Ski Japan Holidays runs tours to the snow monkeys everyday from mid-December to end of Feb, and every Monday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday during the month of March. Cost is ¥12,000 for adults and ¥8,000 for children (3-11yrs) and includes all transportations, English speaking guide, entry fee into Jigokudani wild monkey hot-springs, and lunch.
Can’t leave the Northern Japan Alps without seeing the Japanese snow monkeys? You can also tackle Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park sans tour. Take the Alpico bus from Hakuba-Happo Bus Terminal to Nagano Station (1hr, ¥3,600 return), then the Express Bus to Shiga Kogen where you get off at the “Snow Monkey Park”, then walk 30min to the park.
Open Kitchen is a cooking class that takes place in a small residence in the peaceful Misorano neighbourhood in Hakuba. The private class is completely taught in English, and can have up to 6 people participate at once, costing roughly ¥2,000 – ¥4,000/person. Choose from a list of delicious Japanese dishes (vegan and vegetarian options available), and get ready to cook up an unforgettable dinner.
Are your legs a little tired from chasing the snow, or is the weather getting you down? Regardless of the reason, Hakuba Heat is a fun alternative activity for young and old alike. Set in an old abandoned hotel, you will be put up against your friends and family in an intense airsoft gun battle. Anywhere from 2 – 20 people (or sometimes more) at a time can participate in different games such as team co-op, survival, and capture the flag. Even if you aren’t the biggest gun battle connoisseur, sit back in the lounge and watch the battle happen on the live feed. Prices start at around ¥3,700 per player.
Kimonos are perhaps one of the most well-known Japanese symbols to people from other countries, and hold a level of historical significance dating back hundreds of years. For ¥8,000 per person and a minimum of two people, you can experience this part of Japanese culture yourself by being dressed in a kimono by a professional, participating in a classic tea ceremony, and having a traditional Japanese lunch. This also can serve as the perfect girls’ day out as it is only for women!
The Nozawaonsen Fire Festival is famed globally for being one of the most popular and entertaining festivals in the world. It is a sacred ritual and ceremony for the entire village, the preparations for which start in autumn and lead up to the main event that takes place on January 15th of every year. Villagers construct a massive wooden structure that 42 year old men sit on top of and 25 year old men stand at the bottom of, acting as protectors. All the other men of the village then charge at the structure with fiery sticks and a great battle ensues, ending with the burning down of the structure. Bystanders are welcome to watch (and greeted with free sake), but are asked not to interfere in the events since it is a holy festival. Ski Japan Holidays runs tours every year from Hakuba for ¥12,000, including dinner.
Matsumoto Castle is known as one of the only surviving original castles remaining in Japan. It is located deep in the heart of Matsumoto City, where it stands out with its striking appearance of a dark exterior and curved roof, earning it the nickname “the Crow Castle.” For ¥610, you can enter the 5-story castle and look out over the sprawling city and mountains. On clear days, you can stroll in the park and enjoy the towering castle amongst the beautiful Japan Alps lurking in the background. Near the castle is also a large shrine where there are often weddings taking place, as well as “Frog Street,” where vendors sell everything from traditional Japanese wares to delicious taiyaki, or fish-shaped pancakes with flavored fillings. If you want to explore the area more, we also recommend the Matsumoto Art Museum, which hosts a permanent exhibition of Matsumoto native Yayoi Kusama’s work.
Originally, Hosonosuwa Shrine was where those who wanted to hike Shiroumadake would come to pray for their safety before they would start out on the trek up into the mountains. Today, it remains standing among hotels and cafes in Central Happo, up a steep set of stairs to the main building. It is surrounded by old, tall trees, the biggest of which is estimated to be around 1000 years old. In winter, the shrine is covered in deep snow and difficult to ascend, but still serves as an impressive sight.
Snowshoeing tours are another great way to spend time outside in the gorgeous winter scenery of Hakuba. While slower paced than skiing or snowboarding, it offers another piece of the local experience. Evergreen Backcountry offers group half-day tours, private half and full-day tours, and even evening tours ending in fondue!