Japan Ski Trip Jan 2015: The Food

Photo dump of food that didn’t make it into any other travel posts!

Japan Ski Trip Jan 2015: Hakuba, Nagano, Japan

Geek fail! I never noticed that WordPress doesn’t keep draft revisions after an entry is published (my blank placeholder in this case; which makes total sense now that I think about it), so I didn’t think to keep a backup and lost a whole typed up entry pending photo upload. Let’s try this again. In dot points this time, the entry for the third ski trip of my life at Hakuba (白馬), Nagano Prefecture (長野県), Japan!

10 Jan 2015 (Sat) Day 1: Arrival

  • This ski trip was a little different because Richard was travelling with me! We headed off for our trip straight after work. Having a pleasant travel companion during the long-haul flight made a huge difference.
  • It took us a long time to get to our destination from Tokyo. Bus (airport T2 to T1 to pick up Singapore team), train (to meet up with Hong Kong team), train, bus, bus… All that after the 10-hour flight.
  • It was already after 2:30 pm by the time we got to the hotel, and all shuttle bus out had already left for the day. No skiing today.
  • The hotel was ridiculously more modern and gorgeous compared to the two ryokans I stayed at in my previous trips. Richard you lucky fool.
  • I didn’t expect to see so many Australians here, either! It was 99% local Japanese for my last trips!

11 Jan 2015 (Sun) Day 2: Hakuba Goryu & Hakuba 47

  • Richard, the brother and I rented our gear from the shop in the hotel, while the others who didn’t already have their own went out to rent from other shops.
  • We took the shuttle bus out to ski field Hakuba Goryu (白馬五竜) and joined the others. We also skied at Hakuba47.
  • I actually remember how to ski?! surprised
  • This was also technically Richard’s first time skiing. He picked it up straight away. I lamented my lack of athletic abilities.
  • We took lifts up and skied down the long green trail, where one wrong turn could mean we end up on a double black diamond slope. It was hard to see too with the heavy snow. Shout out to Chee for scouting the route for us and leading the group all safely down.
  • There were also more hiking across fields than I’d like, but I still really enjoyed the day.
  • That was until it’s time to head back, and the queue for the bus was long and growing. People weren’t even really queueing at all and hopped on in random order. We had to stand on the small van, the last shuttle bus of the day.
  • At least I have Richard who earned a lot of boyfriend points by offering to carry my heavy skis for the entirety of this trip. heart
  • I actually remember how to ski!

12 Jan 2015 (Mon) Day 3: Hakuba Goryu

  • More Goryu today, this time for the whole day and with everyone.
  • It’s the last day of the long weekend in Japan, so the crowds for both the slopes and buses did seem to ease up a bit from the afternoon on. No standing on small vans again. Phew.
  • It also meant Chee was heading back home today. It was good to see you again — even though you told everyone else you were happy to see them and/or congratulated them on their progress, but only thanked me for bringing Richard. tongue

13 Jan 2015 (Tue) Day 4: Happo-One

  • Two went out to take professional ski classes before they joined us at Happo-One (八方尾根).
  • We skied down a very lovely green trail. Not many had been there yet so the slope was extra pleasant.
  • I then ditched Richard and spent time skiing with my brother down that trail two more times, until lunch where we regrouped with everyone.
  • Got my most favourite shot of the trip: my brother parallel skiing! Yep, I’m still just relearning, and he’s already moved on to parallel.
  • Did Richard seriously successfully attempt a red slope on his first trip as well? I should just quit skiing forever.
  • As the evening drew close, the group contemplated night skiing, but decided against it in the end. I wasn’t very keen myself because it would mostly be skiing down the same slope that we just went down, but at night.
  • The crowd at the bus stop at the end of the day worried me at first, but thankfully most got on different buses.
  • Another fun day I particularly enjoyed!

14 Jan 2015 (Tue) Day 5: Tsugaike Kogen

  • We taxied out to Tsugaike Kogen (栂池高原), which was further away from our hotel than the rest of the fields.
  • It’s quite sunny and warm today, so some of the more popular slopes were really icy and scratchy. Otherwise, these would make the perfect slopes for practice.
  • I discovered first hand that it’s impossible to ski on true powder unless there’s enough speed. That fluffiness, though!

15 Jan 2015 (Wed) Day 6: Tsugaike Kogen

  • There were still many slopes to cover so we returned to Tsugaike. We tried the connecting bus out. It took so much longer.
  • Richard and I split up with the group and let the more experienced try the harder slopes. We took it easy and enjoyed ourselves on the nice green ones.
  • Very heavy snow for our last day of skiing today!
  • Following our positive experience on the first few days, we decided to try the green forest trail here. It was a huge mistake, because the slope was very annoyingly flat. Back to gentle but not annoyingly flat greens!
  • It snowed, and snowed, and snowed. And snowed. I was quite cold at the end.
  • Richard and I missed the bus while we took refuge in a cafe to have yakiniku out in town together as a farewell dinner. Yum!
  • Absolutely no boyfriend suggested, before the trip, for me to bring my hiking shoes so it’s easier to walk on ice and snow. I absolutely didn’t have to walk very slowly back to the hotel, requiring both said boyfriend and the brother to escort me. It never happened. rolleyes

16 Jan 2015 (Thu) Day 7: Last Day

  • The ski fields weren’t accessible by just walking out and there were also the reversed bus-bus-train-train trips back, so we didn’t have enough time for more skiing. We packed up and checked out of the hotel, and made our way to the airport with the Hong Kong team.
  • Sadly, the Hong Kong team were flying out from another terminal, unlike previous times where their boarding gate was directly across mine. We said goodbye on the train. sad
  • But happy to report that I have no bum bruises this time. Yay!

Epilogue

Sydney was hot. It took me a while to adjust back to real life, and for the next few days, I still woke up and expected to eat a big breakfast and head out to the snow for a full day of skiing.

Ski Trip Jan 2015 D2:
Group shot minus one

It was another absolutely wonderful trip. Thank you all once again! See you all in the next trip soon!

Asian Cafe Bowl Bowl, Narita International Airport Terminal 2, Japan

Richard has had various Japanese foods during the trip including tonkatsu, curry (cheated by having the two-in-one tonkatsu curry rice), ramen, karaage and yakiniku. The next on the list is sushi, and we wouldn’t accept any alternative, even if it means having airport sushi!

There weren’t a lot of restaurants available after customs at Terminal 2 of the Narita International Airport, but thankfully Asian Cafe Bowl Bowl on 3F had a sushi meal on display. For 1,450 yen (~A$15.60), you get a meal with miso clam soup. There was also a 1,600 yen option with a small udon noodles.

Asian Cafe Bowl Bowl: Table and Buzzers
Asian Cafe Bowl Bowl: Table and Buzzers

We received a buzzer that we’re meant to use on our table sensor. We both got the sushi meal with clam soup, and the food was delivered to us shortly. There was a little confusion about the extra drink that Richard ordered, and I was surprised that the airport restaurant staff didn’t quite understand English, but all was good in the end.

Asian Cafe Bowl Bowl: Sushi Meal w Clam Miso Soup
Asian Cafe Bowl Bowl: Sushi Meal w Clam Miso Soup

The meal actually looked very similar to the plastic model display and far surpassed my expectations of airport food. I enjoyed it them — I ordered two of these for myself because obviously one can’t possibly be enough now. tongue

Hotel Oak Forest, Hakuba, Nagano, Japan: Meals

In true foodie spirit, I took a picture of almost every course I ate at the hotel we stayed at for the ski trip, and split the food section into this entry of its own! As mentioned in the post for Hotel Oak Forest (ホテル オークフォレスト) itself, the meals included in our ski package were daily Western breakfast, and Western plus Japanese style dinner.

Hotel Oak Forest: Breakfast

There’s one individual hot breakfast dish every morning on top of a buffet section with common Western foods such as salad, cereal, bread, coffee, milk and juice.

The Western breakfast buffet:

Turned out I didn’t even need to fruit up, because there’s one available at the buffet every morning. It was oranges on most days, and pineapples (beautifully presented in pineapple peel boats) and grapefruits on others. I was very happy with their breakfast options, but I may be biased because I’m a caffeine addict and this time I didn’t have to supply my own coffee every morning.

The Western breakfast hot dishes:

The hot dish was a combination of sausages/ham/bacon and scrambled eggs/omelette.

Hotel Oak Forest: Dinner

We had dinner at the place on all but the last night (where we went out to town to have yakiniku). I thought the dinner servings were small at first, but got used to it eventually and riced up as appropriate.

Hotel Oak Forest: Dinner Table with Room Numbers Unlike breakfast where the individual dishes were served as soon as you’re seated, the next course of the five-course dinners wasn’t served until everyone at the same table has finished their previous. White rice, green tea and water were available as self-service. Other rooms who opted for the Japanese dinners have their kaiseki meal arranged on their table before their arrival.

For our five-course dinners, there’s always the sashimi salad as the first course, a soup, a seafood entree, a main meat dish with a broccoli floret, mashed potatoes and three pieces of carrot, and last a dessert. On several nights Richard ordered a beer with his dinner, which was added to the room bill as extra charges that we paid at checkout.

Night 1 Dinner

First taste of the food at Hotel Oak Forest. We had a salad with three very thin slices of salmon sashimi, a mushroom broth, a small piece of mackerel with a small piece of daikon radish, pork with a white mushroom sauce, and a dessert that tasted like light cheese with whipped cream on top.

I didn’t mind the mackerel too much even though both Richard and I thought there were far better ways to prepare fish than cooking it through the way they did. The pudding was quite tasty once you knew what to expect from the second mouthful on.

Night 2 Dinner

Second night, we had an octopus sashimi salad, pasta soup, fried crab claws, chicken, and some sort of processed/preserved apple slices.

The fried crab claws turned out to be the best seafood entree of all nights.

Night 3 Dinner

Third night, it’s a very fishy sashimi salad, an almost creamy soup, white fish fillet in tomato sauce, an unnaturally tender beef (I think) steak, and a small slice of apple cake.

Richard said the super fishy sashimi salad reminded him of fishing baits and didn’t touch that course. I wasn’t a huge fan either, but adopted his plate anyway because food was scarce.

Night 4 Dinner

Fourth night, it was back to the salmon salad for the first course again, which had us worried that there were only three dinner sets on rotation and we’d exhausted their options. Following the salad this night, though, was an again almost creamy corn soup, mackerel in miso sauce, chicken, and a jelly.

Night 5 Dinner

Fifth and last dinner at the hotel for us, it was calamari sashimi salad, pasta soup, white fish fillet, beef, and back to the processed/preserved apple slices.

I still haven’t figured out what they did to the beef and apples.

Hotel Oak Forest: Food Summary

Breakfast was awesome; dinner less so but decent. The strangest thing overall with the meals offered was the meat. You could never quite tell on first bite that “Oh yeah, that’s beef/pork/chicken.” It’s almost always like a mystery meat of sorts. Food presentation was excellent, but sadly one can’t ski on visual excellence; I could really use bigger portions for dinner. I guess at least you could have as much rice as you wanted.

Hotel Address: Japan 〒399-9301 Nagano-ken, Kitaazumi-gun, Hakuba-mura, Hokujō, 3549

Hotel Oak Forest, Hakuba, Nagano, Japan

For my third ski trip in Hakuba (白馬), Nagano Prefecture (長野県), the 9 of us (later 8 as one left earlier) stayed at Hotel Oak Forest (ホテル オークフォレスト).

Hotel Oak Forest: Lobby
Hotel Oak Forest: Lobby

Hotel Oak Forest: Access

Hotel Oak Forest isn’t located conveniently near any slopes, which seems to be a common feature of all hotels and ryokans within the Hakuba ski resort. Getting to and from the ski fields involve a daily morning bus trip out and an afternoon bus back. Connecting trips are required for certain areas such as Tsugaike Kogen (栂池高原). We actually arrived after the last shuttle bus had left and didn’t get any skiing done on the first day.

Hotel Oak Forest: Shuttle Bus Timetable
Hotel Oak Forest: Shuttle Bus Timetable

Oak Forest seems to be the first (and therefore last on the return trip) stop of many buses, which meant the longest trip, but also almost a guaranteed seat each morning; it has its perks, I guess. The hotel had also arranged to pick up and drop us off at our desired bus stop on arrival and departure, and also offered to send us out to town for free when we asked for them to get us a taxi, which was nice of them.

Hotel Oak Forest: Features

Free wifi! A lift! Daily housekeeping! In-room TV, fridge, safe! These were all features I never had from ryokans on my previous trips in Nozawa Onsen (Yamasanso) and Ishiuchi Maruyama (Garden Villa Ishiuchi). Hotel Oak Forest has been the nicest and most modern accommodation I’d stayed at for ski trips so far; well, I suppose the whole Hakuba ski area is very Westernised. We joked that our accommodation gets better and better with each trip.

The facilities that Richard and I didn’t use were the laundry and public onsen, the latter which I really regret. The onsens were open both in the morning and at night, and apparently had both indoor and outdoor sections. I should have at least got in and had a peek! … I just realised how inappropriate that came out.

Hotel Oak Forest: The Rooms

All rooms were en-suite, which is absolutely awesome! We first stayed in a traditional Japanese room with tatami flooring and futons on the third floor for the first day, then moved to a Western room with two single beds on the second floor from the second day on.

The Japanese rooms were very spacious for just the two of us, but I’m pretty sure the room was meant for more because the 4-5 singletons all shared one room on the same floor. My only complaint of the room was that super bright piercing green light on the alarm on the ceiling.

Hotel Oak Forest: Japanese Style Room
Hotel Oak Forest: Japanese style room on the third floor

In comparison, the Western counterparts and their en-suite bathrooms were a lot smaller and felt cramped to me when we first moved there from the Japanese rooms. Richard appreciated the beds more than the futons, though.

Hotel Oak Forest: Western Style Room
Hotel Oak Forest: Twin beds (messy = mine) in a Western style room on the second floor

The rooms weren’t very soundproof, and twice on the one night I woke up from inconsiderate loud English speakers walking by. Otherwise, I wasn’t sure if we were just lucky, this time we didn’t have any issue with cigarette smoke sneaking into our room like my previous trips, and I didn’t for one second take that for granted.

Hotel Oak Forest: The Food

The meals included in our package were daily Western breakfast, and Western plus Japanese style dinner. The three rooms of us shared the same table for every meal except our first breakfast, likely before they figured out we were all friends. I took so many pictures, I have decided to move this section to an entry of its own!

Hotel Oak Forest: Lockers and Rental Shop

Ski gear lockers for every room were available in the dry room, and things dried properly overnight, at least for us. The brother told me theirs didn’t quite because there was simply too much gear for their locker.

Hotel Oak Forest: Rental Shop
Hotel Oak Forest: Awkward couple mirror selfie disguised as a photo of the ground floor changing room / laundromat / rental shop

Gear rental wasn’t included in the package, but we decided to rent our stuff from the shop downstairs anyway. I thought what I ended up renting (skis, boots, poles and ski pants only) was very acceptable, but they didn’t have the half size shoes we needed. They also had to summon the rental guy each time, which was fairly inconvenient; one time he took over 15 minutes to appear and we already had to leave to catch the bus.

Overall

Overall, the time spent at the hotel was very comfortable and I especially loved the free wifi available on every floor, as well as the breakfast buffet. I know the area is very Westernised and it wouldn’t be fair to compare a proper hotel to the more traditional ryokans I stayed at in other regions, but I would quite happily stay at Hotel Oak Forest again.

Full gallery sans food:

Hotel Oak Forest address: Japan 〒399-9301 Nagano-ken, Kitaazumi-gun, Hakuba-mura, Hokujō, 3549