East Asia is humid & I don't wanna risk it). I spent a few hours looking up the Japanese equivalent & made my way to the nearest pharmacy. When presenting the image to the pharmacist she quickly ran away only to bring back a suppository. Erm....That's not going to be any use to my foot... After a few minutes of trying to explain that I needed cream she bought me the right thing....or so I hope. If my foot falls off I'll keep you updated! Fingers crossed!
My night at the capsule hotel was okay but the heating was being abused in that place. Outside it was a mild 16 degrees. Inside it was at least 30. I was cooking in my tiny bed...bunk....capsule thing, Whatever it was I felt like Harry Potter. I woke up sooooo dehydrated & crusty. I was thankful for meal I had that night because I feared I wouldn't have woken up without the sustenance. YUM!
Day 2 in Tokyo was spent doing mass amounts of cardio & squats. My legs are looking dayum fiiiiineeeee right now. I was definitely feeling the burn by the time I arrived at Tokyo station. My bag, which I weighed at the airport is a whopping 16kg. I'm hoping to dump most of my winter clothes after leaving Hakuba which hopefully will relieve me of a kilo or two ( props to Chris for taking some of my stuff back with him to Brisbane on Wednesday!)
I went & picked up my Japan East Railpass from the office at the North Exit & hobbled over to the Shinkansen entrance gate. As I stood at the gate waiting for my train number to pop up on the board so I could see what track I had to go to, I was failing to eat my onigiri snack. Whilst dealing with 16kg of luggage, a phone, train ticket & a mangled onigiri; an old Japanese man approached. He asked if I needed help...I thought he meant with my snack as I was a massive fail & public disgrace. I was about to hand him my onigiri but stopped when he pointed to my train ticket. I broke into laughter & told him I was fine. He smiled & continued to help me anyway. He was right on the money with his instructions. Arigato gozaimasu!
The transportation in Japan is nothing I have ever experienced. The trains are on time, tidy, quiet & quick as hell & if you miss one train there's another one 4 minutes behind it. The shinkansen had better reclining chairs that an airplane & ample leg room. There are toilets onboard that are so incredibly clean as well as hot & cold vending machines. Yes that's right, Hot & cold drinks are served from the same vending machine.
I purchased a JR East Pass for Nagano & at $222 for a 5-day flexi pass, it pretty much pays for itself & then some. The return trip from Nagano would have put me back over $250. Two days of my pass will be used & I still get an additional 3 days of travel ( which I will be using around Tokyo). For more information about the JR PASS click here for my detailed blog post.
After a leisurely 1.5-hour bus ride from Nagano to Hakuba, I was picked up by my wonderful hosts Gaspard & Haruhi. We drove a little while down the road towards the Bohemians Shelter but came to an abrupt halt. The van was at maximum capacity & I don't think my bag helped the situation. We all bailed out of the car on the side of the mountain to find the cause of the bad burny burny smell. We had a flat tire. The tire was completely torn & wasn't looking too good.
We made light work of the tire change with 14 hands on board. And when I say we I mean the only mechanic on board. 2 days out of work and Ethan was already finding himself under a car in the freezing snow. A few "how many people does it take to change a tire?' jokes were made as we all huddled around watching him work. We finally made it up the moutain to our lodge and boy were we in for a treat.
Over the next week, Gaspard explained to us about his situation for buying the shelter. He wished to make it a place that was affordable & offered a unique experience. Nestled in the mountains, the house itself was big & roomy for 18 people. It has a fully functioning kitchen, two toilets & 4 vanities. The lounge & dining rooms are traditional tatami rooms with beautiful wooden furniture. In the morning of the second day, we made our way down the mountain and encountered groups of Snow Monkies having meetings in the middle of the road & adjacent trees. The guests in the house were friendly, greeting each other in the morning & afternoon when returning to the lodge after long days on the slopes. Breakfast was served every morning & the blurry eyed guests enjoyed thick cut toast, cereal & hot filter coffee.
Gaspard talked about the future of the Bohemians Shelter for the next season, as he only purchased the house at the beginning of the 2018 season in November.
Down the road (okay more like a long hike down/up the road) there is an onsen
with iron-rich water tapped from the ground. It was a quaint onsen with separated baths for male & female. It soothed my muscles after a good few days of walking & hiking through the snow.
Before entering an Onsen it is important to familiarise yourself with correct onsen etiquette. Be mindful that tattoo's aren't always welcome at onsens & you must always bathe yourself before entering the onsen itself (showers/toiletries are available inside the onsen). Also, it may come as a shock to some westerners that bathing in an onsen is usually done nude (you may be able to take a modesty towel in with you, however) & with other people. You may make a lifelong friend & bum buddy (haha) at the onsen so don't knock it till you try it. The onsen provides a time of relaxation & meditation for your body. The mineral-rich waters cure many ailments & clear up skin abrasions ( my fresh burns from kitchen work were cured & almost completely healed up the next morning).
As my first week draws to a close I am grateful to be able to experience snow, mountain ranges, good company & to stay in a beautiful house. I have been told that Hakuba & the surrounding towns have much to offer all year round, from camping in the summertime, cherry blossoms in the spring & onsens & amazing powder snow in the winter.
Until next time.
🌸🌸See you in Tokyo for Hanami 花見 🌸🌸