The Japanese love of Hot Springs, or "onsen" is inseparable from the national character. People will gladly travel many hours just for the chance to have a soak in one of the many thousands of hot springs throughout this volcanic country. The "onsen" experience, like so many things in Japan, is a multilayered experience. Some hot springs form the focal point for a whole tour...
A boundless range of other activities can be found in Hakuba and area, from canyoning to paragliding to rafting to kayaking to canoeing, arts and crafts and more!
The Nagano Prefecture area and beyond offer a variety of sightseeing opportunities, from the laid back ambiance of Matsumoto, with it's justly famed Matsumoto Castle, to he beauty of Zenkouji Temple in Nagano City, to the resort shopping town feel of Karuizawa...and more.
There are many hiking opportunities around the Hakuba area, ranging from challenging multiday hikes to ones that are more suited to the "strolling". The one constant is views of the Japanese Alps and the surrounding countryside that is sure to soothe the soul.
Japan is a cyclist's paradise in a number of respects. Forgetting the highways for a moment, it is a country of well kept roads, many of them with very light traffic (thanks to those highways!) which lead you through blissful scenery and villages where time seems to have stopped, or at least has slowed down a bit, with a refreshment stop or lodging for the night never more than a few km...
Hakuba can be your base for many fascinating day trips, on the way up or back from the major centres, or to break up your ski vacation.
A mostly futile wish for most of humankinds existence, the dream to fly like a bird in the sky is now well within our reach. Well, not quite like a bird I suppose, but still the feeling of soaring on the air currents is easily accessible to anyone with the desire.
There are a number of places around Hakuba, where you can bring this wish to reality, and just up the road from us at the Hakuba Springs Hotel is the Happo Paraglider School. They have a variety of "courses" you can follow, but I think probably the most suitable is the "tandem course" or the "tandem plus experience course". The straight up tandem course (12,000 yen) involves very little in the way of training as such, and after a suitable amount of drilling on basic safety procedures, you are strapped to your instructor and away you go! As you can see by the pictures, the flight over Happo gives you a fantastic view of the town below. The "tandem" plus "experience" (15,000 yen) version gives you slightly more training on the fine points of steering and landing and is of interest if Paragliding is something you think you may want to pursue in the future. The lowest cost option is the "experience" only course, and I think is mostly suitable to chlldren perhaps who simply would enjoy the feeling of rising a few metres into the air.
The homepage for the Happo Paragliding School is only in Japanese, but the instructors do speak enough English to successfully and safely navigate you through your day! Feel free to send any questions our way here at the Hakuba Springs Hotel and we'll make sure you "jump off" on the right foot!
Information in Japanese, and some more pictures giving a good idea of what's involved in each course can be found here.
A friend's birthday celebration provided the occasion to put the pedal down and let loose for some go-kart action… at Circuit Azumino (about an hour or so outside of Hakuba, or on your way up from Matsumoto). The competition was fierce, there can be no doubt… I have to say I'm not entirely satisfied with my 7th place showing, but what can you do… not all of us are cut out to be speed demons.
Great fun though, and they really do it up right. The cars are powerful enough that you get a real feel of the g-force when cornering. On the straights, you may feel the desire for a little more oomph, but soon enough you're into a turn again.
We paid 9,000 yen each for a solid half days outing and left genuinely feeling we had gotten our moneys worth. You get a chance to go through a warm up circuit (5 laps??), a number of qualifying time trials (10 laps each??), and then down through various semi-final heats to the championship race. By the end, these somewhat old bones, not used to all the g force had had enough to be certain.
The champions were saluted with a podium presentation, complete with bottles of sparkling wine.
There are various options and pricing plans depending on how long you want to be there, whether you have a proper license or not (go-kart license that is), and there is a chance to rent the entire circuit out for your party if you so desire. Will certainly go back again… hopefully all the way to the podium next time.