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Many years ago on my first visit to Paris, a friend who was taking me to see the Eiffel Tower told me it was crucial to approach it from a certain direction - only then, he said, would I remember that first view of it for the rest of my life. I don’t know whether or not that’s true, but whatever approach he used worked: the view absolutely knocked me out and I’ve never forgotten it. What does that have to do with Hakuba in the Japan Alps? Well, there are any number of good ways to get to Hakuba; some are quite easy, and even the not-so-easy ones are still great routes. So why on earth would I recommend the most crowded, straight-uphill-through-tunnels main highway? Simple: because only that way will the first spectacular close-up view of the Japan Alps stay in your memory forever. This route starts at the Japan Sea, from either Toyama (the long haul) or Itoigawa (the short grind). Leaving Hakuba, you can cycle through pretty lake country to Matsumoto and see the famous black castle... or go the same distance and wind up at Nagano, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics and Zenkokji Temple.
 
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