If your family loves skiing and snowboarding, then you’ll love Hakuba Valley in Japan. One of the country’s most popular ski areas, it’s the best place for families who want to combine their skiing and snowboarding with the best off-snow fun.
Among soaring peaks up to 3,000 metres, the valley offers 10 ski and snowboard resorts that all see between 11 to 13 metres of powder snowfall every season.
That’s 143 combined runs for the entire family to explore, along with 103 lifts and seven terrain parks. Plus it’s just under three hours from downtown Tokyo, making it easy enough to get to when borders open once again.
Then add vending machines, snow monkeys, Japan culture, Hello Kitty and all the colourful fun that makes kids fall in love with Japan.
Here are our top picks of things to do with little ones in Hakuba Valley.
Take a ski or snowboard lesson
There’s a reason Hakuba Valley is a place for world-class skiing. First introduced to Japan in the early 1900s by the Austrians, the valley’s resorts now offer everything, from old-school boutique style to international world class slopes.
Resorts bring so much more than just skiing and snowboarding for little ones. The Japanese love children, and more importantly, they know what children love. Whether it’s tubing, tobogganing, snow bikes or the fun snow parks, there’s something on offer at each of the ten resorts in the area.
And if you’re keen for some solo laps without kids in tow – or, even better, lessons for the entire family – there are also plenty of English-speaking lessons offered by the variety of official ski and snowboard schools across the valley.
Explore the mountain towns
There are three key mountain towns in Hakuba Valley, full of history and a culture that dates back to 300 BC when the area was first settled, and where mountain families have lived for generations since.
Omachi is home to the Omachi Snow Festival, a mix of traditional drum performances, fireworks, torch parades and more that kids and adults alike love to see each February. Or drop by Nishina Shinmeigu Shrine, one of Japan’s oldest shrines, to discover some history as a family.
The village of Hakuba is a melting pot of western and traditional Japanese culture, full of restaurants offering every type of food to please even the pickiest of eaters. Plus daytime activities offering a variety of entertainment for those of all ages, such as kimono dressing and tea ceremonies.
You can also drop by Otari to see the Folk Museum, which has been around since 1868; pick up a pair of handmade straw sandals and boots; or just wander around the beautifully authentic town.
Take a cooking class
When shopping for a souvenir to bring back to Australia with you, why not consider a new skill?
Miso and soba making classes are both available in Hakuba Valley; they’re kid-friendly versions of the area’s traditional foods and you’ll be able to relive the memories of your holiday back home in your own kitchen. Or, if your children are a bit older, try sushi, gyoza and okonomiyaki classes.
Hang with the onsen snow monkeys
Jigokudani Monkey Park is home to the only troop of monkeys in the world known to naturally soak in hot springs – and luckily enough for those visiting Hakuba Valley, it’s an easy day trip away.
The ancient people of Japan called this area Jigokudani (Hell Valley) because of the steep cliffs and the steam coming off the springs. But the cliffs don’t put the monkeys off; they come all year round, although they are most photogenic in the winter time among the backdrop of spectacular mountain views.
To get there, hop on the bus from Hakuba Happo Bus Terminal to Nagano Station; then get a train to Yudanaka, followed by an easy 15 minute bus ride to the monkey park. The whole trip takes about two hours all up and kids will love arriving on the other side to see the monkeys bathing in hot spring bliss.
Discover Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto Castle is one of the most complete and beautiful castles you’ll find in the country. Built in 1592, it’s one of the oldest castles in Japan, filled with history found in the walls and turrets. It’s also only about 1.5 hours away from Hakuba Valley, making it a great day trip option.
Kids with ninja obsessions will especially love the museum to be found on the second floor, armour and ancient weapons included. If you can extend your visit to Japan out until the end of March or April, the castle is really well-known for cherry blossom season when you can find hundreds of yoshino cherry trees in full bloom each year.
See Zenkoji Temple
There’s a lot to love about Zenkoji in Nagano City. One of the most important and popular temples in the country, it’s also only an hour from Hakuba Valley, and offers free English tours with local volunteer guides to discover the stories behind the temple. Legend has it that a visit to the temple will guarantee you a happy rebirth into your next life.
Founded in the 7th century, the temple stores the first Buddhist statue that was brought into Japan. The temple also signifies the beginnings of the development of Nagano as a temple town. There’s even a History Museum contained within the complex.
Ready to discover Japan’s largest resort? Find out more about Hakuba Valley here.