A few hours’ drive northwest of Tokyo lie some of Japan’s most popular ski resorts for foreign travelers. Located in Nagano, Gunma, and Fukushima prefectures, ski resorts across Hakuba, Nozawa Onsen, Myoko Kogen, Shiga Kogen, Naeba, Arai, Madarao and Appi Kogen all boast incredible powder, runs, and appeal for ski enthusiasts. However, actually getting to these resorts can present a challenge to visitors flying into Tokyo.
When flying into either of Tokyo’s main airports, Narita International Airport (NRT) or Haneda International Airport (HND), you could always take the traditional route to the ski resorts. That is:
- Fly into the Airport
- Make your way to Tokyo Station by taxi or train
- Take the Shinkansen high speed rail to the station closest to the ski resort
- Depart the train
- Take a coach bus or shuttle to the ski town
- Finally, either by taxi or on foot, you’d walk the remainder of the way to your ski lodge, hotel, or ryokan.
While the above mentioned method is OK for regular travelers familiar with the transportation systems in Japan, it’s not ideal for first time visitors, visitors with excess luggage or ski equipment, groups or family travelers, or travelers who simply want to start their holiday well-rested, with as little inconvenience as possible.
This article outlines some of the practical difficulties of taking the Shinkansen high speed rail. Nobody wants to spend the first part of their holiday frustrated, delayed, or confused, especially after a long flight; this guide can help you in choosing the most convenient option for your trip.
What is the alternative to the Shinkansen high speed rail?
Visitors that wish to get to their ski resort with the least hassle or pre-planning can consider pre-booking a private transfer with a professional driver. The chauffeured cars offer varying vehicle sizes, depending on the size of the group. Vehicles available include economy and luxury sedans, minivans, or vans. Service is available 24/7, so it can accommodate for arrivals at any time. The service is also door-to-door, meaning you won’t need to worry about any further planning once the car has been booked. Simply arrive at the airport, where your driver will greet you and your group at the airport arrivals hall with a personalized name-sign, escort you to your vehicle, and then chauffeur you directly to the doorstep of your ski resort. All the while, you can sit back and enjoy the ride.
When and why is the Shinkansen high speed rail not always ideal?
First, let’s address the steps required:
- Research & Planning. Before departing you should find out which Shinkansen route goes to the station closest to your ski resort. There are a number of train operators which operate different routes across Japan. You’ll need to find the route between Tokyo Station and your destination station so you know which ticket (or pass) to purchase, then match its departure timetable to your flight schedule.
- Travel from the Airport to the train station. The Shinkansen high speed rail trains depart from Tokyo Station, located in the center of Tokyo. So, you must make your way from the airport to Tokyo Station. Airport transportation into the city is available by taxi or metro. Getting from the airport to Tokyo Station takes up to 90 min. by taxi and will cost over US$200.
- Purchasing your train ticket. Upon arrival at Tokyo Station, you’ll make your way to the correct ticket office for the high-speed rail that will take you to your destination station. Either purchase your tickets for the next available train, or use your pre-purchased rail pass to book the next available train. You must purchase your ticket beforehand, or you won’t be allowed on the train (even with a pre-purchase pass). The average ticket costs anywhere between US$50 – US$200 per ticket, depending on your destination.
- Staying overnight in Tokyo. Note that most trains operate between 6am and 9pm. If you’re on a late night / early morning flight to Tokyo, or you can’t purchase a ticket for the same day, you’ll need to find accommodation and plan to take the next day’s train. Accommodation in Tokyo costs, on average, at least US$200 per night.
- Taking the train. Once on the train, the Shinkansen is a smooth, delightful ride, and a great way to see the countryside at high speeds!
- Arriving at your destination station. 1.5 to 3 hours later you’ll arrive at your destination station. Disembark from the train, make your way to the arrivals hall, and purchase a ticket for the next shuttle or coach bus. These usually leave every half hour.
- You’ve arrived! Depending on your resort, the shuttle may take anywhere from 30 min. to 1.5 hrs to arrive at your resort area. It’s possible that the shuttle drops you off directly in front of your hotel. However, it’s more likely that you’ll be dropped off at one of a few designated stops in the area. From there, you’ll have to make your way to your hotel on your own.
Why is this a problem?
While all of the above-outlined steps are perfectly achievable , and the Japan transportation operators are both efficient and helpful, there are some obvious downsides:
- Accumulated costs & time. Researching the trains, taxis from the airport, ticket purchases, train ride, final leg travel to your ski resort area, and so on all add up both in terms of time and cost. For a small group, you can expect at least 3-4x the time and around the same cost as, if not less than, a private door-to-door transfer.
- Inconvenience. To take the train, you are looking at about 5-6 additional steps to arrive at your hotel compared to a private transfer. With luggage or with kids, repeatedly changing modes of transport, and figuring out the next step, is the last thing you want to deal with when starting your holiday.
- Chance for unexpected delays. A delayed flight, a misinterpreted train schedule, traffic en route to Tokyo Station can all result in an unexpected overnight stay in Tokyo or at the very least additional time needed to get to your ski resort.
If thinking about public transport or taxi, you may want to consider an upgrade to private car. Affordable and vastly more convenient, a professional car service lets you enjoy the start of your trip comfortably with peace of mind.Enjoy Asia Car Service’s private car with $10 off promo: 10carblog
The Shinkansen is a good choice for regular Japan visitors that can navigate the system with ease and those who are already planning a stay in Tokyo in addition to skiing.
On the other hand, for those who wish to arrive to their ski resorts with the ultimate ease and comfort, the train and other public transportation options might not be the best choice. For a hassle-free journey from Haneda or Narita Airport to your ski resort a private door-to-door car service is by far the best option.
Asia Car Service provides efficient, 24/7 transportation solutions across Japan and East Asia. Our aim is to make your travel as convenient and comfortable as possible. We welcome you to contact us if you are interested in a direct door-to-door service for your next Japan ski holiday, and are happy to extend you a voucher for $20 off your 1st ski transfer with us. Simply provide this promo code: SKIJAPAN20 when inquiring or booking.