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Japan Hour

Road Trip on Koumi Line (Part 2)

We resume our two-day journey on the JR Koumi Line, which connects Nagano and Yamanashi prefectures.

We resume our two-day journey on the JR Koumi Line, which connects Nagano and Yamanashi prefectures. On the first day, we spend the night at Miyamotokan, which is situated on the edge of Lake Matsubara. The lodge opened in the Meiji period and is currently managed by a couple. The proprietor, who is also a tour guide in Yatsugatake, picks wild vegetables and local herbs from the mountains almost daily. They are used in the dishes prepared at Miyamotokan.   

Our room is simple yet relaxing, with a view of the lake. For dinner, we are served Shinshu beef and pork with local herbs such as mitsuba and momijigasa. Other dishes include cod from Saku city, gratin made with Shinshu apples and fresh hot tempura made from wild vegetables such as udo and acacia.

On the second day, we take a stroll by the lake after breakfast, after which we are driven back to Koumi Station by the hotel staff. Our next stop is Saku-Uminokuchi, 15 minutes away. We have two hours till the next train leaves at 11.30am. We ask around for recommended spots and are told to visit Uminokuchi Bridge, with the Chikuma River flowing below, and the Minato Shrine. Chikuma is the largest river in Nagano, with a length of 214km.

After going to the bridge, we walk to the Minato Shrine, which was founded in the Edo period. There is a kobushi tree here, which is connected to the popular song “Kitaguni no Haru”. Haku Ide, who was born in this area, saw the white kobushi flowers at the shrine and was inspired to write the song, which was subsequently sung by Masao Sen.

Then, from Saku-Uminokuchi Station, we head by train to Nobeyama, three stations ahead. This time, we travel on a hybrid train, which combines a diesel engine with an electric battery to improve efficiency. We enjoy the 20-minute ride as the train climbs higher through the green landscape. Located at an altitude of 3,345m, Nobeyama is the highest station in the JR railway system. We will catch the 1.45pm from here, over 1.5 hours later.

A local resident recommends we go to Yatsuren, which is a factory and shop selling products from around Minami-Makimura. Examples are products made by local dairy farmers in the Nobeyama area and fresh vegetables grown in the highlands. We try the factory’s handmade Jersey milk yoghurt topped with a layer of rich soft serve ice cream.

We head back to the station and take the train to the next stop, Kiyosato. We admire the view of Yatsugatake as the train enters Yamanashi Prefecture. We arrive at the station at 2pm and decide to take the 3.50pm train from here. We then walk around asking the locals about recommended spots. One of them mentions the popular tourist site Seisen-ryo, known for its beautiful scenery. Seisen-ryo was built before the war by American priest and professor Paul Rush as a training retreat for young men. Dr Rush had promoted farming and dairy production and is thus called the father of Kiyosato's development. We take the Picnic Bus to Seisen-ryo, where we take a stroll and also try a foot bath which overlooks at the South Alps.

We return to the station by bus and take a 20-minute train ride to the final stop, Kobuchizawa. We end our two-day trip by going to a famous eel restaurant, Itsutsuya. It has been around since 1927 and often draws long queues of people. We order the recommended unagi box set. The eel usually takes some time to prepare as it is first steamed for 30 minutes and then dipped in sauce three times. We order some miso konyaku while waiting for the eel to be ready.


1)     Try the yoghurt topped with soft serve ice cream at Yatsuren

2)     No visit to Kiyosato is complete without going to Seisen-ryo


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