Road Trip on Oito Line (Part 3)
A resort hotel known for its hot spring baths and French cuisine, a restaurant which serves Nagano specialities and a sushi place in Itoigawa which uses locally caught fish are visited this week.
We continue our three-day adventure along the JR Oito Line. By the second day, we have found 11 entries recommended by the locals. We are spending the night at Sierra Resort Hakuba, which was established in 1994. The hotel sends someone to pick us up from Kojitsu Sanso near Hakuba Station. Our rooms are located on the second floor of the East Building facing the courtyard. All the rooms are junior suites which have a fireplace and even wood stoves.
We eat dinner at the restaurant in the main building. The chef prepares a full course French meal. Dishes include smoked salmon served with canola flower sauce and ground cherry sauce, and potato soup with green pea sauce. The main dish is duck baked with bones. The duck is seasoned with salt and herbs and left overnight, after which it is cooked until it becomes crunchy. There is also baked red snapper pie, served with black vinegar from Nagano which is mixed with white wine and butter.
Sierra Resort has the biggest hot spring in Hakuba, with its own hot spring source. After dinner, we go to the Roman-style private bath, which is free if you make a reservation. There are three other private baths where guests can relax - Senoriky, Hotaru no Yu and Goemon Buro. The hotel even has a popular public bath.
We start the third and final day of our trip by enjoying a breakfast buffet boasting about 60 Japanese and Western dishes. The hotel’s transport takes us to Hakuba Station and our first destination of the day is Chikuni Station. We arrive at 11.20am and will take the next train two hours later.
A resident we speak to suggests we go to the Chikuni Suwa Shrine. Located on a high ground overlooking the town, it was supposedly constructed as a branch shrine of the Suwa Grand Shrine. Every fall, the popular Sasara Festival is held at the shrine to pray for the prosperity of one’s descendants and a good harvest.
Next, we take the 1.20pm train to Minami-Otari Station, from where our next train will depart at 2.45pm. A local resident recommends we eat at Otari Meisankan, which serves local cuisine and also sells Nagano Prefecture’s specialities. A popular dish is chanoko, which uses buckwheat flour and potatoes. There are 14 different kinds of chanoko, including eggplant, nozawana, green onion miso and pumpkin. Another well-known item is miso soup with Nagano’s speciality, bent bamboo shoots. Canned mackerel is added to remove the bitterness.
We return to the station and head to Hiraiwa. After about 20 minutes, the train crosses the border of Nagano Prefecture and arrives at Hiraiwa Station in Niigata Prefecture. We have about 1.5 hours to explore the vicinity before our next train leaves at 4.45pm. A local tells us to check out a famous day-use hot spring called Kusanoyu. The area also has three hot spring hotels. Kusanoyu is in fact located on the other side of the Himekawa River, in Nagano Prefecture. The hot spring opened five years ago and it has an ample supply of water that flows directly from the source. We just try the foot bath and cross the bridge over the Himekawa River again to get back to Hiraiwa Station in Niigata Prefecture.
After this, we finally head to Itoigawa Station, the goal of our trip. It is five stations away and the journey takes 35 minutes. We speak to a local who recommends we go to Shigezushi, which is said to have the best sushi in Itoigawa. The original restaurant was burnt down in the huge Itoigawa Station fire in December 2016. There were no deaths, but the fire damaged four hectares of land near the station.
The temporary Shigezushi store is five minutes from the station. We find out from the third-generation owner that the original restaurant was established in 1956. After the fire damaged it, this temporary store opened only one month later, with the support of the community. The current owner took over the restaurant from his father two years ago, after training in Tokyo for seven years. He makes sushi using fish from Itoigawa. We order the local seafood sushi set, which includes red snapper, flounder and whelk. The restaurant also serves other locally caught seafood such as scorpionfish, sweet shrimp and flatfish.
1) Sierra Resort near Hakuba Station is known for its various hot spring baths and French cuisine
2) The popular Sasara Festival is held at Chikuni Suwa Shrine every fall