Japan should definitely be on the top of your travel list, especially while you’re living in Singapore. Apart from being incredibly Instagram-worthy with cherry blossoms, beautiful temples and fabulous food, there really is something for everyone. Whether it’s hiking, skiing, golfing, or even a visit to Disneyland if you’re travelling with younger children, there’s just so many things to do! Wondering where to go in Japan? The Expat Living team relive some of their fondest travel memories.
Head to Niseko!
– Rebecca Bisset, British, Editor-in-Chief
I just had my first experience of Japan in the winter and loved it! We stayed in Hirafu in Chalet Ivy right at the base of a ski slope. I stayed in a large one-bedroom apartment with a living area. It’s lovely and warm inside and the bathroom has an automated toilet lid; what else do you need? Also, while you eat breakfast, you’ll be able to watch the skiers in action!
At night, there are lots of lovely bars and restaurants to explore. We tried Bang 2 for gyoza and ramen, and we went to the posh and clubby Powder Room and Bar Gyu. We also snow-walked and rode snow bikes with Explore Niseko, went to Yukichichibu Onsen and visited a shrine. The whole area is really on the up, and one new development to keep an eye on is The Ginto Residences by Pavilions, where you can own a freehold home. It’s brilliant if you’re big on skiing, but there are also plenty of things to do all year round. October is when all the autumn colours are out and I’m sure it’s just as beautiful as winter. I’m so impressed with the scenery, but also the food, service and people.
Head to Kyushu!
– Lindsay Yap, Singaporean, Entertainment & Leisure Editor
A family friend previously went on a road trip to Japan’s third largest island and had so many great experiences that we just had to try it for ourselves! We flew into Fukuoka, picked up a car and scooted off to Nagasaki, about two hours away. From there, we headed to Mount Unzen and enjoyed snow-capped views aboard the ropeway.
One of the coolest parts of the trip was taking the Ocean Arrow Ferry from Nagasaki to Kumamoto Prefecture – you can drive your car on! Our trip also brought us south to Kagoshima, through Miyazaki and north to Oita. We visited various parks and attractions, including Kumamoto Castle, Kirishima Shrine, Takachiho Gorge, the hot springs (or “Hells”) of Beppu and Aso Kuju National Park (home to a live volcano!) – and, of course, we had loads of great food! A highlight was staying at Aso-Uchinomaki Onsen Sozankyo, a quaint ryokan in Kumamoto. We had a Japanese-style room and slept on the floor on comfy futons. We also enjoyed the onsen (guests have access to private ones) and a traditional Japanese breakfast.
If you’re planning to drive, make sure you’ve got spare change for the tolls. And note that the rest stops have pretty decent soft serves, snacks and hot meals that’ll keep you happy along your drive.
Head to Tohoku!
– Shamus Sillar, Australian, Group Editor
You’ll know the host better from her riotous Ab Fab days, but if you get a chance to watch Joanna Lumley’s Japan, don’t miss it. In episode one of her brilliant travel doco, Joanna travels through the Tohoku region of northeast Honshu, and one scene resonated heavily with me. Exploring the ancient forests of Dewa Sanzan, she comes across one of Japan’s “National Treasures”, the majestic five-storey pagoda of Haguro. Her reaction on first glimpsing it was identical to mine: a sharp intake of breath, a mumbled “wow!”, and lots of craning of the neck to see to the top. This 700-year-old structure is made entirely of timber – no nails hold it together – and its remote location make it one of Japan’s more incredible sights. Adding to the enjoyment, I think, is the fact that the region isn’t easily accessible, so tourist numbers are low. (We all love thinking we’re the only ones to see a place, right?)
My day just got better after the pagoda visit: I climbed 2,446 ancient stone steps to the summit of Haguro, where I spent the night in a thatched-roof lodge attached to a temple, and had a dinner consisting of ingredients “foraged” from the mountainside that afternoon by the temple’s priests.
The easiest way to see this part of Japan is with a specialised travel group; one of these is Walk Japan, whose nine-day “Basho Tour” follows in the footsteps of the country’s greatest poet, Matsuo Basho, and includes a night on Haguro.
Head to Hakuba!
Emily Finch, British, Editor
To get to Hakuba, fly into Narita or Haneda and hop on the Nagano Snow Shuttle bus. It’s way easier than the bus-train-bus combo! We stayed at The Ridge in Wadano – a super spot, but quite high-end as far as budget goes. It’s right by the ski hire and ski school, and is walking distance to some fun bars and restaurants, yet still remains relatively quiet and secluded. Great for families, too. While there, you have to visit an onsen and see the snow monkeys! Oh, and book the kids into ski school. I’ve not ventured farther afield, but friends tell me that the other valleys surrounding Happo-one are worth trying out.
Skiing is the ultimate family holiday and the kids absolutely loved it. It was their second time. It’s important to have the right gear in Japan – lots of layers, good quality ski goggles, warm socks and mittens. Other tips: Bring snacks for the brood, some dry pasta and a few tubs of pesto in your suitcase; if they’re not into Japanese food, it’ll be rather limited and the supermarket is tiny and pricey!
My favourite memory is seeing the children coming down the ski slope at night! There’s something magical and exciting about skiing after dark, as long as the piste is well-lit, which this one was.
Susan Knudsen-Pickles, Danish, Brand Partnership & Events Manager
My family travelled to Hakuba, which is an hour away from Nagano. I’ve been boycotting a skiing trip for the last 10 years because I’m not a good skier (if fact, I can’t ski at all!), it’s too cold (I’m more of a tropical holiday kind of girl) and it’s expensive. My husband, on the other hand, is a fantastic skier and loves the snow, so with our kids being a little bigger now (five and eight years old), I thought it was time.
Since we had a lot of luggage and ski gear, we opted for a van to pick us up at Narita. It took about three-and-a-half hours to get to Hakuba, with one hot ramen stop along the way. We stayed in The White Horse Hotel, a cosy hotel with super-friendly staff. The hotel has everything you need, including an onsen. It’s just four minutes from the slopes and the staff can drive there and pick you up whenever you like. Besides skiing, check out the restaurants along Echoland.
My kids have never tried skiing before so we enrolled them at Evergreen International Ski School. They had so much fun! Hakuba is a fantastic place for beginner skiers and the snow was incredible – I’ve never seen so much snow. One of the best times I had was having lunch dates with my husband James at the little ramen house below the beginner slope. I also had a great time building snowmen and skiing with my girls.
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