Hakuba (白馬市)

Cost of Living in Hakuba

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Before setting foot in Japan, we didn’t really know what the cost of living in Hakuba would be. Coming from Vancouver, Nancy and I figured that anywhere in the world would be cheaper than what we were used to. While this turned out to be true, you should still be weary of pitfalls that can end up costing you a lot of money.

We understand that tourists are often forced to pay premium prices for things compared to locals, but we just didn’t realize how bad it would be even if you were living in that foreign country for a long period of time. This post will outline our primary costs associated with living in Hakuba for a ski season.

Cost of Food in Hakuba

Food costs are an interesting thing to measure. They tend to vary greatly around the world. When we were living in Thailand, we could get a full meal on the street with a drink for about 50-65 baht (1.5-2 USD). While in Canada, getting lunch would cost us around 10-15CAD (7-10USD). Food prices in Japan are probably more similar with those found in North America, and seeing as we are in a ski town, prices are a little more inflated.

On a monthly basis, our total cost of food is about 75,000 yen. This total includes coffees, some alcoholic drinks, eating out at restaurants, our grocery bills, and some essential household items (like toilet paper 🧻) for the both of us. We managed to keep this cost low by cooking at home a lot and only eating out occasionally. However, this doesn’t mean that we eat poorly. We still enjoy purchasing things like sashimi and milk tea at the grocery store.

It should also be noted that there are actually some very reasonably priced restaurants in Hakuba. Our favorite, go-to, cheap and delicious Japanese restaurant, Ooshimoshi, offers generously portioned set meals for around 800 yen! But watch out, some restaurants in town will take advantage of you as foreigners by deliberately adding items to your bills or charging higher than menu prices because of the language barrier. We avoid it by checking online reviews in advance!

How Much is Accommodation in Hakuba for a Ski Season?

If you can find a place to stay in Hakuba, you should be prepared to pay a premium for the winter season. If you haven't been told already, hear it from us. It is very difficult to find housing to rent on a month-to-month basis in Japan as a foreigner. That being said, most working holiday jobs will offer accommodation.

In Hakuba, most employers understand the housing challenge and will often provide housing as part of the work arrangement. However, be ready to have to share a room with a few others. You may wonder what happens if you're only in town to ski and not working. 🤔 Well, you've came to the right place! We were in the same boat.

Finding month-to-month housing was difficult, but it was not impossible. Hakuba is populated with a good number of non-Japanese home owners. This means that there is a small supply of housing options that don't require a 2-year lease and the payment of key money (reikan). It also means that you are able to secure the place in advance, before you get to Japan.

We were lucky enough to find a furnished studio flat for rent. This was arranged through connecting with locals on the Hakuba Crew Facebook Group. Our contract was for 4 months, starting in January, and was 85,000 yen/month + utilities. To paint a better picture for you, here are some alternate options we were offered:

  • Furnished, room in house with shared common space
  • 120,000 yen/month (utilities included for 2 people), minimum 3 month contract.
  • 350,000 yen for 13 weeks (utilities included) winter season. Rent is 60,000 yen/month + utilities starting April 1.
  • Furnished, whole house with 3 bedrooms
  • 300,000 yen/month in the winter, or 100,000 yen/month rest of the year.

Cost of Utilities in Hakuba: Gas, Electricity and Water

It should be noted that while electricity is not particularly expensive, it is more expensive than at home in Vancouver. Our average monthly electricity bill was 2,500 yen. To get an understanding of our lifestyle, we do use our laptops quite a bit, but we turn the lights off when we aren’t using them and barely watch the TV. The only other source of electrical consumption is the washing machine (we don’t have a dryer). The water heater is gas.

The price of natural gas in Hakuba is insane. When we got our first bill, we couldn’t believe how much it was. We were charged 12,712 yen (120 USD) for 2 weeks of gas heating, cooking, and hot water! We didn't even have the heat on high - we thought we were already being conscious of our gas usage but apparently not enough! The metered amount was 28.3m^3 of gas. For the same volume of natural gas, we would've paid around $20 CAD in Vancouver!

We sent the gas bill to a couple of our friends to verify we were reading it properly. Turns out that the base rate for utilities in Hakuba is much higher than some of the surrounding regions (~3x). Being frugal people, Nancy and I were not ok with the thought of our heating bill being 240,000 yen (240 USD) a month. As such, we only put the heater on the lowest setting, wore lots of layers, and piled blankets on ourselves whenever we were home. It also dawned on us that our hot water for showering was costing us a significant amount. As such, we decided to start using the free onsen in the basement.

In case you were curious, we did see serious improvement in the following months. We were very proud that we were able to reduce our natural gas bill to 11,358 yen (25m^3) and 10,506 yen (22.8m^3) the following months. Note that these totals are for 4 weeks of gas usage, where as our first bill was for our first 2 weeks. This is due to billing period starting from mid-month. (Don't ask why, we don't know why.)

The Hakuba Valley Ski Pass Price

You came to Japan to ski, didn’t you? If you are working on the ski hill, you will likely get your ski pass for free. Just one of the perks of the job. However, the rest of us need to pay up.

For the 2019-2020 ski season, the Hakuba Valley Ski Pass was 132,000 yen for an adult. If you buy the ski pass in advance, there are often discounts that you can receive. We paid 118,800 yen as we bought our passes in November.

This ski pass is good for all 10 of the ski resorts located in the Hakuba Valley. If you are only interested in skiing one mountain, and want to save a bit of money, each mountain does offer their own seasons pass at a much lower cost. For example, a season pass to the biggest resort in the valley, Happo-One, is 71,000 yen. See below for a summary of 2019-2020 ticket prices (day pass, season pass, early bird season pass)

Now that you have an idea of how much it cost to ski for a day, or a season, check out our post on our favorite ski resorts in the Hakuba Valley.

Hakuba Valley Transportation Costs  

If you are into walking and taking free shuttle buses, you can save a lot of money. Lucky for you, Hakuba is a ski village with multiple resorts that offer free shuttle services to get you to and from the mountain!

If you want to be able to get around as you please, your best bet is to rent a car, assuming your employer doesn’t have one for you to borrow. Seeing as we came here without the intention of working, we had to rent a car.

Our landlady was nice enough to set us up with a kei-car rental that cost 30,000 yen/month. From our understanding, this is actually a very cheap rental rate. Most companies would want somewhere in the realm of at least 50,000 yen/ month. That being said, they would likely be larger cars. 🤷🏻‍♂️

Phone and Internet Costs

This is one of the situations where being a foreigner sucks, and you can't really do anything about it. As a foreigner, you are limited to a handful of mobile phone providers. After looking at all of the options, we decided to go with Sakura Mobile. Seeing as we didn't think that we would both need a phone number in Japan, we chose to get one plan with calling+data (3GB), while the other just has data (3GB). Combined, these phone plans cost us 4,960 yen/month, which is considered expensive in Japan (there was also a 5,000 yen activation fee for each plan). Thankfully, our flat rental also included wifi or else that would have been an additional charge.  

Healthcare Coverage

In Japan, it is mandatory that everyone enrolls in the government healthcare program. There are different programs for different demographics, like seniors, people with jobs, and people without jobs. In reality, there isn't much difference between all of them. All you really need to know is that you have to enroll, and if you didn't work in Japan during the prior year, they treat you as a poor person and you pay very little for coverage. We each pay 1,700 yen/month for our coverage.

Our Cost of Living in Hakuba

If you take all of the costs mentioned above, you should come to a monthly reoccurring cost of about 212,000 yen. This figure does not include the ski passes, flights, any of our one time fees, or miscellaneous expenses. If  we included all the other miscellaneous expenses from each month, I think the monthly living costs would be closer 250,000 yen/month to live in Hakuba as a couple for the winter season.

For other ways to save money in Japan, check out this post!

If you found this post to be helpful and want more information on Hakuba, check out our post about living in Hakuba to get a feel for what life in this ski town is like! If we missed anything in this post, let us know in the comment section below.

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