Oh dear, Marcin is watching his snowboarding video again. He recorded his ride in Hakuba this season and uploaded it on YouTube. Even if I had a hobby, which I don’t, I wouldn’t be watching myself again and again, like he does. I guess there is something about snowboarding or Hakuba. I wonder if Jon Olsson watches his own videos all the time as well. He looks pretty happy there in Hakuba.

We live in Tokyo – aka the concrete jungle. Yet, only four hours away is one of the world’s top snow resorts, Hakuba, located in Japan’s Northern Alps, Nagano Prefecture. Remember Nagano Winter Olympic Games? It was held in the Hakuba area in 1998.

Hakuba is Marcin’s snowboarding base. He goes there at least twice each season. This season he’s been there twice and we are going back there on 25-27 March. It is an expensive hobby, though, if you add up the cost of transportation, accommodation, lift tickets and meals during our stay. On top of that, I don’t snowboard at all, but he wants me to come along, which adds even more cost.

But I manage relatively with ease.

It’s not because we have money coming out of our ears or have rich parents. It is because I’m a queen of loyalty programs. I patiently and earnestly collect points everyday and look for bargains like a dear hunter in winter – quietly and with precision.

This is my thinking – it was my decision to marry someone who has an expensive passion. So it is my responsibility that I find the most reasonable way to let him enjoy his life. One day, we might have to move to another country or get too old to do this kind of sport. I don’t want him to regret then that he didn’t get to do what he loved in Japan because we didn’t have enough money (or “Kimie is too stingy” as he always puts it).

Now, loyalty programs. I have many programs, but my most thriving one is Rakuten Super Point. If you are moving to Japan, I can’t recommend enough that you’d sign up for it. Start using it on the way you arrive and you’ll be smiling at the end of each month.

Rakuten is a mammoth Japanese electronic commerce and Internet company, which provides a wide range of services. It runs an online shopping market, online banking, fashion, book distribution, travel and transportation booking, credit cards, and you name it. I have signed up for one third of services they offer. I can use my mounting Rakuten Points to book hotels, busses, rentacars, flights, beauty/hair/nail salons, massage parlors and many other services.

So here is the breakdown of one of his trips to Hakuba in 2018:

ItemsCostPayment
1Return highway bus between Tokyo and Hakuba (4.5 hours)8,600 yenRakuten Points
2Two nights with dinner and breakfast at Hakuba Märchen House19,440 yenRakuten Points
3Happo-One two day lift tickets (with a discount coupon)8,900 yenCredit Card
4Lunch x 2 in Hakuba2000 yenCredit Card
5Light meals and snacks purchased at a convenience store750 yenCredit Card
6Snowboard set delivery between home & Hakuba3,154 yenKuroneko Yamato Membership Card

The total cost of this trip was 42,844 yen. But I used my hard earned Rakuten Points to book accommodation (19,440 yen) and transportation (8,600 yen) to cut cost. In reality, the three day snowboarding trip to Hakuba Happo-One cost 14,804 yen. That’s not too bad, considering how amazing Hakuba is.

But snowboarding in Hakuba is probably cheap enough for foreign tourists, particularly from North America. Recently I was checking out Whistler in Canada for Marcin. It’s his dream to go there, and as a good wife, I was all for making it come true, by using all types of my loyalty program points. Apart from Rakuten Super Point, I am a proud Platinum member of  of All Nippon Airways (ANA) and a Gold Elite member of Marriott Bonvoy. Surely, I can make Whisler happen with them.

*Speaking to myself in my mind while planning a Whistler trip*

Okay, 55,000 ANA miles per person from Tokyo to Vancouver. That’s manageable. With 55,000 miles, I could make a Tokyo – Mexico City – Vancouver – Tokyo flight. Hmmm, tacos. That’s not too bad. How about accommodation? ***Opens Marriott website*** What? 45,000 Bonvoy (formerly called SPG) points per night? Wow, 45,000, and no meals… Well, I guess it’s one of Canada’s top ski resorts… It’s Whistler, not Fujimi Snow Park. How about list tickets. I wonder if it’s like 7,000 yen. ***Opens Whistler Blackback website*** WHAT?

  • One day lift ticket = 155 CAD
  • Three day lift ticket = 459 CAD

We mainly go to southeast Asia for holidays, so everything feels much more expensive in non-Asian countries. But wow, Whistler. You are so expensive. With 459 CAD (38,031 yen), I could get an eight day lift ticket in Hakuba. After finding out how expensive Whistler was, I repeatedly whispered into his ears how lucky we were to live so close to Hakuba like a buddhist monk chants at temples. Eventually, though, I told him that I could go ahead and plan the Whistler trip, but I also asked him which option he’d prefer:

  1. One time short trip to Whistler while listening to me constantly complaining how expensive everything is, and how we could have stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, Kuala Lumpur for 35,000 Bonvoy points per night or
  2. Several three day trips to Hakuba or any other ski resorts in Japan per season by himself or with me who will be quietly enjoying onsen, the beautiful scenery and hotel meals.

Option 2 won hands down.

As I said, we are going back to Hakuba on the 25th of March for two nights. Back in December 2019, Rakuten Travel had a massive sale and I found a deal offered by Courtyard by Marriott Hakuba – 4,702 yen per person per night. I immediately booked a room for two nights for two for 18,808 yen, with Rakuten points, of course.

From March 25, Marcin will be snowboarding all day for two days by himself, while I will be enjoying the new SPG hotel alone. But I’m never alone, alone when I come along to his snowboarding trip. While I’m staying at the hotel, he sends me pictures of the mountain through Line every few hours.

I wish he had a less costly hobby, but he doesn’t. I don’t even like snow that much. But I keep booking snowboarding trips for him and for us because I love the look on his face when he comes back to the hotel at the end of the day. He’s beaming, with joy.

“Wow it was amazing! Oh Bupuko (one of the nicknames he calls me by – I don’t know what it means), I can’t do it anymore today! Let’s eat something and go to onsen. Have you seen the pictures I sent you? Great, huh? We should put them on Facebook tonight”

I’m so proud that I can make him happy. He is the only family I have. Of course I can’t do it by myself – thank you, Rakuten. What would I do without you?

P.S. If you are going to Tsugaike, Lodge Schiheil is our favorite. It’s located right on Tsugaike’s main ski slope and yet, with 8,100 yen per night, you get a massive tatami room and amazing dinner (sukiyaki or shabu shabu with softest pork) and breakfast (homemade bread). Jon Olsson stayed at a lodge near Schiheil. Less skiers and snowboarders in Tsugaike than Happo-One, too.

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