Stars, nebulae, and meteor showers will leave you spellbound as the beauty and wonder of Hakuba’s night sky unfolds above you. With telescope in hand, you are an intrepid explorer watching the history of the universe unfold before your eyes. The splendor of Hakuba’s night stars await.
June 28th, 2021 | by Mike Humphrey
The vast darkness of the night sky gives you a sense of our true cosmic scale. We are but small creatures on a rocky planet orbiting about one of the 100 thousand million stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. With your naked eye, you can see across two and a half million light-years (that’s like looking 2.5 million years into the past). You can study the surface of the moon, look at neighboring planets, or even study the birthplace of new stars. Looking at the wonder of the universe above your head will astonish and amaze you. Spend an evening with family and friends exploring the cosmos and our place in it.
Stargazing in Hakuba
Nestled in the Japanese Alps, Hakuba is a world away from the big city. Away from the hustle and bustle, Hakuba nights are free of the light pollution found in city centers. Resorts in the Hakuba Valley open lifts at night during the summer and even offer opportunities to stay overnight on the mountain. Hakuba’s crystal clear mountain air and elevation make it a perfect destination for exploring the night sky.
Where to Go
If you have ever driven in Hakuba at night, you may have commented how dark it is. The lack of street lights in the village is ideal for amatuer astronomers looking to find the perfect spot to watch the sky. Many of the small roads between the rice fields can be fantastic spots to set up a telescope or binoculars and explore the heavens above. If you want to take the experience a step further, several of the resorts in Hakuba offer night sky watching events including Iwatake, Kita One Kogen (Closed for the 2021 Summer), and Goryu. During the summer season, the resorts open their lifts at night for excited astronomers looking for the best views of the stars in Hakuba. From July to September the resorts host night viewing events, often bringing in expert astronomy guides to help you navigate the night sky.
What to Bring
- Telescope or Binoculars
- Towel – Great for sitting, or putting under your telescope for catching anything that falls
- Red Flashlight – A red light is great for reading star charts and doesn’t impact your night vision
- White Headlamp – For cleaning up
- Starmaps or Starwheel – Helpful for navigating the starry sky
- Comfy Chair or Blanket
- Warm Clothing – It can get chilly at night, make sure you dress in layers
- Bug Spray
When to Go
Stargazing is a year-round activity but is most popular in Hakuba during the summer when the nights are warmer. On the weekends during July, August, and September, the resorts in Hakuba open their lifts at night for hopeful astronomers. During meteor shower events the resorts will often bring in experts to provide guidance and teach astronomy lessons.
Perseids Meteor Shower (July 17th, 2021 to August 26th, 2021)
The Perseids are the most popular meteor shower with 50-75 meteors seen per hour during the peak. Visible from the northern hemisphere the Perseids are active from mid-July to the end of August and are named because they appear near the Perseus constellation. Hakuba resorts often host guided Perseids viewing events on the weekend closest to the peak (August 12th & 13th 2021). Check our upcoming Hakuba Events list.
For more meteor shower times and information, take a look at the meteor shower calendar from the American Meteor Society
There is a long list of apps available to help you get the most out of your star watching, including cloud forecasts, and light pollution maps. We recommend checking out the Star Walk 2 Free app (android/iphone). This is an awesome app for navigating the cosmos. Simply point your phone at the sky and the app will overlay star names, constellations, and even the location of the ISS. This is an awesome supplementary tool for anyone who wants to get to know the stars.
Night Sky Photography
Astrophotography is a true art, low light conditions can make this a challenging but rewarding hobby. If you’re just looking to get started we recommend at a very minimum a tripod and a camera that allows you to control shutter speeds. Long exposures and a stable camera are the real keys to this hobby. Digital Camera World has a great guide on beginner night sky photography. If you have a telescope you can also look at getting an attachment for your cell phone that allows you to take great shots directly from a telescope.
Stargazing is a great nighttime activity and Hakuba has some fun-filled night watching events. Whether your an amateur astronomer, a weekend warrior or just looking for something to do at night, you should consider heading up Hakuba’s mountains to take in the stars. Hakuba’s dark nights and thin mountain air make spending an evening gazing up at the constellations above a wonder and joy.
Tell us about your experience star watching in Hakuba in the comments below.