Where is Hakuba?
This is not as simple as you might think. The area which is generally considered to be the Hakuba resort area is spread out over three different villages—one of which is Hakuba. The towns of Otari to the north and Omachi to the south are in the same valley as Hakuba, and most of their snow resorts also have “Hakuba” in the name.
Getting back to the question, Hakuba is located in a valley to the east of the Kita Alps, in the landlocked prefecture of Nagano. With the ocean-effect from moist air from the Japan Sea hitting the mountains on Honshu’s west coast, the whole valley experiences prodigious amounts of snow each winter, which is great for the ten different ski resorts in the area.
Most transport to Hakuba, goes to the Hakuba village in the middle of the valley. The village is walking distance to Happo One, and just a few minutes by car to Hakuba Iwataki Mountain Resort. If your final destination is one of the other resorts in the valley, the final leg may require transport by car, taxi, or bus.
Getting there by bus
Bus is the most popular way to get to Hakuba and also the easiest way to get there if you’re going directly from Narita Airport (services currently suspended due to COVID-19). One of the reasons it’s popular is because you don’t have to cart your oversized luggage around through crowded stations and trains. Maneuvering a 2 meter long board bag up and down the escalators of a busy train station in Tokyo can be an ordeal!
From Tokyo, there are regular services operated by a number of bus companies that leave from the Shinjuku Bus Terminal which is located across from the South Exit of Shinjuku Station. The travel time is mainly determined by whether it’s a day bus or a night bus. Journeys during the day take about 5 and a quarter hours, while overnight buses take between 7 and 8 hours. Adult fares range from ¥4,000 and ¥6,100 depending on the day of the week and how far in advance you book your seat.
Even though the services aren’t operated by Willer Express, you can book them through the Willer Express website.
Buses arrive and depart from the Hakuba Happo Bus Terminal in the middle of Hakuba village.
Getting there by train
There are two train options for getting to Hakuba—both of which are faster than the bus but a bit more expensive. You can either take the Shinkansen to Nagano Station and then catch a bus, or catch the limited express Azusa from Shinjuku Station which runs along the Chuo Line directly to Hakuba Station.
Shinkansen from Tokyo Station, bus from Nagano Station
As the crow flies, Nagano Station is not that far from Hakuba. Unfortunately, the rail connections aren’t great so bus is the best option for completing your journey. The Shinkansen leg zips you from Tokyo to Nagano (¥7,940 for a reserved e-ticket) in only 80 to 90 minutes. Alpico Bus runs 13 services each day from the East Exit of Nagano Station to Hakuba Happo Bus Terminal. The journey from Nagano Station takes about one hour and 40 minutes and the adult fare is ¥700. The bus departures are scheduled to coincide with the Shinkansen, with about a 15 minute gap from the arrival of the Shinkansen to the departure of the bus, so the whole journey can be completed in under 3 and a half hours—faster than the direct rail option outlined below!
If your final destination is one of the other resorts in the valley, then you might be able to catch an Alpico bus directly to your destination. While 12 of the 13 services stop at Hakuba Happo Bus Terminal, 9 services each day also stop at Hakuba Goryu, 6 services go to Tsugaike Kogen, 2 services deliver you to Iwatake Mountain Resort, and 1 service continues on to Hakuba Cortina.
The Azusa from Shinjuku Station
While convenient, there is only one Azusa service (Azusa No. 5) each day that runs non-stop from Shinjuku to Hakuba. The train leaves at 8am and arrives at Hakuba Station at 11:41am. There are more Azusa and “Super Azusa” services that depart Shinjuku throughout the day, but all require either changing trains in Matsumoto or changing trains in both Matsumoto and Shinano-Ōmachi. Consequently, the travel time with train changes takes from 4 hours and 40 minutes up to 5 hours and 30 minutes!
The cost of taking the Azusa is ¥8,050 each way. All seats on the Azusa are reserved, so you need to purchase them in advance. The JR Pass is valid on Azusa services but make sure you book that seat in advance so you don’t miss out.
Renting a car or driving your own vehicle
If you’re travelling in a group or as a family, driving your own car or renting a car are both cost effective and give you the freedom to try the different resorts in the area at your own pace.
The snow here is no joke though. We strongly recommend that you go in an all-wheel drive vehicle (or at least front wheel drive) fitted with winter tires. If you’re not used to driving in the snow and there’s an ōyuki (heavy snow) warning, then you should consider altering your travel plans.
Purchasing a snow brush for your car from Amazon Japan or at a local Komeri Home Center is also highly recommended.
The driving time from Tokyo to Hakuba is approximately 4 to 5 hours depending on conditions and the cost of tolls for a regular sized car with an ETC card is about ¥6,000 each way.
Flying to Hakuba
Hakuba doesn’t have an airport, so you can’t. However, if you’re flying in from outside Japan, then the most convenient airports are the international airports that serve Tokyo—either Haneda in Tokyo or Narita in Chiba prefecture. After that, you should follow the instructions above.