Getting There


Overnight train used to be one of your better options from Kansai. Nowadays, long-distance buses are the way to go. Buses from Kansai leave early in the morning and get to either Matsumoto or Nagano a bit after 1 p.m. or so. As always, some buses (in particular Hankyu and Kintetsu) refuse to carry bagged bicycles on board, so check carefully before travel day to see which company is operating the bus that you want to take. Alpico is one that will accept bagged bikes.

From Tokyo, things are much easier. There’s now a bullet train (the Hokuriku Shinkansen) that will get you from Tokyo to Nagano in two hours or even less. There are also buses that can get you from central Tokyo to Nagano, sometimes for as little as 1,500 yen!


Accommodations


During the holiday season or autumn weekends, you should make reservations if possible, since youth hostels and even minshuku will fill up. Manza has a number of fine inexpensive minshuku, and Nozawa is even more packed with places to stay. There are youth hostels at the Zenkoji temple in Nagano City (Zenkoji Kyoju-in, 0262-32-2768); at Kusatsu Kogen, just south of the pass (Kusatsu-Kogen YH, 0279-88-3895) and at Lake Nojiri (Nojiri-ko YH, 0262-58-2501). The Kusatsu Kogen YH is one of the few to rate four stars in the Japanese YH guide; note that it is at 1,100 meters and thus a sharp drop from the 2,138m pass, so don't plan on staying here if you want to go back up the mountain (and also note that it closes for about a week in June and November). For minshuku, arrange reservations in advance during the busy seasons; most travel offices will do this for you free of charge. There is also a kokumin shukusha at Shiga Kogen (Shigakogen-so, 0269-34-2131) and a "cycling terminal" in Nagano city.


Sights


The sights on this route are covered pretty well in the Story section. Since you're climbing up into the mountains, you have spectacular winter-wonderland scenery at practically any time of the year. Once you come down from the mountains, by all means arrange to stop at some of the many hot springs at Yudanaka, in an area known as "Jigokudani" (valley of hell). One of these is the famous "monkey spa" where monkeys keep warm in winter; note that it’s a hike up a steep hillside, so you’ll have to leave your bike down at the bottom (and lock it, of course). And no, you can’t go in and bathe with the monkeys, even if you were crazy enough to want to do that. The tiny one-street towns here are very picturesque as well. There are an entire cluster of hot springs here; check out as many as you have time for. At the western end of the hot springs community is the right turn you should make to go to Nozawa on a road that curves just west of the mountains; a more level route follows the river up all the way as well. Formerly, offroaders traveling in the warm months could consider going on the Oku-Shiga “super” rindo (forest road), a 50 km route that was supposed to be one of the finest in Japan; it skirts Yudanaka and the monkey spas but fortunately goes straight to Nozawa This has now been paved and is now Prefectural Route (kendo) 502; note that it is closed from November to around May.


Getting Away


Once you get to Nagano, you can go back by afternoon or overnight train, or by bus, the same way you came (note that all bus companies do not permit bagged bicycles on overnight buses). If you don't want to cycle all the way back to NaGano, you can board from Iiyama, NaKano or some other point on the branch line that joins up with the main line just before Nagano. If you're doing a side-trip to Lake Nojiri, Kurohime station on the main line is right at the west end of that lake. For other options, see Alternatives.

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JAPAN ALPSJapan_Alps.htmlJapan_Alps.htmlshapeimage_16_link_0