For the first time in Japanese history a sitting Emperor has abdicated the throne. What does this mean for you? Among other things, an incredibly rare 10 day long Golden Week Vacation (April 29th to May 7th)! Here are 6 reasons why you should spend that time in the Hakuba Valley.
Number 1: Cherry Blossoms
Is a spring trip really complete without enjoying a picnic under the cherry blossoms? We certainly don’t think so. Due to the cooler temperatures in the Japanese Alps, the cherry blossoms bloom a month later than their counterparts in Tokyo, Kansai, and Hiroshima. Set against the snow-capped mountains, cobalt blue lakes, and streaming rivers, Hakuba may be the most beautiful place to view cherry blossoms during Golden Week.
Number 2: Tateyama Alpine Kurobe Pass
The Tateyama Alpine Kurobe Pass is a world famous route boasting 20 meter high snow walls, ancient forests, spectacular snow-capped peaks, Japan’s longest supported rope-way cable car, volcanoes, and so much more. The route can only be accessed by a series of unique public transportation options including, trams, trolleys, rope-way cars, and trains providing visitors a memorable way to soak up every ounce of the majestic natural scenery.
Number 3: Culture
The Hakuba Valley is surrounded by culturally rich and diverse historical sites, stunning beauty, and unique animal life, making Hakuba the perfect place to engage with Japan in an authentic, hands on way.
The 8th century Buddhist Temple is among the most famous temples in all of Japan. It is said to host the first Buddhist icon that was brought from China in the 8th century. Take a one hour bus to Nagano Station and enjoy the marvelous history of the temple and the beautifully preserved historical shopping district leading to it. Admission to Zenkoji Temple is free.
Sitting roughly 60 kilometers west of Hakuba, Matsumoto Castle is easily accessible by both rail and car. The castle has been recognized as a National Treasure by the Japanese government and is considered one of the top 3 most significant castles in the nation. Matsumoto Castle has been nicknamed “The Crows Castle” due to its alluring black exterior which differs from most castles in the country. The structure sits in an open plain surrounded by stunning mountains and a town filled with delicious food and terrific cultural shopping. A tour of the castle costs ¥610 and is a special glimpse into the Japan’s medieval past.
The Japanese Hot Spring Monkeys
These adorable creatures are the only monkeys in the world known to bathe in natural hot springs. The Japanese Macaques stormed onto the world stage in 1970 after they were profiled on the cover of Life Magazine. Since then, their popularity has skyrocketed and millions of people from around the world have come to visit these curious monkeys. Admission to the park costs ¥800 and requires a 25-40 minute walk through a beautiful forest before reaching the monkeys so please bring appropriate footwear.
Number 4: Onsen
Hakuba is home to dozens of onsen (hot springs) throughout the valley offering visitors an amazing opportunity to relax in the serenity of the Japanese Alps. The onsen vary from free outdoor foot bathes, small indoor facilities, large indoor/outdoor facilities, and even private bathes that can be rented by friends or couples.
Number 5: Food
The Hakuba Valley is blessed with an array of diverse and delicious restaurants with over 50+ options to choose from. Here are three of our favorite options.
This authentic Japanese Izakaya (Japanese Gastro Pub) offers classic izakaya food like sashimi, karage, (fried chicken) and so much more. It’s best to order a bit of everything and to wash it down with a few cold beers.
Blizzard boasts one of the only wood-fire pizza ovens in the Hakuba Valley, and the person manning the oven is Paolo Coluccio, the former national champion of Italy’s most prestigious pizza making competition. Blizzard sits directly across from the Happo Gondola so it’s a great place to grab lunch or dinner after a day on the mountain.
The Penguin Cafe in the Echoland section of Hakuba serves delicious Australian Style coffee paired with a full breakfast and lunch menu. It is a great place to start your day with an espresso and a hearty meal.
Number 6: Spring Skiing
Last, but of course not least, Hakuba will offer spring skiing until May 6th at three of the best resorts in the valley, Happo One, Tsugaike, and Hakuba 47/Goryu. The valley hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics and is among the best places to ski in all of Asia. Ski the upper resorts in the morning and come back to the valley in the afternoon for drinks under the falling cherry blossom pedals.
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