When was the last time you stepped outside and soaked in all your surroundings?
For most of us, we’ve endured a whole year of quarantine. As our borders slowly open up again, we now have the opportunity to be more intentional on where we go and who we choose to spend our time with.
The Central Japan Region (also known as Chubu region) is a year-round destination that offers an abundance of nature and culture every season. You can start planning your next winter holiday in Chūbu by getting the Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass. Each pass gives you five days of unlimited rides on designated JR local and limited express trains, the Hokuriku Shinkansen, and buses within the Central Region. To get you started, you can check out some of their highlight spots by visiting this site.
Here's a 5-day itinerary that can help you make the most out of your pass:
Nagoya Marriott Associa Hotel
Our trip started at the Nagoya Marriott Associa Hotel. This luxury hotel is conveniently located right above Nagoya Station, making it the best jump-off point for our five-day adventure. Aside from its convenience, Nagoya Marriott Associa Hotel offered a panoramic view of the city that can be seen in our room.
Nagoya TV Tower
From Nagoya Station, we took a 10-minute subway ride to see the Nagoya TV Tower. The tower was constructed in 1954 and is considered the first and oldest TV transmission tower in Japan. It was originally built to mark the reconstruction of the city after the second world war. Currently, the tower is still being used for multimedia broadcasting while also housing various shops and two observation decks where visitors can enjoy a 360-degree panoramic view of the city for JPY 900.
Tasting various dishes in different areas of Japan is one of the most anticipated activities of any traveller. After checking in at the hotel, we immediately went out to try one of Nagoya’s specialty cuisines - kishimen.
Kishimen is a noodle dish known for its hirauchi (flattened) noodles made from wheat flour, water, and salt. However, don’t be fooled as not all flattened noodle dishes are considered kishimen. By Japanese standards, noodles with a width wider than 4.5mm and thickness of less than 2.0mm can be called kishimen. For the full Nagoya experience, kishimen is best eaten in the form of miso stewed udon. For those who are not a fan of miso, kishimen can also be enjoyed with pasta sauce, hot soup, or cooled, just like regular udon.
Café Gentiane (Piyorin)
The Japanese’s obsession for cute things doesn’t end in the Kanto area – it is a cultural trait evident all over the country. In Nagoya, the cutest dessert is called piyorin. Coming from the words piyo-piyo (Japanese onomatopoeia for the chirping sound of a chick) and purin (Japanese pudding), piyorin is a chick-shaped cake with pudding that can be enjoyed at Café Gentiane, a specialty cafe located along the Tokaido-dori side of Nagoya Station.
Aside from its cute appearance, piyorin is also well-known for using one of the most expensive eggs in the country – Nagoya’s famed cochin eggs. While a custard base topped with vanilla mousse is the original flavor, piyorin also comes in matcha and other limited-edition flavors depending on the season. Below you can see limited edition treats made for Valentine's Day with chocolate fillings.
Hodakaso Yamano Hotel
For the night, we stayed at the Yamano Hotel, a ryokan in the middle of the mountainous area. The highlight of the night is their outdoor bath located outside of the hotel. Take a cable car and go to the ground, there is a wide hot spring bath in the woods where you can commune with nature.
Day two started with a visit to the only double-decker ropeway in Japan where you can view the magnificent Japanese Alps Mountain Range. From our hotel, we took the Nohi Bus directly to the ropeway. At the rooftop observatory deck located in the upper station (Nishihotakaguchi Station) at an altitude of around 2,156 meters, you can enjoy a 360-degree panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and valleys covered in white snow.
For our next meal, we tried the Chuka Soba. The soba has base broth made with bones, vegetables, and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) is enriched with soy sauce. Both the soba and base broth are handmade with different styles representing each restaurant.
In the afternoon, we took the Hida Limited Express train to Takayama City to see the beautifully preserved Japanese buildings and houses from the 1600s.
Located near the Miyagawa River, the old town of preserved and restored buildings remained from the Edo period and lets you soak in a historic atmosphere. If you’ve watched Japanese period dramas before, you will surely love this place. Within the area, Takayama Historical District street is considered the most scenic as it has a whole street of old homes, shops, coffee houses and sake breweries.
While in Chubu, you should also try their famous Hida beef. Hida beef refers to the Kuroge Wagyu breed of cattle raised in Gifu Prefecture known for its high quality, with beautiful marbling, colour, texture and taste. It is said to be one of the best beef brands in Japan so it is definitely a must try delicacy.
From Takayama Station, we took the Nohi bus direct to Shirakawa-go Village, which is probably the most popular destination in the Central Japan region. This route is the most preferred access mode to Shirakawa-go and is usually sold out, especially in the winter, so it’s better to reserve your tickets beforehand. Tickets can be exchanged at Nohi Bus Center right next to Takayama Station.
It has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Shirakawa-go is famous for its traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, whose roofs are constructed at a steep angle to allow heavy snow to fall off easily in winter. While mostly known for the snow-covered houses during winter, Shirakawa-go offers wonderful views in every season so you can visit this place during different times of the year to witness each season’s unique charm.
A five-minute shuttle ride for 200 yen (one-way) or a 25-minute walk up the mountain will lead you to an observation deck overlooking the whole area.
After enjoying Shirakawago, we took the World Heritage Bus to move to another city, Takaoka City. This is the hometown of Fujiko F. Fujio, father of Doraemon, so one can find various places related to the characters.
We took the Doraemon Tram to go eat dinner at a famous local sushi restaurant. Do you want to take a ride with your childhood friends?
Toyama is located near the sea and is therefore abundant with fresh seafood products. Don’t miss to enjoy the freshest ingredients that landed directly from the sea at one of the restaurants located on Toyama Bay. The place we ate was Iki-zushi氷見寿司, well known within locals. One of the must-try dishes is the white shrimp (Shiro-ebi). They are sweeter and much smaller than the normal one.
Shogawa Gorge, Toyama
In the morning, we took a bus from Takaoka Station going to Shogawa Gorge for a relaxing boat cruise. For just 2,800 yen, you can enjoy the spectacular view of Shogawa Gorge by riding a sightseeing boat that operates on the Shogawa Gorge between Komaki Dam and Omaki Onsen.
The soothing one-hour cruise along the Shogawa gorge offers varying but equally breathtaking views all throughout the year. In winter, you can see the mountain covered in snow while flowers in full bloom adorn them in spring. The summer season highlights the mountains’ lush greenery and in autumn, you get the best seat in enjoying Japan’s autumn leaves.
After finishing the sightseeing boat, we went back to visit the Zuiryuji Temple in Takaoka city and have lunch. It has been designated as a National Treasure and is a must-see attraction during a visit to this pleasant town in the Central region of Japan. The main gates, main hall, and Dharma hall stand in a line, and the temple buildings are laid out symmetrically left and right, interconnected by roofed passageways in a beautiful and powerful sight. We ate lunch at Yasuragi-an where they served seasonal dishes. The dishes for February using fresh vegetables and seafood.
After seeing the Temple we took the bus heading back to Takaoka Station to go to our next destination. On the first floor of the station, we were welcomed by a slightly familiar cat. This giant copper made Doraemon postbox is considered one of the icons of Takaoka City, which happens to be the birthplace of the manga artist that brought Doraemon to life. Located on the first floor of the Takaoka Station building, letters and postcards dropped in this postbox are stamped with a commemorative Doraemon postmark.
Handcraft Experience at Nousaku Factory, Takaoka City
From Takaoka Station, we went back to the hotel to take our luggage and then took a taxi to Nousaku Factory for a little cultural immersion. Takaoka City is historically known as a center of metal casting, and this industry still thrives in the city today. Take a look at their cute Doraemon collections! Afterwards, we tried making our very own tin item by joining a workshop at the Nousaku Lab.
Kanazawa Station, Tsuzumi Gate
After visiting Nousaku Factory, we moved to Shin Takaoka station to catch the Hokuriku Shinkansen toward Kanazawa City. Look at the huge Tsuzumi Gate, designed to symbolize the drums played in Noh Theater, welcoming us at the station here. It is said to be an unofficial symbol of Kanazawa and famous for being a combination of traditional wooden design and contemporary style.
At Kagaya, we had an Ozen set with dishes made by seasonal ingredients unique to the local area. A tray with sushi, miso soup and some other traditional dishes were served.
Hotel Wing International Premium Kanazawa Ekimae
We stayed at the Hotel Wing International Premium near Kanazawa Ekimae. It is a fairly new hotel with stylish design.
Our fourth day was dedicated to Kanazawa. It is an old castle town, well-known for its well-preserved Edo-era districts, art museums, magnificent garden and regional handicrafts. Here one can try both some modern experiences while enjoying its beauty from the old days.
In the morning, take a local bus heading to Kenrokuen Garden. This garden is said to be one of Japan's Three Great Gardens. The spacious grounds used to be the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle and feature a variety of flowering trees of seasonal natural beauty, including the snow-covered landscape with yukitsuri (snow hanging), a method of protecting the branches of the pine trees in the garden to prevent them from breaking due to heavy snow.
Kanazawa Castle, Nezumitamon Gate and Nezumitamon Bridge
Kanazawa Castle used to be the seat of the Maeda Clan, a feudal domain ranking second only to the Tokugawa possessions in terms of size and wealth, from 1583 until the end of the Edo Period. Since then, the castle has been extensively rebuilt and renovated due to numerous fire incidents. In July 2020, the restoration of Nezumitamon Gate and Nezumitamon Bridge on the west side of Kanazawa Castle were completed.
The castle ground is vast, and the building and gates contain excellent displays on traditional carpentry and the garden with a central pond can be a resting place if you get tired of walking.
Gyokusen’an Rest House
Located in the area of Kanazawa Castle Park, this is the Gyokusen’inmaru Garden. Sit down and have a cup of tea with wagashi- traditional Japanese sweets.
For lunch, we did a ten minute walk to reach Omicho Market, one of Kanazawa's famous fresh food markets. We heard that this market offers local specialties such as snow crab and sweet shrimps during the winter season, so we just had to try it! Similar to Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market, hundreds of stalls and restaurants selling fresh seafood are lined up so you may want to visit this area for more than one meal.
Higashi Chaya District
Our last spot in Kanazawa city is the Higashi Chaya District. It is said to be one of Kanazawa’s largest geisha districts. Walk around the old Chaya (tea house) in a Kimono and take a photoshoot for your SNS. This is also a place where you can try soft cream with gold leaf.
Stay at Awara Onsen Matsuya Sensen
Take a hotel shuttle bus from Awara Onsen station to the ryokan.
Awara Hot Spring Footbath
After checking in, we went exploring and checked the free public foot bath nearby. Search for “Ashiyu'' on Google Maps for this place, located just in front of Awara Yunomachi station. This decent facility offers several foot baths which are different shapes and temperatures. We wanted to try some food selling at the Yataimura Yukemuri Yokocho right in front of the foot bath building but since we still have our dinner waiting at the ryokan, we only took some photos to note down for the next trip.
For our last day, we hoped on the shuttle bus and to go back to Fukui Station.
Did you know that Katsuyama City in Fukui Prefecture is Japan’s most prominent dinosaur fossil discovery site? In Fukui Station’s West Exit, you can see a 10-meter model of Fukuititan, one of the dinosaurs found in Fukui. A model of the other dinosaur fossils discovered in Fukui, Fukuiraptor and Fukuisaurus, can also be found in Fukui Station.
Dinosaur Museum, Fukui
If you want to learn more about the Fukui dinosaurs, you can head to the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum, located almost 1 hours away from Fukui Station. This museum, located in Katsuyama City, is recognized as one of the top dinosaur museums in the world and is the largest of its kind in Japan. Currently, they only let visitors who already reserved a ticket to get in, in order to prevent the spreading of COVID-19.
About Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass
If you’re planning to explore Japan’s Central region, this pass is a must-have item. Aside from being convenient, it can help you save on transportation costs.
You can purchase it through the official website.
Tips for the trip:
- Stay at a hotel near the stations so you can leave your luggage prior to sightseeing. As an alternative, there are various coin lockers available at stations and popular tourist spots (i.e. Shirakawago).
- Reserve your seats on bus to and from Shirakawago since the place is exceedingly popular with travelers and locals. Buses are always full.
- Once you arrive at Nagoya Station, you can exchange your Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass at the JR counter. Also, Tourist Pass holders will be able to go pass the automatic gate from March 2021.
- Tourist Pass holders can reserve seats on Limited Express train but need to use the non-reserve seats on Shinkansen trains.