Winter in Japan: Tales from Hokkaido & Hakuba

Ah winter in Japan such a lovely time of year-if you’re in the right city.  I’ll be honest Nagoya doesn’t have much of a winter.  Sure do they call it the winter season and do the Japanese break out everything from fancy fur coats to long johns? Most definitely! But it really hasn’t been that cold.  Maybe low 40s and that’s really pushing it.  So in order to get the weather that I’m more accustomed to from home, or not since it’s Feb and it’s apparently been in the 70s in Michigan (I’m convinced the Earth is dying..) we have to travel outside of Nagoya to get some real winter weather.

I had blogged about our first trip to Nagano for John’s birthday and the adventures we had with the famous monkeys, castles, and ski disasters adventures, but this post is dedicated to our next two adventures in the “north”, as I like to call it, in Hakuba and Hokkaido.  Hakuba and Hokkaido are two very, very different parts of Japan.  Hakuba is in Nagano Prefecture close to where we were a few weekends ago in Shiga Kogen.

This particular weekend we were invited by some of our close friends to celebrate their birthday and honestly, there was no better way to spend a weekend outside of Nagoya then with new and old friends.  Hakuba is close enough that a Friday night drive after work was all it took to escape into a snowy mountain town to a cabin in the woods.  However, it may or may not have felt like the start of a bad horror movie- driving though mounds of snow carved roads to find this cabin in the dark, but we managed…along with the rest of our gang.  See the photo below and imagine driving that at night…yeahhh.

John and I attempted snowboard lessons this time around and both of us agreed that we are terrible and he should stick to skis (which he ended up changing out the snowboard for skis that afternoon), while I should just stick to the lodge bar sidelines.  Real talk, I think I’m done with winter sports because seriously I thought the skis were rough, but snowboarding brought a whole new level of challenge, and bruising.  But we did gets some cool pics that made us seem legit.

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A very accurate representation of how I spent my morning on the slopes #fail

 

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At least we look legit

After the morning of basically bruising my tailbone over and over again, I managed to spend the rest of my day on the mountain (thanks to a gondola that took me up and down) enjoying some ice cold ビール at the Corona Terrace on the top of Happo-one, a mountain made famous by the 1998 Olympics.  It was truly beautiful, but I also value my life and the safety of others and was much better off cheering from the sidelines.

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The gondola ride of shame…no one was taking it down the mountain except for the two of us! Thanks for being my partner in crime this day, Jaime!

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The rest of our trip in Hakuba consisted of braving a public onsen, Tex-Mex birthday celebration, more ice-cold ビール, and laughing until we cried.  So it’s no wonder that the next day the snow shoeing activity we had booked was a bit on the rough side.  However, fresh mountain air, snow, and nature is a great cure for poor life choices a headache.

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Annnnd on the way out we had to stop and get a pic of the Olympic sign.  John insisted on finding this darn thing all weekend and sure enough here it was!

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Next up on our winter adventures was a trip to Japan’s northern most island, Hokkaido.  For those out that that don’t know, we live on the main island of Japan called Honshu.  Japan is made up of many islands, but there are four large ones or main islands.  Hokkaido is located just north of Honshu and is essentially parallel with Russia, meaning it gets pretty damn cold up there.img_7053

Hokkaido is home to the city of Sapporo; sound familiar beer people of the world?  Our main goal, however, was not Sapporo but Niseko, a little ski town in the middle of no-where on this island.  We were invited by some friends a while back and it seemed like the perfect opportunity for John to enjoy some skiing (without me) and for me to actually get a taste of winter with safer snow activities.

I say this in so many blogs, but John continues to work himself to the bone all week long, so a Friday off of work and a short plane ride later we found ourselves in Sapporo for the start of our “northern island” adventure and down time.  I will say for travelers out there, renting a car is probably the easiest way to get around most of Hokkaido.  There are plenty of buses and public transit systems available if you plan to stay locally to Sapporo, but Niseko is a bit of a pain to get to (even by bus), especially if you want to see other parts of the island on the same trip.  Our car rental was less then $150 for the whole weekend.  Disclaimer: despite the fact that I grew up in Michigan and should be able to drive in snow, this was a whole different ball game.  John did all of the driving and it was pretty treacherous at times. So I guess you should take that into consideration before you rent a car!

After our venture of renting a car in Japen we were on our way for a tour-de Hokkaido.  This tour included a stop at ramen alley in Sapporo for infamous miso ramen.  It was absolutely delicious and honestly it was hard to pick which little restaurant to go into.  I almost picked the one Anthony Bourdain visited (in case you didn’t know he’s my celebrity crush), but we ended up in one with the most people, because well if there is one thing the Japanese do well it’s wait in line, and you know if they are waiting in line it’s got to be good!

After filling our bellies with ramen we made a pit stop at Japan’s only beer museum, the Sapporo Beer Museum.  It was a quick little stop and worth it due to the fact that it’s a heritage site for Sapporo.  Unfortunately, because we were driving we didn’t indulge in a tasting.  Fun fact about Japan: they have zero tolerance for alcohol while driving.  These smart Japanese! None of that .08 crap. Safety first!  We did however go swimming in some beer…kind of 😉

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Our last stop on our way to Niseko was Otaru and Asari to get a glimpse of the ocean.  Another expat friend of mine had mentioned an ocean trip in her blog and although her drone footage (check it out on my friend, Layne’s, blog here) is way better then my pics, it was absolutely breathtaking to see the sea meet the snow on the coast!  We also indulged ourselves in a little Hokkaido soft cream in -4c weather…because obviously that makes so much sense!

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Another fun tip about driving in Hokkaido is that roads may be randomly be closed due to snow fall or avalanches.  IMG_6998.JPGNo joke I’ve never seen so much snow in my entire life, and it just kept snowing the WHOLE weekend!! So needless to say our drive to Niseko was a bit of an adventure all in itself, and I’m a bit relieved we survived.  Shout out to GoogleMaps for getting us out (and in) to a few binds!

Speaking of tons of snow, Japan is known for it’s powered like snow (#japow) and is super soft and light and fluffy.  Here’s photo evidence of my pure excitement in said snow!

Our weekend in Hakuba wasn’t a super good representation of what you see above, however, Niseko did not fail to deliver and John and our friends were chomping at the bit to get out on the slopes the next day.  As I previously mentioned I’m safer away from the slopes it was decided to make the best of our adventures by spending the day snow shoeing, with my two girlfriends.  And man oh man was it absolutely beautiful and guess what? I didn’t almost kill myself! We had booked a nature snow shoe tour in the morning and a down hill in the afternoon.  However, due to an avalanche on the mountain the gondola was closed in the afternoon, so we weren’t able to snow hill snow shoe, but that didn’t stop us from taking advantage of the meters and meters of snow.  Our snow shoe guide managed to build us a snow slide that we perfected into a pretty legit slide down the side of this mountain.  I even managed to hit a tree, granted it was a small tree, and survived (I’m such a bad ass guys 😉 ).  Check out the video below to see the oh so exciting action!

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Our guide, Katsu, made us an igloo table and chairs fully equipped with Japanese snowmen (mika-chan and haruto-chan), and hot tea.  We made him a snow heart for his patients with us Americans!

One thing that you see everywhere in Hokkaido is crab.  I mean literally it’s like they don’t have any other food.  Due to the lack of subtle mind games to eat crab while in Niseko, we found ourselves at a crab nabe restaurant for dinner that night.  Holy crab!!! They legit put an entire crab in two nabe pots for us.  I also want to give a shout out for my husband for braving his seafood fears and embracing this life in Japan…by embracing I mean eating seafood when he actually doesn’t really enjoy it!  Keep on keepin’ on honey!!

The last thing on my Hokkaido bucket list was to see Mount Yotei, a strato volcano that looks a lot like Fuji-san, but it was so dang cloudy and snowy that I didn’t think I would manage to get a glimpse.  However, lucky me on our drive out of town Mount Yotei decided to show herself in my honor, obviously!

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Two more great weekends in the books here in Japan.  The weeks can sometimes be long and there are times where John and I live for the weekends just to get through, but it’s adventures like this with the friends we’ve made that makes us appreciate this life we live and this adventure we are on! Shout out to our awesome friends for the laughs, the adventures, and just plain old good times!

Thanks again for following me on this crazy adventure!

Ja Mata じゃまた!

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    Another great post Nicole
    Enjoyed reading about your snow adventures

    Like

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