Logical gymnastics it may be. How do you navigate Japan juggling snow gear… with multiple young kids without losing anyone?
We’ve all done the exercise, booked Narita airport, Haneda airport or Osaka airport, with the view to travelling out to some of Japan’s greatest skiable terrain, with young children. The information to help families navigate Japan is slow coming in, unlike more established international resorts. Japan has always been polar opposites, advanced technologies while retaining antiquated international banking systems and other juxtapositions. We’re just back from our trip, so while it’s fresh in our minds I thought I’d share some information.
Airport to city via public transport
We flew into Haneda this time, as were not sure what to expect, as Narita is easy and all fine with regular trains entering the city and other travellers well used to frazzled travellers lugging bags and kids (prior trip 2 years ago). Haneda was even better, to the point where, if we have any say in it we will intentionally fly into Haneda next trip. The airport is even closer to the city centre and facilitated us dropping bags off at airport baggage hold on the way home and allowed us 6 hours of Tokyo sightseeing.
Haneda airport is connected to the centre of Tokyo by a monorail, alternatively we took the Asakusa line to kill a few hours around the beautiful Sen so-ji (temple) and the cool little narrow shop-lined streets leading up to it.
Our plane arrived at 5.30am in Haneda and we were skiing in Niigata by 10.20am including a shower and a dip in the onsen (hot springs).
To get a bullet train from Haneda airport out to ski fields in any of the Japanese Alps it’s daunting but relatively ok. Our children are 2, 7 and 9 and were able to get the oldest to pull one of the ski bags on wheels. It was heavy but wheels helped and we stayed together and watched him like a hawk.
We caught the airport monorail and for off at Hamamatsucho , it takes about 10 minutes if it’s an express, otherwise it stops at every station so it may be worth waiting for the next train if it’s not an express (ask: Express desk ka?) then changed trains to the JR line (green) to Tokyo station, which is just 2 or 3 stops from Hamamatsucho (the next station after yurakucho station). You can buy shinkansen (fast train) tickets to Nagano city at Tokyo station. Look for big green signage. There are escalators to take all the luggage, we had 3 bags and one designated ski bag holding all our skis. We all wore backpacks. We were loaded up like camels. We bought tickets for the Asama Nagano shinkansen. There are a few different trains going different speeds. We were on this shinkansen by 8.10am and it cost 28000yen for 2 adults and 2 kids (2 year old free).
At Nagano city we got off and went down one flight of stairs. No escalator. We changed to a local train that stopped at several stations that have ski resorts but got off at Myoko Kogen. It took 30 minutes from Nagano city and cost 2500 yen for tickets.
Before Myoko station the ski resort of Kurohime is popular, it’s just 10-15 minutes from the train station. Togakusfhi Resort is also popular and it’s closer to Nagano city.
Train-wise, rules are to keep kids feet off the seats, keep well away from the edge as the train comes in and watch the gap between train and platform as train comes in. Double check train times as trains are prompt to make sure the one pulling in isn’t heading for Yokohama (not in Tokyo). Feel free to ask other commuters as generally people are friendly and happy to access train schedule apps on their phones and check for you. Some even like to practice their English.
Tokyo station has an extensive luggage storage facility located on the lower floors of the train station. Lockers are 600 yen per locker each. But we preferred to store luggage at Haneda airport as it has luggage storage but prices are based on baggage size rather than what would fit in a locker.
It’s the quick and the dead on the Shinkansen, where the same rules apply as in Germany. The rules are get on the train at the time stated on your tickets, if you get on the train 10 minutes before or after the stated time it may not be your train. There are plenty of trains so if you get on the full train you can wait for the next train but you need a ticket to get on and you can buy this at the green (look for the colour) window at the train station.
Watch your kids on the gap between train and platform and make sure they’re sitting on their bums when the train takes off. keep their feet off the seats, it’s a big no-no in a country where respect is paramount.
The shinkansen is definitely a good experience for the kids. There is a food cart that comes around where you can buy snacks, sandwiches and drinks, it tilts slightly to the left or right as it rounds each corner, which is very cool and it travels up to speeds of 320km per hour, depending on which particular train you get on.
You can use the following vocabulary:
Sumimasen , myoko kogen ni iku tsumori desu. Kazoku wa 5 nin desu
(excuse me) (we’d like to go to Myoko Kogen) (There are 5 people in our family).
Nin = people
Substitute the number of people, my number explanation is below.
ichi, ni, san, yon, go, roku, nana, hachi, ku, juu
(one) (two) (three) (four) (five) (six) (seven) (eight) (nine) (ten)
Kuro neko luggage service
If you’re still freaking out about carting multiple bags around clutching onto small children there is the courier luggage service. It’s a well-established super-reliable stable of Japan, comparable to the USA’s Fed Ex system. You can find Kuro Neko (it means Black Cat, look for the picture) in airports. It’s not overly expensive but the catch is the luggage arrives sometimes the following day, which for people like my husband was not soon enough. However, if you prefer day one of your trip to be a ‘settle in day’, this won’t present as a problem.