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Japan Hour

Local Bus And Train Adventure To Nagano Prefecture - Part 1

It is a battle between the "fixed-route bus" and "local train" teams as they race from World Heritage Site Tomioka Silk Mill to national treasure Matsumoto Castle, with two checkpoints in between.

The “local fixed-route buses versus local trains” competition is back! This time, two teams will race from Tomioka Silk Mill, a World Heritage Site in Gunma Prefecture, to Matsumoto Castle, a national treasure in Nagano. There will be two checkpoints which the teams have to pass first. The first is Happu Onsen in Karuizawa and the second is Tazawa Onsen, which has a history of 1,000 years. Each team is given 10,000 yen to spend on taxis when necessary. The team which reaches Matsumoto Castle and retrieves a flag from a treasure box there first wins the race.

The bus team visits the information centre at Tomioka to find out the best way to go to the first checkpoint in Karuizawa. They are told to take the 10.30am fixed-route bus to Myogi Shrine and then head to Yokokawa Station to transfer buses to go to Karuizawa Station. However, there is no bus between Myogi Shrine and Yokokawa Station so the team will have to walk.  

Meanwhile, the train team heads to the nearest station from the silk mill. They board a Takasaki-bound train from Joshu Tomioka Station at 10.05am and travel to Yokokawa Station. As there are no trains from Yokokawa, the team decides to walk and then take a taxi. In the meantime, the bus team reaches the Myogi Shrine bus stop and walks along a mountain road from there to Yokokawa Station, which is 7km away. The train team arrives at Yokokawa Station before the bus team and later bumps into them at the station while having lunch. 

The bus team finds out there are Karuizawa-bound buses at Yokokawa but they missed the bus by 20 minutes. The next bus is not until 2.05pm, which is about 1.5 hours later. Like the train team, the bus team also decides to have lunch at Yokokawa and eat at Toge no Kamameshi.  

As the bus team begins eating, the train team starts walking along a promenade to the entrance of Usui Toge, 3km away. They take a taxi from Togenoyu to cross the mountain pass with steep slopes and plan to walk the remaining 8km, which will be downhill. 

The bus team, on the other hand, finally takes the 2.05pm bus bound for Karuizawa Station. They plan to reach Komoro Station, which is near the second checkpoint of Tazawa Onsen, by the end of the first day. 

The train team passes Usui Toge by taxi and alights at the prefecture border, spending over 5,000 yen on the taxi fare. At 2.30pm, they start walking towards Happu Onsen, via Karuizawa Station. 

The bus team drops by the information centre at Karuizawa Station. They ask about routes to Happu Onsen. They are told to travel by the cross-town bus - leaving at 3.15pm - which allows them to alight wherever they want in the hot spring town. The bus team and train team cross paths again at Karuizawa Station.  

The bus team finds out that after going to the checkpoint, Happu Onsen, they can transfer buses at Naka-Karuizawa and then advance to a bus stop called Oiwake Iriguchi. However, there are no buses from there to Komoro Station, so the team will have to travel by taxi. The bus team reaches Happu Onsen first, ahead of the train team. Happu Onsen is one of the biggest open-air natural hot springs in Karuizawa. The team clears the checkpoint after soaking in an open-air bath here. They then take the 5.45pm bus from Happu Onsen to Naka-Karuizawa, arriving at around 6pm. They then transfer buses and go to Oiwake Iriguchi by the 6.55pm bus, after which they plan to take a taxi to Komoro Station. The team members are relieved to hear there is a bus from Komoro Station to Ueda Station at 8pm.

In the meantime, the train team is still at Karuizawa Station. At 3.45pm, they walk from the station to Happu Onsen, which is 8km away. They decide to spend the night at Happu Onsen. They arrive at the checkpoint after walking for two hours and find out the bus team had left the place about an hour ago. Unfortunately, the hotel the train team planned to stay at is closed. 

Meanwhile, the bus team books a taxi and it is waiting for them when they arrive at the Oiwake Iriguchi bus stop. The taxi takes them to Komoro Station at 7.20pm. The team members decide to get off about 2km away from Komoro Station and walk the rest of the way to save their taxi money.  

As the train team could not spend the night at Happu Onsen, they take a taxi and ask the driver to stop when the fare reaches 2,500 yen. They are now left with about 2,000 yen out of their 10,000-yen taxi budget. They walk for 15 minutes before arriving at the Karuizawa Marriott Hotel. 

In the meantime, the bus team takes the last bus to Ueda Station from Komoro Station at 8pm. They check the route to go to Tazawa Onsen, the checkpoint for the next day. They find out they can take the bus up to the Aoki Bus Terminal, after which they need to transfer buses. They decide to take the first bus from Ueda Station at 7.25am. At the end of the first day, the bus team is leading the “fixed-route buses versus local trains” race.


Tips:

1)    Call a hotel in advance to check if it is open and has rooms available
2)    Bring proper footwear in case you need to walk for a long distance along certain routes
 

Source: CNA

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