New Train Pass for Exploring Karuizawa, Nearby Hot Springs, and More!

March 1st, 2018 by
Category: Cuisine, Culture Art, Information, Miscellaneous, Report, Shopping

Click on the image to see the full PDF flyer.


The Shinano Railway Banzai Two-Day pass offers great savings for anyone interested in spending time in the eastern Nagano area. The pass covers the Shinano Railway line between Karuizawa and Yashiro Stations and costs 1,000 yen for adults—already 300 yen cheaper than the one-way fare between the two! The pass is currently going through a trail run from February 1st to March 31st, 2018, but organizers are hoping to turn it into a year-round option.

When using the Banzai pass, you can enjoy eastern Nagano’s fresh foods, wine, and culture. I recently had a chance to explore more of the area, and I’d like to recommend a three-day course between Nagano and Karuizawa:

Day One

Enjoy the Outdoors and Shopping in Karuizawa



On your first day, take the Hokuriku Shinkansen train* from Tokyo to Karuizawa in about an hour. Right next to the station is Karuizawa Prince, with its 240-store outlet shopping mall, hotel, and ski resort. Try skiing at the resort or head to Karuizawa Garden Farm (15 minutes by taxi) for strawberry-picking. Have lunch at the shopping plaza and spend the afternoon looking for souvenirs and discount brand-name goods. Finally, head over to the recently renovated Karuizawa Prince East hotel for dinner at the Karuizawa Grill. Spend the night in Karuizawa.

Day Two

Ueda Castle and Bessho Onsen


In the morning, head to Karuizawa Station and purchase the Banzai Pass from the Shinano Railway ticket window. From there, take the train to Ueda.

Ueda Castle is just 12 minutes on foot from the station. While the castle’s keep was destroyed long ago, you can see reconstructions of the castle walls and main gate that repelled the Tokugawa army twice. The Omotenashi Squad welcomes visitors to the castle while wearing the regalia of famous Sanada warriors and ninja, and you can take photos with them for a fun memory of your trip.


At nearby Yanagimachi Street, you can see Ueda’s old townscape from its days as a castle town and pick up a snack from one of the bakeries, restaurants, or local brewery. If you’re hungry, stop at Kakurega En for some delicious yakitori slathered with Ueda’s special Oidare sauce.


Bessho Onsen is just 30 minutes from Ueda via the private Bessho Onsen train line*. The area is called the “Kamakura of Shinshu” due to its many beautiful temples and tranquil atmosphere. Among them, Anrakuji temple is home to a Japanese National Treasure—a three-story, eight-sided pagoda, the earliest extant example of its kind in the country. Enjoy the heart of the Japanese countryside from the comfort of a hot spring bath. (See more about spending time in Ueda and Bessho here!)

Tour the Countryside by Bicycle


After soaking in the sights of Bessho, return to Ueda and take the Shinano Railway train to Togura Station. A Showa era hot spring town called Togura Kamiyamada Onsen can be found here. One of the local inn owners is an American who loves Japanese culture and history, and is happy to share his knowledge with international guests. You can take a tour by bicycle and learn about the area’s sites and history while interacting with the locals. After a tough ride, enjoy the healing waters of Togura’s springs and stay at Kamesei Ryokan for the night.

Day Three

Snowshoe through Togakushi’s Sacred Forest


On your last day, take the train from Togura to Nagano Station*. From the station, take the Alpico Togakushi bus* to Togakushi Ski Resort (70 minutes), rent some snowshoes and take a walk to the area’s Okusha Shrine. Stop at the Okushamae Naosuke restaurant for soba, Togakushi’s specialty. Afterwards, take the trail to the shrine and be awed by huge 400-year-old cypress trees and the precipitous face of Mt. Togakushi looming above.

Visit Zenkoji and Experience Buddhism through its Temple Lodges


Get off at the bus at Zenkoji Daimon and head towards Zenkoji Temple. It is Japan’s third largest wooden temple and a national treasure, attracting thousands of pilgrims every year. There are 39 temple lodges around the main temple where pilgrims can spend the night. Some offer workshops as well, like Gyokushoin, where you can make your own bracelet or kaleidoscope. Some also double as restaurants where you can eat Shojin Ryori, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine. You can spend the night and continue your adventure, or take the shinkansen* back to Tokyo in just 90 minutes.

*The Banzai Two-Day Pass only covers travel on the Shinano Railway between Karuizawa and Yashiro stations.

There are many other places that I couldn’t cover here that are well worth a trip. In Toumi and Komoro, there are four different wineries producing a range of delicious wines. Rue de Vin and Villa d’Este Gardenfarm are both about 12 minutes away from Toumi’s Tanaka Station by taxi, and Mann’s Winery is just 10 minutes from Komoro Station. Each winery has its own restaurant where you can taste their wines paired with fresh local cuisine. And like Bessho and Togura Kamiyamada, there are many other hot spring areas to see as well!

Take a look at the Banzai Two-Day Pass brochure for a list of participating stores and more ideas! And if you happen to use the pass, share your photos online using the hashtag #banzai2dayspass.

The Night View Train to Obasute

September 28th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Information, Report, Sightseeing

The front of the Night View Obasute train.

Perched several hundred meters above Chikuma City is Obasute Station which boasts beautiful scenery of the Nagano valley. The Shinano line passes through this area on its way between Nagano and Matsumoto cities, and is considered one of Japan’s three best train line views.

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New Hakuba – Matsumoto Express Bus Launch!

January 4th, 2016 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

This winter, Hakuba from/to Matsumoto direct express bus service has newly operated.

The bus connects Happo/Goryu/Sanosaka ski resorts to Matsumoto by 1,500 or 1,800 yen (depending the day). It departs Matsumoto 7:00 and departs Hakuba 16:00 (two hours ride).

So, after enjoying ski/snowboard in world-renowned ski resort Hakuba, why don’t you ride the bus and eat supper, drink at bar/izakaya, stay in Matsumoto, and see another world-renowned spot, Matsumoto Castle?

Check out this website.

Now Hakuba has a “supper refugees” problem of a shortage of restaurants because a great many foreign skiers stay there. Stay in Matsumoto and go to Hakuba by bus might be one nice choice.

For the same reason, “Night shuttle bus Genki-go” for skiers to go to restaurants in Hakuba has started to cover Omachi and Otari, neighboring towns of Hakuba, since this year.

In Matsumoto, there are winter-limited shuttle buses between downtown Matsumoto and Mt. Norikura/Nomugi Pass ski resorts. You need reservation and the websites (Mt. Norikura / Nomugi Pass) are in Japanese, but they’re FREE! They depart Matsumoto 7:50/8:15 and depart Norikura/Nomugi 15:40/16:00 (only 1:40/1:15 ride).

Enjoy skiing/snowboading/snowshoeing/sleigh in the Japan Alps!

Not so known Nagano – Bus access opens to Kuraigahara Hut on Mt. Norikura

April 29th, 2015 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing

Every spring around this time the road up from Norikura Kogen (sorry it’s only in Japanese) to Mt. Norikura opens up with bus service to Kuraigahara Hut giving people access to one of the best spring backcountry areas in Japan and a chance to walk along a deep snow wall. Bus service will open to Tatamidaira by the beginning of June. You can find more info about the Alpico bus schedule here and also check out Kuraigahara’s homepage here (sorry it’s only in Japanese).

If you have any questions about Norikura Kogen please leave a comment and I will do my best to answer your questions.

The Alpico bus parked at the Norikura Kogen Tourist Center


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The New E7 Shinkansen Starts Its Run

March 17th, 2014 by
Category: Information

The E7 Shinkansen pulling into Karuizawa Station

The newest Shinkansen model, denoted the E7 Series, began its run on Saturday, March 15. I got a chance to ride the new train on Sunday the 16th.

 

This new series has been built to replace the current E2 series being used on the Nagano Shinkansen line. It will also be used on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line, scheduled to open in 2015. The Hokuriku Shinkansen will provide high-speed service from Nagano to Kanazawa on the Japan Sea coast.

Running in a twelve-car arrangement and topping out at 275kph, the new series is an improvement in comfort and service from the previous design. It has three classes of cars: Gran Class, Green Car and Standard Car. All seats in all classes have adjustable headrests and an electrical outlet — one per seat — for charging a notebook computer, tablet or mobile phone.

The standard car seats appear to be the same width as before, but with considerably more legroom. Upholstery and interior design is much more contemporary, yet still with a Japanese feel to it.

Any shortcomings? Only one that I noticed. The windows are smaller than on the E2 train. But I didn’t take note of this until after I got off the train at Nagano Station and did a side-by-side comparison with an E2. And since I was only on board for thirty minutes, I didn’t take time to see the restrooms. Maybe next time.

It’s a nice improvement from before. It should make getting to and from Nagano even more enjoyable!

Direct Bus from Haneda Airport to Karuizawa

February 27th, 2012 by
Category: Experience, Information, Miscellaneous, Report
You can purchase tickets at the “Tickets and Hotel Reservation Counters (Bus Ticket Sales Counter)” in Haneda Airport.
 
Easy and comfortable. Large luggage can go into the luggage compartment of the bus.  Now let’s go to Karuizawa directly!

Now Direct Access from Haneda Airport (in Tokyo) to Karuizawa (in Nagano)

Have you known that a direct bus route opened between Haneda Airport in Tokyo and Karuizawa in Nagano in July 2011?  This airport limousine service is called “HANEDA AIRPORT EXRESS” and Karuizawa route was newly added to the existing routes. 

Now that Haneda Airport accepts many international airlines, including Cathay Pacific Airways, Korean Air, China Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, American Airlines, British Airways and so on.  If your flight arrives in Haneda Airport and your destination is Karuizawa, HANEDA AIRPORT EXPRESS will be a convenient and comfortable choice because you don’t have to hassle with your large luggage and changes of transportation.

There are 2 buses a day for each direction, which means 2 buses from Haneda Airport to Karuizawa and 2 buses from Karuizawa to Haneda Airport (the bus also stops at Yokohama).  It takes about 185 minutes to 200 minutes from Haneda Airport to Karuizawa. 

The price is also quite attractive — JPY3,200 for adults and JPY 1,600 for children for one way.  You can get the bus ticket at Haneda Airport.

For the latest information and details, please check HANEDA AIRPORT EXRESS’s website

We are waiting for you in Karuizawa, one of Japan’s representative mountain resorts with great hotels, wonderful cuisines, beautiful nature, ski hills, hot springs, golf course, a shopping outlet mall and much more.

Karuizawa Shiraito Fall shows different beauty depending on the season.
 
Shaw Memorial Chapel. Karuizawa’s refreshing climate has attracted many international and domestic guests since the old times.
For more information:
Name of the service HANEDA AIRPORT EXPRESS (airport limousine bus operated by Keihin Kyuko Bus and Seibu Kogen Bus)
TEL
  • Keihin Kyuko Bus 03-3743-0022 (Japan country code: 81. Opening hours are from 9:00-18:30 every day)
  • Seibu Kogen Bus 0267-45-5045 (Japan country code: 81. )
URL

Special thanks to Keihin Kyuko Bus for interview and photos (the top two photos) and to Seibu Kogen Bus for interview.

Yayoi Kusama Came to Her Hometown, Matsumoto, to Unveil Kusama-Designed Bus!

December 7th, 2010 by
Category: Culture Art, Information

Maybe you know the world famous contemporary artist, Yayoi Kusama? She lives in NY, but her hometown is Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture. Some of her works can be seen in the Matsumoto Museum of Art.
On Dec 1, she visited Matsumoto for a ceremony of one bus she designed. She rode the bus “polka-dots wildly dance version” with some citizens from the Matsumoto station to the Matsumoto Museum of Art.
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New 2-Day and 4-Day Bus Passes to Enjoy Kamikochi and Beyond

June 1st, 2010 by
Category: Information

Many foreign tourists travel around Japan using a JR Rail Pass. But when they get to Nagano Prefecture, they are hit with the realization that most of the most popular destinations like Kamikochi, Togakushi and Jigokudani Snow Monkeys (as well as my onsen town, Togura-Kamiyamada) all require non-JR transportation. Then there’s the issue of getting from Hida Takayama to Matsumoto, two major “Inbound” tourist destinations. Using JR would take over 5 hours to go around the Alps. However, another option would be the trans-Alps bus that takes just over 2 hours.

Well, the people at Alpico Bus have apparently been listening, and have come up with the following 2 new bus passes that are perfect for people wanting to explore the Matsumoto – Kamikochi – Hida Takayama area:

Alpico Bus's 2 new Passes

Alpico Bus's 2 new Passes

2 Day Free Passport Kamikochi / Norikura
*Price: 5,000 yen for adults, 2,500 yen for children
*Area: Kamikochi, Shirahone and Norikura to the west, Matsumoto, Asama Onsen and Utsukushigahara to the east.
*Availability: Buy at the Matsumoto Bus Terminal or Shin Shimashima Station from 01-April 2010 until 31-March 2011.
This pass covers Nagano’s most spectacular scenic spot, Kamikochi, which is also the launching area for mountaineers to climb the Japanese Alps, as well as secluded Shirahone onsen with its milky white hot spring waters and Norikura, outdoor sports paradise. Then you can ride back down to Matsumoto and see its world-famous castle, take a dip in the hot springs at Asama and Utsukushigahara Onsens, before riding back up to the panoramic views from Utsukushigahara Kogen.

4 Day Alps Wide Shinshu/Hida Free Passport
*Price: 10,000 yen for adults, 5,000 yen for children
*Area: Same as the 2-day pass PLUS Hida Takayama, Shirakawago, Shinhotaka Onsen and Gero Onsen
*Availability: Buy at the Matsumoto Bus Terminal, Shin Shimashima Station, and Takayama or Gero Bus Centers from 01-April 2010 until 31-March 2011.
Included in this Pass are the impeccably restored neighborhoods of Hida Takayama, the world heritage thatched roof farmhouses of Shirakawago, Shinhotaka Onsen on the western side of the Alps, and Gero Onsen, known from long ago as one of Japan’s top 3 onsens.

Fellow Nagano Inbound Ambassador Tom-san reports that Kamikochi is in fine spring form, so take advantage of these new passes from Alpico and enjoy!

For more information, contact Matsumoto Dentetsu at 0263-28-3111
And/or check out the official Kamikochi website.

Getting to Karuizawa for less — just 2000yen.

October 25th, 2009 by
Category: Miscellaneous, Shopping, Sightseeing

Having recognized that alomost all the posts on this blog are realated to sightseeing within Nagano, I dare to post this info on tranportation from Tokyo as I thought this is quite useful & helpful for anyone planning on visiting Karuizawa and its nearby town. Most visitors to this site wants to know not only the places to visit but also how to get there and how much it costs! Believe or not, you can come to Karuizawa from Shinjuku, Tokyo by bus for just 2000yen!  It’s an amazing price and less than half of the cost of Shinkansen from Tokyo. But the down side is that it takes about 2 hours 30 min, which is about twice as long as Shinkansen. The bus arrives at a parking area win Karuizawa Price Shopping Plaza New East.

For details visit the bus reservation page at Rakuten Travel

(Find the bus route ” KR421 ” in the list. Using Japanese web sites for booking public transportation and hotels is always headache. And unfortunately this is not an exception. Price may vary by season and day of the week.)

Bus to Karuizawa

Bus to Karuizawa