Japan: Hakuba, the Snow Monkeys and Tokyo

by | Last modified on Jan 17, 2024 | Japan, Travel

Catch up with the final travel Journal from our 2 weeks trip to Japan (for a full breakdown of our itinerary and budget, check out Japan itinerary 2 weeks). For our final 5 nights, we spent 2 days in Hakuba skiing. A day visiting the Snow Monkeys and a final 2 nights in Tokyo before flying home.

You can read the first 2 parts of my Japan diaries here:

  • Part 1: Japan: Tokyo, Osaka and Koya San
  • Part 2: Miyajima, Hiroshima and Kyoto

A taste of skiing in Hakuba

I had heard amazing things about the Japan Alps and wanted to go see them for myself so ended up settling on visiting the town of Hakuba, made famous as the host for Ski Jumping during the 1998 winter Olympics.

Man, that jump is high!!

Just looking at it made me feel nervous.

Hakuba, the Snow Monkeys and Tokyo

It was still too snowy to do any real hiking which left us with very little else to do but go skiing. I have never skied before in my life, although I have always wanted to give it a go.

Gil and I had signed up to a half-day private skiing lesson for complete beginners. It had been one of the worst years for snow in Japan, we had been told, but this actually worked in our favor as instead of using the boring beginner slopes at the bottom next to the school, we were taken right up to the top of the mountain for our lesson.

hakuba skiing

I couldn’t believe that within just 2 hours, I was zigzagging (and falling) down a beginner’s slope to the bottom.

I loved it so much I’m already thinking about booking a skiing holiday for next year.

hakuba skiing

Hakuba: Skiing and onsens

The afternoon was spent in and out of the natural spring bath at our very comfortable family-run Ryokan, Siramasu-So before a traditional dinner in our yukata.

A perfect combination after a day of skiing.

We really did love our ryokan hotel –

hakuba onsen
hakuba kimono

Traveling to the Snow Monkeys from Hakuba

Breakfast the next morning, like most of our meals in Japan, was partly tasty, partly not and entirely weird.

Today was definitely my favourite breakfast of the trip though with only the miso soup being a bit too much for me to stomach at 7am.

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While we waited for our bus out of Hakuba, we made the most of the public natural hot spring foot baths in town to try and ease our ache legs.

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Our final stop before heading back to Tokyo was to Yadanaka to see the Snow Monkeys. It was a bit of a detour and in hindsight, one that we felt wasn’t worth it.

There was nothing to do in the town except seeing the monkeys which involved a 30-minute walk along a drab and unattractive path. Once you reach the monkeys, you pay your fee and go into an industrial area that is covered in concrete and rusting scaffolding. The monkeys were too warm for the hot springs, although the food was thrown in to try and entice them.

The monkeys were undeniably cute though. Photogenic and very comfortable getting close up to their spectators I got some great photos.

Hakuba, the Snow Monkeys and Tokyo
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Snow monkeys japan

Except of the young ones. I found out quickly they really didn’t like having their picture taken….

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Disappointed with the Snow Monkeys

Despite the disappointment, we still managed to enjoy our stopover thanks to the lovely and very traditional Ryokan we were staying in – Yudanaka Seifuso.

A family business, run by three generations, our hosts couldn’t speak a word of English but went out of their way to make our stay so warm and memorable.

Watching them prepare the many dinner dishes, which they serve to their guests in their separate rooms, I realised how much hard work they put into running the place.

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Snow Monkeys to Tokyo

For our final 2 nights on our trip we returned to our starting destination, Tokyo which, in just 12 days, had turned into an energised city in full bloom.

Walking through Uneo park, under the canopy of pink amongst the excited locals all looking for a picnic spot, was a sight not to be forgotten.

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I quite like to finish my trips with a bit of luxury, so I booked the Tokyo Hilton Odaiba, which sat in Tokyo’s newly built-up bay area. It was a fun ride getting there on a nifty driverless train.

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DisneySea Tokyo

It’s not a cheap hotel, but it oozes luxury. We had been receiving 5* service all holiday, even in the cheap places we stayed, but at the Hilton, it was the best I had ever had.

The real selling point of the hotel was definitely the spa area, and its outdoor jacuzzi that made the most of the hotel’s amazing views overlooking the Rainbow Bridge and, beyond that, Tokyo’s skyline.

We spent all afternoon relaxing here and then, after dinner, went straight back again so that we could see the view again at night.

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For our final day, we went to DisneySea, and after 2 weeks of busy sightseeing, it was the perfect way to end the holiday. We had so much fun walking around the park, taking in the huge sets, riding the high-tech rides and enjoying the evening light show.

Disneysea tokyo

With an early flight booked to take us home the next morning, there was nothing left to do but have a cocktail (or 2) in the hotel bar before hitting the sack.

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