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Japan Hour

Road Trip on Nagano Electric Railway (Part 1)

Join us as we travel on the Nagano Electric Railway line, which runs through northern Nagano Prefecture. The local line has 24 stations, covering a total distance of 33.2km from Nagano Station to Yudanaka Station. 

Join us as we travel on the Nagano Electric Railway line, which runs through northern Nagano Prefecture. The local line has 24 stations, covering a total distance of 33.2km from Nagano Station to Yudanaka Station. Nostalgic vintage trains such as Narita Express and Odakyu Romance Car still operate along the line. Trains run underground from Nagano Station to Zenkojishita Station to preserve the landscape and prevent damage from the snow in winter.

We first take the train from Nagano Station to Gondo Station, two stops away. We have two hours till our next train departs at 10.50am from Gondo. We head to the shopping district where a local tells us to visit Akiha Shrine. There are several Akiha shrines throughout the country but the one here is dedicated to the deity of fire. This shrine has been around since the 8th century. Legendary gambler Kunisada Chuji’s grave can also be found at the shrine. During a famine in the mid-19th century, he rescued villagers from starvation by using all this gambling earnings to help them. His story is recounted to this day in historical tales and plays.

After visiting Akiha Shrine, we continue our search for interesting sites. We come across some college students who tell us about a souvenir shop called Ninja Daimon. It is managed by the Kids Ninja Village in Togakushi, the region where ninjas such as Sarutobi Sasuke underwent training during the civil war era. Ninja Daimon has attractions such as ninja stars and a trick room. There is even a maze, from where one can only escape after finding a hidden door.

We next take the train from Gondo to Zenkojishita, one station ahead. We ask a resident to suggest a place for lunch and are told to go to Yayoiza. It serves dishes which are cooked using a bamboo steamer. Housed in a building which is 170 years old, the 23-year-old restaurant used to be a tatami mat store in the 19th century. Sawara cypress wood from the Kiso region is used for the steamer as it is odourless and does not affect the ingredients. We order a popular dish featuring local Shinshu beef and a colourful selection of 12 winter and mountain vegetables such as mushroom, yam and crimson daikon radish. 

After this, we head to the famous Zenkoji Temple, which has a history of 1,400 years. Circumambulating or moving around a circular path under the main hall of the temple, done in the dark, is a popular attraction among visitors. The temple promises rebirth in paradise regardless of one’s beliefs so it draws people of various faiths. Furthermore, the building of the main hall has been declared a national treasure. 

We return to Zenkojishita Station and ride the train to Shinano-Yoshida. We have an hour till our next train at 2.45pm. We speak to a group of high school students and other residents who tell us there is nothing interesting in the area. So we decide to head to Fuzokuchugakumae. While waiting for the train to arrive, we talk to some locals who recommend we check out the breathtaking view of fields, mountains and apple orchards near the Nagano Community Hospital in front of Fuzokuchugakumae Station.

At Fuzokuchugakumae, we take a stroll towards the community hospital, while enjoying the panoramic view of apple trees and the surrounding mountains of Northern Shinshu. One of them is Mount Iizuna, which is 1,917m high. In ancient times, the mountain was considered sacred among civil war warriors.

Then, we head by train to Suzaka Station and start looking for hotels. We find out there are very few inns in Suzaka and someone tells us to try our luck at Yamada Onsen. The local suggests we stay at Fukeikan. When we call the hotel to make a reservation, we are delighted when the staff offers to pick us up from Suzaka Station as it is quite far away. Located in the Matsukawa canyon which is famous for its autumn scenery, the hot spring lodge has been in business for over 240 years. Famous vocalist Hibari Misora also stayed here in the 1950s.

1) Ninja fans should visit the Ninja Daimon souvenir shop in Nagano City’s Gondo district
2) Zenkoji Temple is one of the most popular tourist spots along the Nagano Electric Railway line


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