The Hokuriku Shinkansen (bullet train) opens its doors to new passenger service on March 14th, 2015. The new train route will provide ready access to the prefectures of Nagano, Niigata, Toyama, Gifu, Ishikawa and Fukui. This region’s culture and local craftsmanship have remained virtually unchanged over the course of time. Be among the first to explore this incredibly diverse and largely undiscovered region of Japan!
Nagano is an inland prefecture located in the center of Japan. It is surrounded by mountains peaking around 10,000 ft, and is often called the Roof of Japan. From ski resorts to summer vacationing in Karuizawa, Nagano attracts visitors throughout the year. In Karuizawa, visit the 10-ft waterfall "Shiraito Waterfalls". It is named for the hundreds of thin water lines that look like white strings. The expanse of waterfall stretches 230 ft wide, making for a panoramic view. You cannot miss Snow Monkey Park "Jigokudani Yaen-koen" in Nagano. It is the only place in the world where you can see wild monkeys bathing in hot springs.
Sado Island in Niigata is home to Kodo, the world's most famous group of taiko drummers and the biggest draw of the Earth Celebration held every August. Steeped in rural custom, Sado is also known throughout the country for its Noh dramatic traditions. More than thirty Noh stages present performances from April to October, including the famed Takigi Noh (Bonfire Noh). Sado is easily reached from the bullet train's Joetsu-Myoko JR Station and via ferry from the nearby port of Naoetsu.
The terrific profusion of sushi restaurants found throughout Hokuriku, coupled with regional sake offerings from the area's Sakagura (sake cellars), make the region a special draw for culinary enthusiasts. In Toyama, dominated by the magnificent Tateyama Mountains and Toyama Bay, the Toyama Bay Sushi network supplies local restaurants with more than 100 varieties of freshly caught seafood, while the Masuda Sake Company, founded in 1893, offers an informative Sakagura tour. From mid April through mid June, visit Otani Snow Walls at Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. A tourist bus passes through the 65-ft snow walls.
After exploring Toyama, take local trains to visit Gifu. Gifu consists of two distinct areas: Hida in the north and Mino in the south. Hida is characterized by its mountain range that rises over 10,000 ft, and experiences heavy snowfall in the winter. Mino is covered by far-reaching plains and many rivers. Hida-Takayama San Machi is nationally recognized as one of the best-preserved Edo-era (17th - 19th century) neighborhoods in Japan. The historic village of Shirakawa-go is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Kanazawa is Ishikawa's capital city with its castles, gardens, and temples. In the city center, wonder through Kenroku-en Garden, one of Japan's three best gardens with distinctive seasonal beauty year round. Cap the experience with a visit to Kanazawa's teeming and not-to-be-missed Omi-cho Ichiba Market, founded in 1721 as a fish market and now offering vegetables, fruit and more in addition to seafood. Thinly snow-covered cobble stone streets are prominent in the city's historic Higashi-Chaya District. Lined with traditional townhouses and tea houses, visitors almost feel as though they have travelled back in time to the feudal era of Japan.
Hokuriku is also renowned for its traditional craftsmanship, with techniques passed down by generations of artisans creating everything from lacquerware and handmade Washi paper to forged steel swords. Take local trains from Kanazawa and see Fukui masters at work demonstrating traditional Japanese papermaking techniques at the Udatsu Paper and Craft Museum, where visitors can also participate in a hands-on workshop. Eihei-ji Temple was built by the Japanese Buddhist teacher Dogen in 1244. It is an active monastery with roughly 200 practicing monks. Try its local sake in Fukui. Yoshida Shuzo was established in 1806. The masters at this small brewery are determined to use only local soil, water and rice.
For more information about Hokuriku and a 7-day sample itinerary, visit here.
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