Road Trip on Nagano Electric Railway (Part 2)

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Road Trip on Nagano Electric Railway (Part 2)

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Road Trip on Nagano Electric Railway (Part 2)

We continue our two-day trip on the Nagano Electric Railway line in Nagano Prefecture. We spend the first night at hot spring lodge Fukeikan. Its guest rooms and two hot spring baths boast scenic views of the Matsukawa canyon and maple trees. The outdoor baths - a rock bath and a “Bird Bath” made of fragrant cypress wood - are popular and have to be reserved in advance. For dinner, we are served dishes such as Shinshu salmon, Shinshu beef and marsh pigweed dumpling.

The next morning, we get a ride to Suzaka Station, which is 30 minutes away from Fukeikan. We want to take the 8.55am train to Obuse but unfortunately, train services between Suzaka and Shinshu-Nakano have been temporarily suspended due to a railroad crossing accident. We are told that it may take a while before the trains resume, so we decide to look for more recommended spots in Suzaka. 

A resident suggests we visit a miso storehouse called Shioya Jozo. It is a 15-minute walk from the station. Nagano Prefecture has been producing Shinshu miso since the 12th century. As Suzaka has extreme temperature differences, it is known to be an ideal spot for fermentation. Currently, there are five other miso storehouses in the city. The Uehara family behind Shioya actually started selling salt in the 18th century. They began brewing miso and soy sauce in the early 19th century. They still use organic methods and store the miso in wooden vats. We meet the manager of Shioya Jozo who takes us on a tour of the storehouse.  We are shown different varieties of miso such as enoki miso, a rich and flavourful miso mixed with enoki mushroom paste. There is even a sampling booth where we get to try some freshly made miso soup.

As the trains have yet to resume service, we search for another recommended place in Suzaka. A local tells us about the Suzaka Classic Museum, which currently has a kimono exhibit. Suzaka has been producing raw silk since ancient times and prospered in raw silk production in the 19th to early 20th century. The Suzaka Classic Museum opened in 1995. The works of the artist who painted the ceiling of Zenkoji Daihongan Temple - traditional painter Nobutaka Oka - are displayed at the museum along with his private collection of kimonos and traditional wares, totalling 2,000 items. Visitors can also try on recreated kimonos.

A staff at the museum tells us to check out a restaurant called Yururi for lunch. Located in a refurbished 100-year-old building, it serves Suzaka's local gourmet cuisine and many provincial Shinshu dishes. An example is Misosuki, a miso-flavoured sukiyaki. Historically, it was a dish that was prepared for visiting silk merchants. The sukiyaki stock is made of Suzaka's miso and traditional Murayama burdock. The burdock is boiled together with Shinshu beef. The flavours are sealed in with beaten egg and parsley is sprinkled on top.

We head back to Suzaka Station but the trains are still suspended because of the accident. However, we find out that bus services are available between Suzaka and Shinshu-Nakano. So we travel by bus for an hour to Shinshu-Nakano Station. We ask a resident about tourist spots and are told there are many temples in the eastern part of Nakano City. He kindly offers to drive us to the Kawano-Higashi Zenkoji Temple in Nakano City. It is the miniature version of Nagano City's Zenkoji Temple. Commonly called Nanshoji, it has a history of around 900 years. It came to be known as Kawano-Higashi Zenkoji in the 14th century by its regular visitors. We need permission to enter the temple but the person-in-charge is not around, so we are driven back to Shinshu-Nakano Station.

By now, the trains have resumed service. While waiting for the train heading to Yudanaka to arrive, we speak to a lady who works in Nakano. She mentions the Sora Terrace at the top of Ryuoo Ski Park; a stunning sea of clouds can be seen from the mountaintop when the weather permits. The train ride to Yudanaka, the last station on the Nagano Electric Railway line, takes 20 minutes. We then travel by a free shuttle bus to the aerial tramway depot, which is 20 minutes away. We head to the top in the aerial tram, which can accommodate about 170 people. The scenic ride to the mountaintop station takes less than 10 minutes. 

The Sora Terrace is situated at an altitude of 1,770m above Mount Ryuoo, north of the Shiga Plains. Depending on the weather, one can see mountains such as Mount Myoko and the Northern Alps from here. We then go to the Sora Terrace Cafe, where visitors can enjoy hot beverages and food while taking in spectacular panoramic views. We end our two-day trip on the Nagano Electric Railway line by tucking into a recommended dish, white cream cloud pie soup or “pie crust soup”. A cream stew made of steamed Nemagari mushrooms from the Shiga Plains is poured into a mug. The mug is covered with a pie crust and baked.    

Tips:
1) Shinshu miso is a must-try item when visiting Nagano Prefecture
2) Sora Terrace at Ryuoo Ski Park is famous for its breathtaking views of a “sea of clouds”


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