Road Trip on Shinetsu Honsen and Shinonoi Line (Part 1)

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Road Trip on Shinetsu Honsen and Shinonoi Line (Part 1 & 2)


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Road Trip on Shinetsu Honsen and Shinonoi Line (Part 1)

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This week, we embark on a two-day trip on the JR Shinetsu and JR Shinonoi lines, which run at the foot of the Northern Alps and boast beautiful greenery. The two railway lines span 76km and have a total of 19 stations.

Our journey begins in Nagano City, from where we will first travel on the Shinetsu Line before continuing the trip on the Shinonoi Line. We catch the 10.05am train from Nagano Station and go to Kawanakajima, two stops ahead. We enjoy the view of the mountains and greenery before reaching our destination. We have until 12.40pm to explore Kawanakajima, the site of a famous battle during the civil war era. In the 16th century, to claim sovereignty over the territory, Takeda Shingen - who ruled over the current Yamanashi Prefecture - and Niigata's ruler Uesugi Kenshin fought the Battle of Kawanakajima.

We speak to some locals at Kawanakajima Station and they tell us one of the battle sites is now a public park. They also mention that Kawanakajima is famous for its peaches. In fact, Nagano Prefecture is Japan’s third-largest producer of peaches. We are told to go to the Kawanakajima Community Market, where peaches are sold at reasonable prices. So we head to the market where we get to try some Kawanakajima Hakuho peaches. Every summer, they are a popular gift choice during the Obon Festival.

We return to the station and take the train to Shinonoi, two stations away. The train changes from the Shinetsu Line to the Shinonoi Line here. At Shinonoi, our next train will depart an hour later at 1.50pm. A local near the station suggests we visit a shop called Matsuki. Besides Japanese and Western sweets, it also sells bread and its Oyaki is especially popular. It is made with kneaded dough, lightly fried then steamed. So we head to the shop which has a history of about 115 years. It sells nearly 15 varieties of Oyaki; examples are those with turnip leaves, seaweed, bitter cabbage and eggplant.  

We walk back to the station and travel by train to Obasute on the Shinonoi Line. Before the train arrives at Obasute, it changes direction in what is known as a switchback. In order to climb slopes that are too steep, the train climbs a bit at a time while switching directions. At an elevation of 547m, Obasute boasts one of the top train views in Japan. The Obasute area has beautiful rice paddies which can be seen from the platform of Obasute Station. They were established between the Edo and Meiji periods. There are 1,800 fields in an area of 64.3 hectares. One can also see the area around Zenkoji Temple and the majestic Nagano Basin from the station’s platform. Due to the spectacular view, the station is well known among train lovers.  

We are hungry and want to try soba. We ask a passerby to recommend a place. He mentions the Obasute Tourism Hall, where many local events are held. Obasute has been closely associated with the moon since a long time ago, so moon art can be seen at the dining area of the Obasute Tourism Hall. We order the zaru soba, which uses local wheat to make the chewy noodles.

We make our way back to Obasute Station and head to Hijiri-Kogen Station. The train travels deeper into the mountain and pulls into the station after 10 minutes. The nearby Hozenji Temple is one of 33 temples of its kind in Shinano. It was built thanks to donations from local residents.

We need to find a hotel for the night so ask some locals for suggestions. We find out there are no hotels near the station but a few of them mention Sheen Garten. Located high in the mountains, it is about 4km away from the station but is accessible by bus. It is a large complex with a hotel, restaurant and hot springs. It boasts a beautiful garden with hundreds of flowers. On a clear day, one can enjoy the sunset from the guest rooms. Before dinner, we soak in the hotel’s outdoor hot spring bath.

1) Kawanakajima Hakuho peaches are a popular gift choice during the Obon Festival
2) Railway fans should visit the Obasute Station for the beautiful view of rice paddies and the Nagano Basin from its train platform