What do you get when you spell Tokyo backwards?

November 12th, 2018 by
Category: Information

What do you get when you spell Tokyo backwards? You get out the Oykot, a tourist train that runs through the Japanese countryside of Northern Nagano.

The Oykot runs along the Iiyama line from Nagano to Tokamachi Station, passing the Chikuma River, the Sekida mountains, and idyllic farms and rice paddies.

For just 520 yen on top of your regular train fare, you can enjoy the Oykot’s elegant interior while gazing out over beautiful rural scenery.

Features of the Oykot Tourist Train

The train stops at seven stations on its journey between Nagano and Tokamachi, with two longer stops at Iiyama and Morimiyanohara Stations, where you can get off the train and browse local goods sold on the platforms.

A pack of Nozawana pickles, a product of Nozawa Onsen, are included with your fare and make a perfect companion to a cold beer or sake. You can purchase snacks or drinks from one of the attendants on the train. Many local products are available, such as local beers or wines, or snacks made with Nagano-grown soba.

The train car is divided up into a series of 4-person and 2-person booths as well as some single seats on either side of the car. Tables are available at each seat so you can comfortably rest any drinks or snacks next to you during your journey. Whether you travel as a group, couple, or on your own, there are seating options that suit your needs.

Take the Oykot to Iiyama to Experience the Japanese Countryside

Iiyama is only 40 minutes away from Nagano City by train, and has plenty of activities to offer those who want to get away from the city and enjoy the quieter side of Japan. Take the Oykot to Iiyama and enjoy workshops and experiences in this natural setting.

Washi-making Experience

The Iiyama area is known for a type of Japanese paper called Uchiyama Washi. The paper is made from mulberry bark which is laid on snow and bleached during winter. An Uchiyama Washi master will teach you how to make a bookmark, postcard, or larger piece of paper to take home as a souvenir. The experience takes about 20 minutes to complete. See details here.

Mountain Biking

Above Iiyama City is Madarao Kogen, a popular winter destination for skiers and snowboarders. During summer and autumn, you can enjoy mountain biking and downhill tours from Mt. Madarao to the city center. The thrilling downhill sections are interspersed with insights into the lives of the local people. See details here.


Near Iiyama Station is the NTA Farm, which offers apple-picking during autumn. English-speaking guides teach you how to choose the best apples. See details here.

Temple Sightseeing

Iiyama is well-known for its many temples spread throughout its city center and is called “Snow Country’s Little Kyoto.” You can see many beautiful temples here, and they are especially beautiful during autumn when the leaves of the Japanese maples turn bright red. You can read more about the area’s temple history on the Iiyama Ouendan website.

You can see more information about these activities on this blog post about outdoor activities in Iiyama.

Oykot Train Schedule

Dates that the Oykot Runs

The Oykot runs on specific weekends and holidays. See its scheduled dates below:

  • September 2018: 1st, 8th, 9th, 16th, 17th, 22nd, 24th, 29th
  • October 2018: 6th, 7th, 8th, 14th, 27th, 28th
  • November 2018: 3rd, 4th, 10th, 11th, 18th, 23rd, 24th, 25th
  • January 2019: 26th
  • February 2019: 9th, 10th, 16th, 17th

Train Timetable

Nagano to Tokamachi Tokamachi to Nagano
Nagano (Departure) 9:15 Tokamachi (Departure) 15:30
Kaesa 9:39 Tsunan 15:54
(Departure) 9:40 (Departure) 15:55
Iiyama 9:54 Morimiyanohara 16:07
(Departure) 10:10 (Departure) 16:08
Kita Iiyama 10:12 Togari Nozawa Onsen 16:49
(Departure) 10:13 (Departure) 16:51
Togari Nozawa Onsen 10:23 Kita Iiyama 16:59
(Departure) 10:24 (Departure) 17:00
Morimiyanohara 10:59 Iiyama 17:03
(Departure) 11:14 (Departure) 17:23
Tsunan 11:26 Kaesa 17:37
(Departure) 11:27 (Departure) 17:38
Tokamachi 11:50 Nagano 18:07

Outdoor Activities for the Whole Family in Northern Nagano

July 31st, 2018 by
Category: Outdoor Activities

Many Japanese people long for their furusato, a place with rolling hills, picturesque mountains, and clear rivers. Where their grandparents pickle vegetables in barrels covered with heavy stones and make soba noodles carefully by hand. Where life is slow and the weather is fine. Somewhere they can get back in touch with nature.

Iiyama in Nothern Nagano is just that: a beautiful countryside area surrounded by nature and outdoor activities. Thanks to the introduction of the Hokuriku Shinkansen a few years back, access to Iiyama and nearby Nozawa Onsen have become even easier than before. In just two and a half hours, you can escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and take in the idyllic scenery of Japan’s furusato. Explore the Chikuma River, the Sekida Mountains, Iiyama’s temple cities and farms!
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Spring Flowers in the Japanese Countryside: the Iiyama Nanohana Festival

May 2nd, 2018 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics

The flowers grow high enough to make a veritable maze of yellow.

As the cherry blossoms fade away, other flowers take the spotlight around Nagano. In Iiyama, nanohana blossoms cover the fields along the Chikuma River, turning everything a sunny yellow.

The annual Nanohana Festival is held during the latter part of Golden Week, this year from May 3rd to 5th, during which there are musical and dance performances and plenty of activities to enjoy. It all takes place at the Nanohana Park in Iiyama City on the far side of the Chikuma River. The park is located on a small hill and has great views of the surrounding countryside. The Sekida mountains were mostly bare of snow this year, but as the clouds cleared we could see the brilliant white visage of Mt. Myoko in the distance.
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Nagano’s Hidden Ski Resorts

December 22nd, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities

Excellent glades and powder at one of Nagano’s hidden ski resorts: Madarao Kogen.

If you’ve ever considered a ski trip to Nagano, chances are you’ve heard of Hakuba Valley and Nozawa Onsen. But what about the others? While there’s certainly a lot of fun to be had at some of the more popular resorts, the recent spike in tourism has led to crowded lifts. Besides, you never know what you’ll find if you trek off the beaten path. If you’re thinking of making a trip to the land of the rising sun, here are a few lesser known resorts you need to visit.

Madarao Kogen: King of the Glades

Madarao Kogen Ski Resort offers ski runs that suit people of all levels.


Madarao is a mid-sized, lesser known (to foreigners, at least) resort that provides a unique and authentic experience of Japan’s famous ski scene. Here you’ll find the same fluffy powder that Japan is known for, but without the crowds and lines to hold you back. With 30 runs, 15 lifts, and a vertical drop of 440m, you’ll have no problem spending a day or two (or even seven) exploring the incredible terrain.

Unique to Japanese resorts, 60% of the runs are ungroomed, making way for some of the best off-piste skiing in the country. Whether you’re addicted to the glades or just looking for some fresh terrain to make your mark, Madarao has you covered. With that being said, Madarao is considered one of the best places in Japan to sate your needs for tree-skiing.

Both Madarao and adjacent Tangram have plentiful, ungroomed tree runs.

Not only is tree-skiing allowed in Madarao, it is actively promoted. The resort was the first one in Japan to clear trees to create designated glades. The tree lines are wide to accommodate skiers and snowboarders of all levels. There are also a few shots of steep tree slopes for the adrenaline junkies.

The resort opens on the 16th December 2017 and is expected to close on the 1st April 2018.

Places to eat

Once it’s time to refuel after a day on the slopes, your options are as diverse as they are abundant. The area boasts some of the most amazing cuisine we’ve ever had; here are some of our favorites.

Honda: Specializes in Unagi/Grilled Eel dishes.
Address: 1117 Iiyama, Iiyama 389-2253, Nagano Prefecture
Phone: +81 269-62-2213

Jazzy: A classic Jazz themed restaurant with western and Japanese dishes
Address: 1101-78 Madaraokogen, Iiyama 389-2257, Nagano Prefecture
Phone: +81 269-64-3767

Restaurant Rudolf: Mouthwatering pizza and pasta right on the Madarao Slopes
Address: 1101-152 Madaraokogen, Iiyama 389-2257, Nagano Prefecture
Phone: +81 269-64-3153

If you’re willing to explore, the local town of Iiyama is a 10 minute drive or a 35 minute bus away from Madarao resort. Iiyama provides more dining options than the resort, and it’s also a great destination to visit local temples and enjoy other cultural activities.


Lift Tickets (One Day): 4,500 yen for adults, 1,500 yen for children

Add 500 yen per day for the Mountain Pass to access neighboring resort of Tangram Ski Circus (you can ski/board through the top areas of Madarao).

Location / Access

Located between Myoko Kogen and Nozawa Onsen, the mountain is roughly 170km from Toyama Airport and 100km from Matsumoto Airport. You can travel from the mountain to Nozawa using the No-To-Mar Bus, which usually takes about an hour each way.

By Bus: If you’re coming from Narita Airport in Tokyo, Japan Ski Bus takes about 5-6 hours, costing 8,500 yen one way or 15,000 yen for a return trip. This is your only option if you arrived in Narita at night, unless you’re planning on staying overnight in Tokyo.

By Train: A faster option (4 hours total) is the Narita express train to Tokyo Station and then the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Iiyama, followed by bus service to Madarao Ski Resort.

Ryuoo Ski Park: Dragon King!

On a powder day, Ryuoo’s steep kiotoshi courses can’t be beat.


Ryuoo has some of Japan’s richest snowboarding history as it was one of the first resorts in the country to allow it, though skiers will love it here too. The resort is family friendly and features an adventure park where non-skiers and boarders can enjoy other snow activities such as tubing, sledding and tobogganing.

The mountain has one of the largest vertical drops in Nagano at 1,080m, and it features one of Japan’s longest ungroomed runs; the 1.4km Kiotoshi Course (you’ll need a helmet if you intend to tackle this course!) Kiotoshi is serviced by a 166 person capacity ropeway, one of the world’s biggest gondolas. At the top of the ropeway, visitors can take in the spectacular view from the Sky Terrace atop the Kiotoshi section. Despite only having 15 runs, the resort is separated into three sections:

  • The Valley contains beginner and green runs.
  • The middle ‘Kiotoshi’ section is best suited for intermediate and advanced riders. This area is the main draw for those seeking powder, but you’ll also find many steep ungroomed runs and a variety of glades to enjoy.
  • The top section is the Sky land area which is accessed via a chairlift from top of the Ropeway to the summit of Mt Ryuo (1,930m above sea level). The area can be enjoyed by confident beginners and intermediate riders. Expect softer and drier snow than the lower valley area, but make sure to close all your vents and rug up as it gets much colder at the higher altitude.

Ryuoo Ski Park’s adventure park has sledding, snow rafting, and snow buggy rides.

The resort also has two terrain parks; Dragon Park is their more advanced park, complete with rails, boxes, kickers and walls. Those who are new to park skiing can visit the Cherry Park for smaller features and a more gradual incline. The park opens on the 23 November 2017 and closes on 06 May 2018. Just make sure to check the snow conditions as some of the steeper runs are closed during early season due to lack of snow coverage.

The resort is a great day trip from Shiga Kogen or Nozawa Onsen, but there’s also plenty to see and do nearby.

Where to stay & eat

There a number of hotels around the Ryuoo Ski Park providing ski-in/ski-out experience such as Ryuo Park Hotel and Hotel North Shiga. Alternatively, you can stay in local town Yudanaka or try the authentic Ryokans (traditional inns) in Shibu Onsen. When you get hungry, check out a few of our favorite spots to grab a quick bite:

Enza Cafe: A popular restaurant located near the Snow Monkey park, serving a mix of Japanese and western dishes
Address: 1421-1 Hirao Kamibayashi, Yamanouchi-machi, Shimotakai-gun 381-0401, Nagano Prefecture
Phone: +81 269-38-1736

Japanese Dining GOEN: Conveniently located near the Yudanaka Station, you’ll find delicious Japanese cuisine including sushi and sake!
Address: 3227-1 Hirao, Yamanouchi-machi, Shimotakai-gun 381-0401, Nagano Prefecture
Phone: +81 269-38-0550

HAKKO beerbar & restaurant: A mix of traditional wooden design with a modern touch. This restaurant provides a great environment to enjoy some locally brewed beer with Japanese-Western Fusion cuisines.
Address: 381-0401, 3010 Hirao, Yamanouchi, Shimotakai District, Nagano Prefecture
Phone: +81 269-38-8500


Lift Tickets (One Day): 4,600 yen for adults, 3,000 yen for children

Location / Access

The mountain is located about 300km from Tokyo and sits about 25 minutes drive outside a small town called Nakano.

By Train: Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo station to Nagano city (90 minutes). Change at Nagano and take the Nagano Dentetsu Line to Yudanaka Station (50 minutes). From Yudanaka Station, take the Ryuoo shuttle bus or taxi to Ryuoo Ski Park, 7 km away.

Togari Onsen – Nozawa Onsen’s quiet little brother

Togari is in Iiyama, just across from Nozawa Onsen ski resort, and enjoys similar powder without all the lines.

If you are staying a few days in the Iiyama and Nagano region, make a day trip to Togari Onsen to experience the famous Nagano powder without the crowd. Togari Onsen is Nozawa Onsen’s more laid back, less crowded younger brother. The mountain is great for those looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of it’s more internationally well-known neighbor, while still taking advantage of the region’s notorious fluffy powder. Not to mention the more than reasonable prices.

The resort is smaller than Nozawa with 18 runs, 650 meters of vertical and 7 lifts including 4 quad chairs. Togari is beginner friendly, home to many low angled and groomed runs, so intermediate skiers will find the entire mountain accessible without fear of getting stuck in steep and unmanageable terrain. The only drawback, however, is that there aren’t many steep, heart sinking runs for highly skilled skiers and snowboarders. With that being said, ungroomed runs in the upper side of the mountain provide a great opportunity to experience the famous Nagano Powder. Those who want to experience the best powder Togari has to offer can try the private back country guiding service, which we highly recommend.

Togari Onsen, as the name suggests, also has a number of rejuvenating hot springs.

Where to stay & eat

If you want more of a resort feel, there is a small resort-style hotel near the bottom of the slopes called Alpen Plaza. However, if you’re looking for a more authentic experience, there are many Ryokans in the town of Togari. If you’re in the area, here are a few eateries you’ve got to try:

Grilled Chicken Hashiba: Authentic Japanese cuisine, specializing in chicken
Address: 6792 Toyoda, Iiyama 389-2411, Nagano Prefecture
Phone: +81 269-65-2666

Cafe & Bar & Music Ambis: Great live music and a wide selection of drinks
Address: 6796 Toyota, Iiyama 389-2411, Nagano Prefecture
Phone: +81 50-1492-2910

Penticton: Their claim to fame is yaki-curry in a big bowl with melted cheese
Address: 6543-1 Toyoda, Iiyama, Nagano Prefecture
Phone: +81 269-65-4611


Lift Tickets (One Day): 4,200 yen for adults, 2,800 yen for JHS students, and 1,500 yen for younger children

Location / Access

Togari Onsen is located just over 40km northeast of Nagano, featuring two base areas about 1km apart. Pegasus side is on the southwest, while the northern base is called Orion. Two onsens (hot springs) sit at the base of the mountain; Akatsuki on the Pegasus slope and Nozomi on the Orion Slope. Known for their landscaping, Nozomi’s outdoor views shouldn’t be missed.

By Train: From Tokyo Station take the Shinkansen to Iiyama, followed by bus service to Togari Onsen

By Bus: JP Mountain also provides an over-night shuttle service to the resort from Shinjuku Station (leaves at 23:00 Shinjuku) for 10,000 yen.


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Summer in Nagano: SUP on a Mountain Lake

July 20th, 2017 by
Category: Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities

Iiyama’s heart-shaped Hokuryu Lake is hidden in a valley on mystical Kosuge Mountain.  Not fed by any rivers or streams, the pristine lake is filled only with snow melt run-off and natural springs.

Romantic heart-shaped Hokuryu Lake

Recently my daughter and I had the opportunity to appreciate the lake doing SUP.
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5 Great Winter Festivals in Nagano

December 9th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics

Enjoy fire festivals, illuminations and more in this winter wonderland.

Winter is here. Snow is falling steadily up in the mountains and people around Nagano are bringing out their kotatsu tables, kerosene heaters and nabe pots. Once again, it’s that time of year for skiing, hot springs and great winter festivals. Why stay inside when you could warm up in front of a magnificent fire festival or in the company of Japan’s many spirits?

Make some wonderful memories this winter with some of the festivals below!
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The Shin-etsu Trail 信越トレイル

August 19th, 2013 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

The Shin-etsu Trail 信越トレイル

Nestled along the Sekida Ridge (about 1,000m above sea level) on the border of Nagano and Niigata Prefectures, the 80km Shin-etsu trail served as an important link from the coast into the interior areas. The rich beech forests give away to beautiful mountain vistas on this lush trail. The trail is open from roughly mid-April until mid-November.

This route helped transport salt and sea products from Niigata to Nagano. And, mustard seed oil and Uchiyama paper from Nagano to Niigata. During the Warring States period, the famous warlord Uesugi Kenshin reportedly led tens of thousands of men to fight the Battle of Kawanakajima around the mid 1500`s. The trail is divided into 6 sections and can be easily accessed by any of the 5 visitors’ centers. Camping is available along the trail.

Access: For the southern part of the trail via Madarao Kogen:

20 minutes drive from IC Toyota/Iiyama

or 20 minute taxi ride from JR Iiyama Station on the Iiyama Line

Link: Shin-etsu Trail Club


Guided tours are available: TEL: 0269-69-2888     office@s-trail.net

Spring trip to Iiyama — Nanohana Blossoms and

May 19th, 2011 by
Category: Culture Art, Information, Seasonal Topics

Our family took a drive to Iiyama City north of Nagano City and adjacent to Niigata Prefecture. We timed it to see yellow fields of nanohana blossoms.

(Nanohana also has an unfortunate name in English: rapeweed. Allow me as I stick to the Japanese name, nanohana, which has a much more elegant feel.)

Iiyama's Nanohana blossoms with the Chikuma River and Mountains in the Background

Iiyama's Nanohana blossoms with the Chikuma River and Mountains in the Background

I had seen pictures of the fields filled with yellow flowers with the Chikuma River and Nagano’s ‘five northern peaks’ in the background. But pictures don’t do the flowers justice. For one thing, seeing them in person means you can enjoy the sweet scent of the flowers wafting on the breeze.

And for another reason, Iiyama’s main nanohana park, called simply enough ‘Nanohana Park’, has a nanohana maize allowing you to immerse yourself in the field amongst the plants bursting with yellow color.

Lost in the maze

Lost in the maze

The flowers normally bloom between mid April and early May, with special events scheduled from May 3rd to the 5th coinciding with Japan’s Golden Week holiday. This year, however, the blossoms are about a week later than usual.

Our drive to Iiyama had another purpose: to see the Mayumi Takahashi Doll Museum.

Mayumi Takahashi Doll Museum Facade

Mayumi Takahashi Doll Museum Facade

Opened just in April of last year, the museum has attracted visitors from all over Japan to see Mayumi-san’s unique dolls that adroitly depict the type of country bumpkins one is apt to see in Iiyama’s backroads.

The museum itself has limited display space, but that is more than compensated by the enjoyment that can be had from looking at each individual doll’s expression and composure, especially in relation to the background displays.

The doll museum is set in a neighborhood filled with traditional Japanese buildings. Especially impressive is ‘Butsudan-dori (street)’. A Butsudan is a Buddhist altar that most families in Japan have in a prominent place in their houses. I had heard that Iiyama is a major manufacturer of Butsudan, but I wasn’t aware that there was a whole street of Butsudan shops! I guess it makes sense, though, to have a Butsudan shopping district here in Japan.

Butsudan Shopping Street

Butsudan Shopping Street

There was an interesting phenomenon that came out of seeing the doll museum. Driving around the town and in outlying farming areas afterwards and seeing the old ladies bent over in the fields or the old gentlemen walking along the back streets, I started to get a sense of where Mayumi-san got the inspiration for her dolls!

Mayumi Takahashi Doll Museum
2941-1 Iiyama Oaza, Iiyama City
Tel (0269)67-0139
Hours: 9:00-17:00 (Apr-Nov); 10:00-16:00 (Dec-Mar)
Closed Wednesdays
600 yen for adults, 400 yen for middle and elementary school students