Here are more reasons to rent a car. Unlike our first post, which focuses on what people tell us, this one is based on what we know from living in Hakuba for nearly twenty years.
- After a day’s skiing, you can jump in the car and go to a hot spring that is quiet and not full of skiers. You may be the only non-Japanese people there. This is impossible in winter in Hakuba. It will take less than thirty minutes each way. Many of the best hot springs in the Hakuba Valley are in Hakuba itself.
- If you have kids or are souvenir hunting, you can go to a full-sized 100-yen shop and a 100-yen conveyor sushi restaurant. Full-sized 100-yen shops have many Japanese souvenirs you may have seen on travel shows or blogs. Chopsticks, Japanese bowls and cookware, Japanese paper, folding fans, etc., all for 100 yen each. At the 100-yen conveyor sushi, you can grab whatever you like off the conveyor or order food on a touch screen. It will be delivered by a mini bullet train! Kids love it! Since it’s 100 yen, they slice the fish much thinner that a sushi master, but the restaurant is great fun and cheap enough to try lots of new dishes. The touchscreen menu comes up in English.
- You can go to the coast and eat very fresh seafood, including freshly boiled crab. This can be combined to with a trip to ski resorts that often get much more snow than Hakuba. Some parts of the coast are blighted by concrete coastal defences, but there are a couple of nice beaches and some scenic cliffs. In winter, the main reason to go is the seafood.
- While staying in the boundaries of Hakuba itself, you can visit all the town’s major historical and cultural sites. These are scattered about in old communities, most of which are nowhere near the ski resorts. Unlike Tokyo or Kyoto, there will be no-one collecting a 500 yen entry fee each time. There will probably be no-one there at all. We’d would be happy to tell you where these places are. With fresh snow, they are especially photogenic.
- Hakuba is quite developed, and if you want to see more rustic Japanese countryside, little villages with old houses, no traffic lights, no convenience stores, etc., it is not very far away. Sometimes it’s good to just drive along and see what you’ll find.
The main reason to rent a car though is simply convenience. Every adult in Hakuba has a car. There is no regular public transport. There are shuttle buses to ski resorts in high season, but only to and from the resorts themselves. The economics of running buses anywhere else simply does not work. We think there are many things worth doing in Hakuba, even if you ski every day. Outside of winter, a car is frankly essential to get a proper impression of this area and what it has to offer.