A view from the train on our trip from Hakuba to Matsumoto, Japan.
On our day trip to Matsumoto, apart from the castle, we also visited the Japan Ukiyo-e (woodblock print) Museum which has the largest private collection of Japanese woodblock prints in the world. A selection of them are on display, as well as a large collection of prints and prints of the prints for purchase.
But first you must find your way there: it is a fifteen minute walk from Oniwa station so find a map or better still mark it on the GPS or you’ll get lost like we did. I guess we expected it to either be obvious, signposted, or well known by locals, but it was none of the above, and it is in a very quiet suburban area. Thankfully we stumbled across a couple outside a grocery who seemed to know where it was and even insisted on a lift in their car, a chat and a yummy bun!
When we arrived there, we were ushered into the theatre room, where the manager gave us a slide show of famous historical ukiyo-e prints from the collection, breathlessly switching from English to Japanese. Each image came with commentary on world migration patterns or how Japan was better than the west because the women got nicer clothes, toothbrushes and so on.
The artworks themselves were indeed beautiful, and well worth a visit. Many famous artists including Hiroshige and Hokusai were included, and you can purchase postcards of your favourites, which is useful because the lighting was not good for taking any photos. If you google ukiyo-e or woodblock prints, you’ll get the idea of what’s in store. This was one of our favourites:
Luckily, before leaving the station we marked the location on our phones so we could find our way back. I highly recommend checking out Locus or similar phone apps which you can use to download offline maps before you travel and mark points of interest, then navigate via GPS and compass so you don’t need to use expensive roaming data or inadequate tourist maps to find your way around. Once you mark a point, you just press compass and it shows you which direction and how far to go. Easy. Radar noises not included.
Matsumoto City is only about 1.5 hours by train from where we stayed in Hakuba, so on a day off from skiing we headed down to check it out. The most famous sight is the castle, which is one of the finest specimens in Japan, still the original structure, unlike many others which are reconstructions following fire or war. Indeed, I was told that by the time this castle was built in the late 16th century, peace came and it never saw battle. Unfortunately, we were too late for snow cover and too early for green grass, so it was not the best conditions for majestic photos. But nevertheless a worthwhile visit.
In March this year, we visited Japan. The first week we spent in Hakuba in the Japanese Alps on the main island, Honshu. It is about 5 hours by bus from Tokyo airport, but you can take a shinkansen to nearby Nagano and a bus from there (the local train line is a bit slower). We skied for five days, three in Happo-one resort where we stayed (Rosenheim Hotel) and two in Iwatake resort. Hakuba is great, because you can stay walking distance or a short bus ride from the slopes, and another seriously short bus ride to six or so other resorts so you can take your pick!
When we arrived it hadn’t snowed for a while, but we got a brief spattering on our first day, then rain on the next, then later on we got a fresh dump of snow! So all sorts of conditions from icy to powdery.
These photos I took on my phone, I didn’t take a bag with me skiing so I had no space for my ‘proper’ camera, but I didn’t need anything fancy in these surrounds. I froze my fingers with the few shots I took anyway.
Dan is new to skiing, here he is not having crashed much yet.
This was my favourite run for much of the time, as you can see I had it pretty much to myself. It got a bit busier on the weekend, but it seemed visitor numbers were low and it was getting to the end of the season.
I loved these little snow boulders still left in the tree.
The start of the white out, I stacked it at one point when a ridge took me by surprise.
I can’t imagine getting sick of looking at snow frosted trees.
Here you can see part of Hakuba village:
I have never skiied powder before. I had no idea what I was doing and it was the weirdest sensation for someone used to ice to be skiing underneath the snow! At least falling over didn’t hurt much.
I fell over a lot down this chunky moguly but soft black run. Never looks as bad in a photo as in real life though.
Up near the summit of Iwatake, was popular with new snowboarders. They had a jump run too that was empty enough for us to go slowpoke down.
The top of my favourite run in Iwatake, the downhill racer. I raced down many times, and felt like queen of the hill! Dan even had a go!
We even found a cozy vegan cafe at the bottom of Kokusai lift in Happo-one, a completely unexpected suprise. (Especially since, even in the cities later on, we struggled to locate vegetarian places we knew about!) Needless to say, we hung out there a lot.
Every day I skiied until my legs could no longer hold me up, then headed straight to the outdoor onsen in the hotel for a hot soak, followed by udon or soba for dinner. I can’t wait to go back.
A sneak peek of my Japan photos.