72 hours in Hakuba-Happo-one
It’s been a long time and I mean, a really long time, since this Englishman found a place to call “home away from home,” but that’s exactly how I felt it Hakuba-Happo-one at Shirouma-so (about an hour from Nagano).
The idea was simple - to find somewhere not too far from Tokyo, where I could really relax, somewhere I could forget about work and have some good old-fashioned fun. I’ve traveled all around the world, been to some great 5-star hotels and some of the most simple, no frills locations and in all of the time I’ve been traveling, I’ve never felt as welcomed and instantly connected to a place as I did when arriving in Hakuba-Happo-one.
From the moment we arrived, I could feel just how clean the air was and looking at snow-capped mountains was no hardship. At the hotel, manager Toshiro-san greeted us with a warm smile, and picked up our bags. I was instantly impressed with his “genki” energy. After settling in, we hit the slopes, which were only a 3-minute drive or 10-minute walk from the lodge.
After a good five hours on the mountain, with run after run, we got back to the hotel, relaxed in the in-house onsen (highest alkaline content water in Japan) and dressed in yukata for dinner. And what a dinner it was. I think there were maybe nine plates, all with something delectable. There was even a special green radish dish, which only grows in Hakuba, which was to become my flavor of the week.
I can’t say enough positive things about the food, or the service. The lodge is a family business and Toshiro’s mother made the radish dish, which she was more than happy to talk about. Having that level of enthusiasm in your cooking, at her age, was great to see and made me hopeful, that maybe I would be the same at her age. We also got confused as to what we should eat; with so many dishes, where do you start?
After dinner and a little sake later, we went back to our room, where our beds had been prepared, but I wasn’t ready for sleep. I asked Toshiro what he was doing and he took me out on the town - well, I should say a bar around the corner and we stayed up until late, drinking wine and sharing great conversation.
Day two was filled with a half day snowboarding, a great lunch and snowmobiling - my first and, I’m sure not my last time, doing this great experience. I can only describe this as a thrilling, sightseeing adventure. Going across a shallow, flowing river and then off into the wilderness was something I recommend to just about anyone. The experience was just wonderful and Hakuba Lion Adventure is the place to go.
After we got back, cleaned up and relaxed in the onsen, it was time for my green radish dish. I’m still not sure what I was more excited about, the dinner or the day’s activities. Dinner started and again I was assaulted with too many foods to choose from. This time it was family style shabu shabu and everyone loved it, after which we relaxed in the onsen and got ready for the night out. Toshiro took us to The Pub which his friend runs and it really was a good old-fashioned English pub. Most of the staff are Western and have a great deal of lip, just like you’d expect in an English pub. It has a very friendly atmosphere.
The next morning, I was a little worn down from a great night out, but soldiering on, we managed to fall into the onsens to start the day, and a nice breakfast solved any ills my body might have had from the night before.
Rolling into our last day, which was snowshoeing, provided by Hakuba Sanroku Tours and a great guide. Who knew running through the snow could be such fun. Summing it up, it was special, but the guide really made our day. He even packed his wife’s home-made dried apple chips and coffee and although it was too hot, we used freshly fallen snow to cool it down. That was really the best coffee I’ve ever had (of course, this was because of the experience and being able to drink snow).
Coming back from snowshoeing for lunch, we had udon noodles at Ohyokkuri, cooked in onsen water and if there was something I’d like to eat each week in Tokyo, it would be this unique dish. After lunch, we went to Hakuba Highland hotel, Tenjin no Yu which has an outdoor onsen, with mountain view and snow falling on you, only to be instantly melted by the hot spring water. I felt I was in the lap of luxury. This costs only 500 yen, but I’d happily pay much more. The views are magnificent and it took my onsen experience to a whole new level.
That night, we enjoyed a cultural evening of tea ceremony, drums, classical Japanese instruments being played and mochi making. Everyone has a go, which made the whole lodge feel a little more connected with the town. Of course, a large meal followed—sukiyaki, where you cook your food in boiling water and then dip it in raw egg (which gets slightly cooked by the hot vegetables or meat that you place in it). I will always try something once, but this I tried again and again. Raw egg and soy sauce is a deadly combination.
Feeling tired from the day, we passed out, with exhausted bodies and completely full to the brim with wonderful food.
When we woke up, we enjoyed our breakfast, walked around town and enjoyed the last few hours before our bus back to Shinjuku.
If I was to summarize this experience, I’d say 72 hours were not enough time to enjoy everything Hakuba-Happo has to offer, but it’s perfect for a short or long weekend break.
We didn’t have time to see the red faced, Japanese snow monkeys, but when we go back, we will and going back this year is a must.