Hakuba is located on the main island of Honshu, 45 kms west of Nagano city in the Nagano Prefecture. Tokyo is approximately 270km northwest and there are a number of options at your disposal on how to get here. Which suits you best is going to depend on a number of factors including flight arrival times, layovers, budget, and convenience.
Arriving in Tokyo there are two airports that you can potentially land at; Haneda or Narita. Haneda is generally considered the easier of the two because of its close proximity to Tokyo (just a few kms outside the city centre as opposed to Narita which is approximately 80 kms from Tokyo) thus saving time and money if you are travelling via the city. Reports also suggest that immigration at Haneda is quicker, though having travelled through both I’ve never found an issue at either.
Travelling around Japan, signage is well set up for English speaking travellers. Both airports have information counters that are easy to obtain assistance from. The train station is part of the airport and easy to locate. Train ticket machines are quick to use, have an option to select ‘English Language’ and are easy to navigate, but if you’re a bit daunted there are counters at the train station to purchase tickets with English speaking staff.
Provided the bus timetables coincide with your flights, or you choose to do a stopover at the airport, the direct bus is the easiest option for transfers. You can also pick up the bus from the Shinjuku train station in Tokyo.
For information on cost and timetables from and to:
Haneda: Nagano Snow Shuttle
Shinjuku train station: Alpico Highway bus
Travel time: Approximately 4 – 6 hours depending on your start point and connection times.
Cost: Between ¥6500 and ¥12000 one way.
Pros: Convenient transporting your luggage, cost effective, well appointed, and make stops along the way for toilet breaks and food.
Cons: The buses don’t run regularly enough to some many people.
Train/Shinkansen/train or bus
If the timing on the bus shuttles don’t fit in to your flight schedule, or perhaps you’re thinking of doing a couple of nights in Tokyo, or you may just prefer
to experience the bullet train (Shinkansen), you can get here using the public transport system.
The trip takes about 40 mins from Narita to Tokyo, but Haneda to Tokyo is much closer and trains leave regularly from both airports. The loudspeaker system on the train is clear and easy to hear, and approaching stations are announced in both Japanese and English. Once you arrive at Tokyo Station, hop off the train and locate the
Shinkansen ticket machines (you can check the Shinkansen timetables). The Shinkansen ticket machines also have the ‘English’ option, or you can buy over the counter. You’re need to purchase a ticket for the Nagano Shinkansen. Buy a first class ticket – it’s more expensive but guarantees your seat number.
From Nagano to Hakuba there is both a bus and a train that run regular services to Hakuba. You could also get a taxi from Nagano to Hakuba it’s only about 45km away BUT the speed limit is 50km/hour so it may end up being quite a pricey option and if you have snowboards and skis to lug it can be an interesting arrangement getting your gear in to the car. The Toyota Crown appears to be the vehicle of choice for taxis in Japan – even in the ski regions.
Once you arrive at either the Hakuba train station or the Hakuba bus stop one of our friendly members of staff will collect you and bring you to the hotel.
Travel time: Approximately 3.5 – 4 hours.
Cost: Between ¥9000 and ¥12000 one way, depending on class of train travel. A lot more if you get a taxi from Nagano to Hakuba I’ve read the taxi can cost approximately ¥18000.
Pros: Multiple services run to the ski fields each day, the Shinkansen is iconic to Japan, a stop-over in Tokyo and a visit to the Robot Restaurant is an absolute must.
Cons: Manhandling your luggage across multiple transport options is a pain.
You can hire a car but you need to organise your international drivers licence before you leave your country of origin – and it’s best to book early as car options can become scare in peak periods. Driving in Japan is very doable. Sure, I’ve been lost in Japan more times than I care to count but with satnav (the hire company can set the satnav up in English with end point locations programed in) and goggle maps, some tunes, and a sense of humour we have always ended up where we needed to be without it ruining our plans. To be fair, it does pay to have at least two of you for those ‘OMG, where am I’ moments when you need someone to laugh with, but all-in-all car hire is now my preferred option for travelling around Japan. Signage is good and the drive is a real eye-opener.
You can hire a 4wd, though they are considerably more expensive. We’ve always just hired a compact car and selected the option for snow tires which work incredibly well. It is worth noting that driving in the snow with snow tires is not difficult but you do still need to be very aware of black ice. The added bonus is that when you get to Hakuba you have your own transport. Hakuba covers an area of approximately 20 kms from end-to-end and each little resorts can be a bit of a hassle to get to when you’re relying on the town bus shuttle services and taxis can be time consuming to wait for in peak season. The convenience of having your own vehicle is worth its weight in gold. The down side is the cost, not only for the hire but the toll roads stack up on your way between Hakuba and Tokyo, however if there are two or more of you sharing that expense then it becomes cost effective when compared to other transfer options and then using taxis to get around Hakuba. Be aware Japan has a zero blood alcohol level tolerance.
Travel time: Approximately 4.5 hours
Cost: Depends on car type and duration of hire.
Pros: Ultimate freedom, convenience, easy of transporting luggage.
Cons: Cost if you’re not sharing the expense with friends.