Road Trip from Itogawa to Matsumoto (Part 1)

Japan Hour

Japan Hour - Autumn
Road Trip from Itogawa to Matsumoto


Japan Hour:

Road Trip from Itogawa to Matsumoto (Part 1)

(Updated: )

This week, three participants will embark on a road trip along the historic Chikuni Kaido road. Each of them will walk for two days to a goal, armed with a map and pedometer. The three of them will cover a total distance of 120km from Itoigawa, Niigata to Matsumoto, Nagano over six days.

The road is also called Shionomichi as people used to transport salt and seafood from the Sea of Japan using this road in the past. It is said that Kenshin Uesugi sent his rival Shingen Takeda salt via this road.

Our first walker is Abareru-kun, who sets out from the starting point of Shionomichi. After walking for a while, he makes a detour and visits the Fossa Magna Museum in Miyama Park. Fossa Magna graben is a depressed block of land crossing Japan which was created 20 million years ago. The museum exhibits Fossa Magna, ore minerals, fossils and several valuable stones.

He then goes to an observatory in the park which is 18m high. It commands a gorgeous view of the North Alps and the sea. He heads back to Chikuni Kaido and walks for an hour, before stopping for lunch at a soba restaurant. He then resumes walking and comes across Machino Eki, which sells various jade pieces. Examples are Itoigawa Jade collected at Himekawa. The jade culture here originated from the Kotakigawa Hisuikyo valley over the River Itoigawa in the Joumon era.

Abareru-kun wants to continue walking along the Shionomichi to the Oami Pass, the toughest point along the road. However, a passer-by advises him against it as it is dark due to fog and there is a risk of falling. So he decides to call it a day and check into a hotel.
On the second day, Abareru-kun starts walking at 6.30am to cross the mountain pass. Many people in the past had a hard time going through Oami Pass. It has several upslopes and downslopes and the difference in elevation is about 600m. After climbing up for half an hour, Abareru-kun is greeted by a beautiful view of the autumn leaves and the mountains. The colourful leaves are also reflected on the gorgeous Shiroike Pond.

The trail gets rougher from here and he climbs up a steep hill to the top of the mountain pass, which is 840m above sea level. Abareru-kun then makes his way down, walking for two hours. He makes it through the Oami Pass but finds himself in front of another mountain pass. So he passes through this mountain trail and enters Nagano Prefecture, 369m above sea level. However, he has to climb another mountain and walks along the mountain trail, before reaching Yubara Onsen. He relaxes in the scenic hot spring, Nekohanano-Yu, in the mountains. After this, Abareru-kun walks to Sante Inn Otari in Kudarise Onsen. Here, he meets the second walker of this trip, Caiya.

On the third day of this Kaido road trip, Caiya first explores the area around Himekawa River before walking along Chikuni Kaido. She visits a bazaar at the JA Otari shop, where several local ingredients and general goods are sold. An example is popo, a fruit imported from North America to Japan in the Meiji era.

She next checks out a hotel which has an interesting past. Previously, people called Ushikata used to keep cows, instead of horses, for transporting goods across the several steep mountain passes along Shionomichi. They used to stay at this hotel, which has been designated as a prefectural treasure of Nagano. A distinctive feature of the hotel is a mezzanine floor from where the Ushikata would watch over their cows at night.

Caiya resumes walking along the Chikuni Kaido and goes to Tsugaike Kougen. She wants to have lunch but most of the restaurants are closed. So she has to take a cable car to the mountain top.


1) Make detours during your trip to visit various places of interest
2) It is not advisable to hike when there is fog due to the high risk of falling

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