Hakuba (白馬市)

Living in Hakuba Japan

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Living in Hakuba is a pretty awesome. Who doesn't want to live in the heart of some of the world's best skiing? As two Canadians who love to ski, travel, and experience different cultures, we thought that this was a great place to settle down for a ski season.

In this post, we will go over some things to take into consideration when moving to Hakuba, the challenges we faced when moving to Japan, and what this wonderful village has to offer.  

Looking to visit Hakuba? Also read about How to get to Hakuba.

Finding a Place to Live in Hakuba

This was probably one of the more difficult challenges that we faced. Most Japanese people won't be willing to rent to a foreigner without someone being a guarantor, and even then, the chances are slim. To be perfectly honest, this makes a lot of sense. Why would you want to rent your place to a foreigner who is going to pick up and leave in three months when the season is over? There is a higher probability that they won't take care of the accommodation, and of course, there is a language barrier.

This would not have been a problem had we also been looking for work. Most businesses in Hakuba, like every other ski resort in the world, offer their staff accommodation.

If you aren't looking for work, and just want a place to stay, the best place to look for accommodation is on the Hakuba Crew Facebook page. You will likely find a foreigner (probably Australian), who owns a place in Hakuba and is willing to rent a room. But before you accept just any accommodation, let's go over the different areas in Hakuba.

The Regions of Hakuba

Happo Town Map is sourced from Happo-One

The Hakuba Valley is actually really large. It isn't your typical ski resort town. Since the valley has 10 different resorts under its banner, you can imagine that they are fairly spread out. The town of Hakuba itself even has several different regions known for different things.

Wadano &  Happo Bus Terminal

If we had to describe this area in any way, it would be the heart of Hakuba. This is where you arrive when first coming to the town by bus, and contains the tourist information center. It also hosts a slew of hotels, restaurants, bars, rental shops, as well as being walking distance to the Happo-One ski lifts.  

Echoland & Misorano

This part of Hakuba is well known for its large number of guest houses/pensions (they generally have 10-20 rooms, and a small restaurant). As such, it is generally a little bit cheaper to stay here compared to a hotel in Wadano/Happo. There is also a large selection of restaurants for your après-ski. You are just a little bit further from the ski hill, and will have to drive or take one of the many shuttle buses.    

Outlying Regions

The sprawl of little villages throughout the Hakuba Valley is large. Even around the town of Hakuba itself, you will find clusters of homes, almost like suburbs. Lots of lodges are located outside of the town, and offer jobs to foreigners. If you are working at one of those lodges, you will be given access to a car, and if you are staying at the lodge as a guest, you will be offered shuttle service. If we were to stay in the Hakuba Valley for a second season, we would likely want to live closer to the Norikura Onsen and Cortina ski hills.  

Getting a Job in Hakuba

Before you even think about getting a job in another country (like Japan), you should be applying for a Working Holiday Visa. This will allow you to work/travel for an extended period of time. This is exactly what we did before moving to Hakuba, Japan. You can check out our post about it here.

Nancy found her job on the Hakuba Crew Facebook group. Her employer is also the same person that is renting our place to us. A lot of places looking to hire will post on here. Generally businesses want you to be in Hakuba starting in December for training reasons. You know, for the start of the ski season.

Hakuba.com has a really good blog post on finding jobs in the Hakuba Valley. They cover almost all of the major local employers, and link to their respective websites. We highly recommend using this resource if you are looking for a job in Hakuba. We can't emphasize enough that applications should be done before the start of the ski season.

The Best Skiing in Japan?

Skiing at Norikura Onsen
Skiing in the Trees at Norikura Onsen
Skiing in the sunshine at Norikura Onsen

Everyone wants to claim that title as "best ski resort in Japan". How do you decide which one is the best? Let's be honest, everyone will have a different opinion. Is the Hakuba Valley one of the best places to go for a ski trip or spend a season? Definitely. Would Niseko be just as good? Probably.

Check out our post on the best ski resorts for powder in Hakuba. As the ski season comes to an end, we'll be compiling a post on the best ski resort in Japan.  In the meantime, you can get an idea of what things are like from our Hakuba skiing video.


The Hakuba Snow Report

When it snows, you want to know where the powder is at, right? I'm not sure why it is so difficult to find accurate information in this day and age, but it is. We use a combination of three different sources to try and figure out where the powder is. This is our personal Hakuba Snow Report:

Hakubavalley.com is the official site for the Hakuba Valley ski resorts and as such, you expect them to have all the information you need. They do have a section on their site that shows the temperature, new snow, lift status, etc, but we found it to be somewhat unreliable. Sometimes the mountains don't update their reports until the lifts are about to open, or the lift status just never updates.

Snow-forecast.com is the go-to website and/or app for snowfall information. They show weather patterns, temperatures, information for different levels on the mountain, etc. This is by far my favorite resource. They have snowfall information for mountains all around the world. So it is a useful site no matter where you are going to be shredding.

Facebook seems like a less obvious place to check the weather in Hakuba. However, there is this Aussie who is pretty famous around town. He runs the bar called Mr. Miyagi's. Really nice guy. He also runs a Facebook page (Hakuba1) that gives a little weather update each morning. He will post his prediction on where the best pow can be found each day in the Hakuba Valley.  

Hungry? Restaurants in Hakuba

Hakuba is full of places to eat. It has to be. It is one of the best places to ski in Japan. Hordes of people flock to the Hakuba Valley each winter, and people need to eat. But where are the best places to eat in Hakuba? To be honest, this is harder to figure out that you would think. In Canada, we would typically check the google reviews of a restaurant before going in. However, that doesn't seem to work in Hakuba. Almost every restaurant here has a rating over 4-stars. Trust us when we say that they don't all deserve those 4-stars. We suspect that you might get the best recommendations from tripadviser.com, but again, take this with a grain of salt. Most people are here for the skiing and partying, not the high quality food.    

We should also note that many restaurants here are quite small and cannot accommodate many people as most of them are mom & pop shops. If you are looking to eat out for dinner, it is best that you make a reservation or you may be waiting for quite a while in the cold. The alternative option is that you eat at your accommodation - every hotel/pension/guest house should be able to provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner for its guests.  Or, if you are living in Hakuba for the season, maybe you should try cooking for yourself.

Grocery Stores Around Hakuba

As you are probably aware, eating out tends to be rather expensive. You wouldn't eat out for all your meals at home, so why would you eat out for all your meals in Hakuba? For those that are on the more thrifty side, or just enjoy cooking, there are several groceries stores in Hakuba. This was a little surprising to us. We didn't expect a small town to have three different grocery stores.

The Big Hakubaten

Also known as Bikku, ビック, in Japanese. It is the largest grocery store in Hakuba. It has the largest selection of goods, and potentially the lowest prices. However, we have noticed that the selection is not always consistent, particularly with vegetables. They also have some songs/ads that play on repeat, which can be annoying after a while. Despite our small complaints, this is our preferred grocery store. You can also find a 100 yen store in the same building complex, it is great for small stationary or household items.


Also known as Derisia, デリシア, in Japanese. It is the smallest of the grocery stores in Hakuba. We don't frequent this store very often as we think the prices might be slightly higher, but their sashimi and vegetable selection is better and of higher quality than The Big.


Also known as Hapia, はピア, in Japanese. We often visit this grocery store as it is walking distance from us. We like this store because we find that the vegetable selection is better than The Big, and they have pre-made okonomiyaki that you can purchase for about 400 yen. The alcohol selection is also pretty decent.

Something to note is that if you head to the grocery store later in the evening, say after 7pm, a lot of the prepared food will be marked down by 20%-50%. This is common for all grocery stores throughout Japan!

Nightlife, Festivals, and Getting Your Party on

For a pretty small place, there are tons of things going on. It kinda makes sense. Just think about your time in college/university. Lots of parties, right?

There are quite a few bars in town that are open pretty late if you are interested in the bar scene. Some of the popular ones are: Blizzard, Jack's Bar, Refuel, and Rabbit Hole to name a few.

We were rather surprised at the number of festivals and raves that occur in the Hakuba Valley. The biggest one of the 2019/2020 season was probably 'Snow Machine', which lasted four days! Almost all of the events will be posted in the Hakuba Crew Facebook Group.

Don't Speak Aussie? Japanese & English are ok too

We were shocked at the amount of English spoken in the Hakuba Valley. We have traveled around Japan quite a bit, and you often find places where people don't speak English. This was not the case in Hakuba. For starters, it seems like all of Australia comes here during the winter. There are even a large number of Australians coming from Hong Kong and Singapore.

The Post Office and City Hall

These two surprised us the most. The level of English at these two establishments was incredibly high. Almost all of the client-facing staff could speak English very well. We assume this is because so many Aussies make Hakuba their winter home, and lots of people spend the winter here on a working Holiday Visa.

Grocery Stores

Seeing as the Hakuba Post Office and City Hall had a high level of English, maybe the grocery stores would as well? 100% not the case. I'm not sure if any of the grocery store workers speak English. This is one place you will need to use arm gestures, and your limited Japanese.

Restaurants, Accommodation, and Ski Hills

These are super hit and miss. We made the assumption that everyone would speak English to cater to the tourists. It was a rather poor assumption on our part. At a minimum, all restaurants will have menus in English, and everything on the ski hill will also be in English below the Japanese. If you are booking accommodation on an English website, the staff will speak English.

Gas Stations

When getting gas, you only need one phrase "regular mantan o-kudasai" (fill the tank with regular gas please). The first time we visited a gas station, we had prepared this phrase in advance. However, when we got there, the attendant spoke to us in English.

Japanese Lessons

Many cities in Japan offer free or very affordable public Japanese lessons. This is a great resource for short and long term visitors! City of Hakuba offers one-hour-long weekly Japanese lessons at 100 yen. These lessons are operated by local volunteers.

Be aware that the classes can be delivered mostly in Japanese as some of the staff don't speak very much English. On our first day, we were full on barraged with questions in Japanese when signing up for the class. Seems a little counter-intuitive considering we are there to learn, right?  However, there are staff for all different levels - so some of them will speak some English.

Do You Need a Car in Hakuba?

Realistically, a car is not necessary. If you live in a central location, you can get most places by walking. Worried about getting to the ski hill? There are tons of shuttle buses that run all day long. Also, if you work for a local business, they will often let you borrow a car for personal use.

However, the convenience of having a car is really nice. It makes getting groceries a lot easier, and give you flexibility when heading to and from the mountain. As such, we would recommend having a car, but you can definitely get by without one.

Want to know more? Read our blog on Getting Around Hakuba.

Getting a Bank Account in Hakuba

We did a lot of reading about foreigners getting bank accounts in Japan. Every website made it sound super hard to do. They would go into detail about different bank regulations that stated you had to be in Japan for more than 6-months before you could get a bank account. Other sources stated that you could get a bank account sooner, but not transfer money from overseas until you reached 6-months. This had us pretty worried. However, our landlady mentioned that she normally takes all her employees to the Japan Post Bank as soon as they arrive so that she can pay them.

We decided to try opening accounts with the Japan Post Bank. It was probably the easiest bank account opening process I have ever experienced. As a result, we have assumed that they might be more lenient here as there are many temporary workers here for the season. We also tried transferring money in with TransferWise, which was also a success!  

Final Thoughts

Looking at the Mountains from Iwatake Harbour Cafe

Living in Hakuba for a ski season was awesome. Being so close to the mountains was a dream come true for us. In all honesty, moving to Japan was not that difficult. While it may be stressful looking for a job/accommodation, it shouldn't deter you. There are lots of helpful people in the Hakuba Crew Facebook group, and if you have any questions, we would be more than happy to answer any of them.

Would we live in Hakuba for another season? Probably not. While it was a great experience, Nancy and I are always looking for new things. Recently, we found another ski resort in Japan that has caught our attention. Will we be back in Japan for another ski season?  For sure.

Are you considering moving to Hakuba? Check out our post on our costs of living in Hakuba and our post on saving money in Japan!

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