We had a rocky start to a wonderful weekend in Hakuba, site of the Nagano 1998 Winter Olympics. One of my biggest fears living here in Japan is having the car break down on the side of the road. When you move here, you invest as little money as possible into a vehicle. So each beater car is unique, and combined with the tiny townhouses makes you feel like you are living the college dream again. Ours decided to die on the 246, about 15 minutes on the way out of town. Not exactly the expressway, but not a small side road either. HE was definitely looking out for us, giving us a safe place to pull over off the side of the road before it died completely, having a wonderful friend pluck me, the kids, and the dog from the side of the road, and a fast tow truck to tow it back to base. I’m so thankful hubby was with us as well. Because the odds of it happening when he’s actually home and in the car with us was pretty low. We also have wonderful friends from one of the other bases here in Japan heading up with us to Hakuba, and they generously brought their extra vehicle for us to drive up there. So, five hours later and after coordinating coverage for the dog since he could no longer fit in the car, we were on our way again.
The drive up was not too terrible, but it wasn’t snowing either. Friends who want the details to a beautiful, privately-owned cabin right near Echoland in Hakuba, let me know and I will send the contact info to you. The owner greeted us with perfect English and a warm fire already going. Out came the wine and we started off a wonderful weekend with friends.
Our cabin sat right on the edge of the rice fields and within walking distance to Echoland, where the main shops and restaurants were. The Hakuba area is gorgeous! We drove the pass over to the Nagano side when we visited the snow monkeys and I definitely preferred our snowy Hakuba side.
What a difference a day makes! We had one day of sunshiny weather. The rest of the days were dumping snow! Loved the buildings found throughout Hakuba.The kids may have gotten in trouble for sledding off the roof… Up at Happo-One Ski Resort we ended up parking up at the Gondola area and taking the free shuttle over to the kids park area on the far side of the mountain. They pump water up to the parking lots from the hot springs through a sprinkler system and it keeps the parking lot free of snow. The day we went there was too much heavy snow for us. They ended up closing the upper runs and the magic carpet in the kids area. B desperately wanted to ski so we walked up to the top of the ski area. 20 minutes later after cleaning out the packed snow on the bottom of his boot and fumbling through getting it to click into his ski he was finally aimed down the kids slope…and not moving. He inched his way down the hill through the heavy snow and decided that was enough and went back to the sledding hill to finish out his fun.
We chose the beautiful sunny day to make the 2 hour drive over to the Jigokudani Monkey Park to see the Snow Monkeys. The roads were clear with just a little snow in the shaded parts. Going through the pass on 31/19/35 is one of the most beautiful drives. The coordinates for the parking areas is: 36°43’48.6″N 138°26’40.2″E. If you type in Jigokudani Monkey Park into your Google Maps, it wants to you exit onto 342 and the upper road to the park will most likely be closed during the snowy parts of the year. If the upper lots are full, a man will direct you down the hill to the Museum parking lot. The road is very icy towards the upper lots with many pedestrians walking. You may want to put on chains or park at the Museum lot anyway if you are at all worried about slipping down the hill.
The Museum will look like this
Just up the hill is the pathway for the snow monkeys. It’s about a 2km hike back to them. I’ve heard the pathway can be quite icy. Snow boots are the best or something with traction. I’m always amazed at the Japanese women who come off tour buses in heels. Don’t bring heels here. I guarantee she didn’t make it back there without busting her butt a few times. Our boys, ages 4 and 6 did fine with the hike. It’s a mostly flat wide path. I imagine you could even pile kids on a sled and pull them. You’ll have to leave the sled off to the side at the ticket booth though.
I was never warned about the onsen right next to the monkey park, so I’m warning you now. Especially if you have girls. You may see naked men relaxing in the onsen as you get up to the ticket off. They didn’t seem to mind the hoards of tourists just up the hill as they made a dash from the building to the warm springs. The springs are right there in full view of everyone. Once you get past the ticket office you’ll be fighting with the crowds to see the monkey’s in the onsen. I don’t think it was too crowded the day we were there, but it is hard to get a spot to watch the monkey’s down below. My fingers literarily felt like they were about to fall off while I had my gloves off taking pictures. There’s a wonderful PBS documentary available on Netflix I’d recommend watching that will explain the social hierarchy of the monkeys. On our way back home, we made a quick stop at Matsumoto Castle. It’s an easy exit off the Nagano Expressway and worth the stop.