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Hakuba is a small town in the middle of the Japanese Alps, about halfway between Tokyo and Kanazawa, on the north coast of Honshu. It is a popular resort during winter for its skiing, and also offers good hiking during the summer months. Hakuba and the nearby city of Nagano jointly hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics, and much evidence of that abounds.

This was the last stop on our week long jolly around Japan on the bullet train, although admittedly it was a right old chugger that brought us up here. We stayed at K's House, having already stayed at their sister hostels in Kawaguchi-ko (second night only) and Hiroshima, as they were just so very clean, comfortable and well equipped. The weather was miserable, but we still headed out to make the best of it.

Japanese temple

We had one full day in Hakuba, so we chose to rent bikes from the hostel (very reasonable rates) and do our own pedalling tour. I liked the look of this temple.

Hakuba was an interesting mix of Japanese and European styles, with a lot of half-timbered houses and cosy-looking mountain lodges.

Mountain lodge

Local country goods shop

Right across the road from our hostel was this country goods shop. You wouldn't know you were in Japan to look at this, were it not for the signpost.

We stopped off for a ginger beer in this Bavarian style hotel, like something out of the Black Forest. Presumably the place would be jumping in winter, but in the late September rain it was just us.

German style hotel

Chocolate box charm

Chocolate box charm of the houses of Hakuba.

Now this is something you certainly don't see in the Swiss Alps. Even in the middle of a Japanese forest, one finds one is catered for if one feels a little thirsty. Got any spare yen?

Forest commercial domination

Woodland huts

Some decidedly lower-tech forest objects. The light was so obscured by mist and trees that it actually took a few attempts to get this shot right, without blurring.

The Olympic ski jumps still stand tall in Hakuba, with a reminder that nearby Nagano had something to do with it too. We tookthe chairlift up to the top to have a look at the misty view.

Olympic ski jumps

Mystic mist of the east

Sunlight doing its best to penetrate the forest and mist. We didn't actually see the sun the whole time we were there.

A short bus journey away from Hakuba we headed to the world-famous Monkey Onsen, a site of constant geothermal activity such as this vent which was blasting away non-stop like an oversized pressure cooker. Mineral deposits collect around the nozzle.

Natural pressure cooker

Can't see the forest for the trees

Around the Monkey Onsen the mist was even thicker, very atmospheric and adding to our adventure of making sure we didn't step on any snakes.

The Monkey Onsen itself was frustratingly devoid of simian friends. There was a man with a whistle trying to coax them down from the trees, but I guess those monkeys felt clean enough already that day. Better check back later on the internet monkey-cam (left).

Monkey onsen, and webcam

Monkey in an onsen

I did however spot an altogether different ape in a nearby onsen. The mist at least went some way at disguising our nakedness from the Japanese pensioners on the other side of the river.

Thus ended our rail tour of central Japan, as we boarded our last bullet to take us from Nagano back to Tokyo. There is much of Japan still to be explored.

Sleek Shinkansen back to Tokyo

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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2010