Our sluggish travel series explores how you can take more aware journeys by train, boat, bus or bike – with guidelines on how to get where you are likely without having extra flights, and what to see and do alongside the way. Right here, Lonely Planet’s resident Japanese train professional John Walton normally takes us across the Japanese Alps from Nagoya to Toyama by prepare.
When you consider about Japanese teach travel, you may well feel about rushing to or from Tokyo on a substantial-pace Shinkansen, rocketing at up to 200 mph (320km/h) via tunnels and over elevated concrete viaducts.
That experience is certainly a huge part of practice travel in Japan – but some of the Japanese rail journeys I enjoy the most are a alternatively slower affair.
The Hida, a person of Japan’s regional Restricted Categorical trains, is one of them. Weaving its way from bustling Nagoya’s huge major railway station alongside the aged pre-Shinkansen Tokaido Main Line ahead of veering off as a result of scaled-down towns and into the mountains, it offers some of the most quintessentially Japanese ordeals you can have.
Involving Tokyo and Kyoto, this journey is ideal equally for very first-time Japan tourists or for return website visitors who want to get off the beaten path. Nonstop, it’s a four-hour vacation, but considerably of the joy is in breaking up your journey, like at one particular – or both – of the sizzling-spring vacation resort cities together the route.
You can begin at possibly finish, but Nagoya is typically a little bit much easier to access for most vacationers. I strongly disagree with all those who obtain Japan’s fourth-premier metropolis boring: it’s an extremely friendly area, with hundreds of delightful local foodstuff that rank between Japan’s ideal. It is also just one of Japan’s biggest museum cities, with concept parks, castles and much more.
Prepare fans will delight in SCMAGLEV & Railway Park, to my intellect Japan’s ideal railway museum. If you are into architecture, Meiji-mura showcases buildings from the Meiji period of time (1867–1912) as properly as a person by Frank Lloyd Wright, even though Inuyama Castle (one particular of Japan’s 12 authentic castles) and Nagoya Castle (a replica) provide a flavor of background. Consider in outstanding artwork at the Tokugawa Artwork Museum – or go additional afield to see how one particular of the world’s best automakers will work at the Toyota Auto Museum (a 45-ride on the floating maglev Linimo transit method). Base line: there is lots to do.
Nagoya’s principal station itself hides secrets and techniques: beneath it there is a warren-like underground city that practically feels like a mini theme park. For views, a sky-significant two-floor cafe place on the top rated of the setting up incorporates the Takashimaya section retailer, together with a Starbucks with an extraordinary view all the way southeast across the dozens of educate tracks.
Ought to-munch choices from community restaurants – some of which you can choose with you on board as lunch packing containers – contain the community hitsumabushi eel, Nagoya-type chicken wings, misokatsu pork cutlet, the local kishimen noodles and (in winter) a misonikomi scorching pot.
Finest views on a Hida train
Named just after the former Japanese province and river the two termed Hida, the train gives amazing sights of some of Japan’s finest surroundings from vast home windows. It operates 10 periods a working day, at times terminating at Takayama and occasionally jogging by way of to Toyama.
At present, you are going to obtain both the outdated carriages – some delightful 1980s classics and the KiHa 85 – or the brand-new, sustainable hybrid diesel HC85. You can request the reservations desk which educate it will be when you make your reservations (for the Japan Rail Pass) or purchase your tickets (if you really don’t have a go).
I uncover the old trains notably charming: the entrance and back cars have a entirely panoramic all-window nose, allowing you to observe the two the perspective and the driver as the practice weaves its way through the rough-hewn mountain tunnels and single-observe railway. These panoramic cars and trucks gave the train its earlier title, the Extensive View Hida with the new trains, the title has reverted to just the Hida for all products and services.
You start off on the Tokaido Line, the previous pre-Shinkansen major line alongside enormously extensive commuter trains combined with JR freight trains whizzing previous.
You essentially close up reversing route at Gifu to choose you up past Inuyama, now a suburban town but a person pretty worthy of a diversion, for Meiji-mura, Inuyama Castle and the Uraku-en backyard (and its national-treasure teahouse).
From there you begin to climb up previous rivers and into hills and then mountains. The multi-monitor most important line turns into a two-keep track of suburban line and then a single-keep track of mountain railway as it wends its way by means of tunnels developed in the early 1900s. On the north side of the mountains, the train breaks out into valleys of rice fields and the alluvial plains of the Jinzu and Ida Rivers. Glance out the teach to the east as you strategy Toyama to see the Hida Mountains looming in the length.
This is a quintessential gradual-train practical experience. Gaze down at shiny eco-friendly-blue mountain rivers right following to you, marvel at the tiny single-keep track of tunnels hewn into the sides of the mountains by railway personnel in the early 1900s, loosen up as you get pleasure from the sights of seasonal forests and rice fields, peer into the life of tiny towns, and probably halt at a person or both of those of the two principal onsen sizzling spring towns on the checklist. (Make guaranteed you provide your onsen towel, or buy one particular regionally as a memento.)
The initial town is Gero-Onsen, typically 1 of Japan’s best a few warm-spring cities. It’s also house to the Gassho-Mura folks village, an open up-air museum a pair of miles east of the station.
Following is Takayama, at times identified as Hida Takayama to distinguish it from Japan’s other Takayamas (the name basically translates as “high mountain,” so confusion is understandable). It is much larger than sleepy Gero, and presents both sizzling springs and the Furui-machi-nami district, with its attractive historic wooden structures.
With trains (either the Hida or a regional train) connecting the two pretty significantly each and every hour, both are effectively value a end. Bear in mind that the sunlight sets early in Japan, and that the very last Hida north to Toyama leaves Takayama just following 5pm.
Preserve an eye out at very small Inotani station for a improve of drivers: this is the border involving the JR Central and JR-West railway-organization areas. One company’s driver hops off with a quick salute to the other company’s driver, who hops on. It is all done in a flash.
If you make it to the front car or truck, it’s totally interesting to look at the driver as they do the renowned Japan Railways position-and-contact at each solitary signal. “Shinko!” they say out loud, with self-assurance, as they point a finger at each individual environmentally friendly sign on the way.
Anything else to know?
Tourist information for visitors is at times broadcast during the practice, which includes on the older trains via a instead ingenious lower-tech program, which involves a cassette participant held up to the microphone.
The location has carried out a good career in latest yrs growing the already good stage of signage in English, and a escalating variety of tourist-data and railway team are assured in entire world languages. Even to start with-time readers ought to sense assured with navigating this fantastic journey.
When you get to Toyama, you may possibly be tempted to pace off on your up coming coach. But you will not regret a quit here.
Transportation buffs will love a journey on the Toyama Portram, Japan’s very first Light-weight Rail Transit (LRT) line, even though gourmets can sample some of Japan’s freshest and most scrumptious sushi from the prosperous waters of Toyama Bay. Do not skip the neighborhood specialty, pressed-trout masu-zushi (which also helps make an exceptional on-train food), or allow your eyes do the choosing at just one of the restaurant flooring in one of the malls ideal future to the station making.
Japanese trains are famously on time, so you’ll be shocked to know that my prepare was operating about 15 minutes late owing to a truck getting crashed into a single of the bridges in the Nagoya region. Of study course, this currently being Japan, there was a compact brigade of railway employees in unexpected emergency armbands waiting around on the platform to aid passengers make new connections.
Exactly where do the tracks direct from below?
Nagoya is a key cease alongside Tokyo’s initial and busiest bullet teach line, the renowned Tokaido Shinkansen, as nicely as various slower regular traces operated by JR Central and personal railway organizations.
Toyama is served by a person of the latest superior-pace rail traces, the Hokuriku Shinkansen: you can pace west to Kanazawa (and from spring 2024 as considerably as Fukui) and improve for Kyoto, or return to Tokyo through Nagano and Takasaki.
More facts on the Vast Look at Hida and the Hida
The greatest time to get the Hida line
The mountains are beautiful for most of the year, specially in spring and autumn – but Toyama Prefecture’s tremendous snowfall indicates that a wintertime excursion is a certain delight. Stay away from the summer time except if you really like warmth and humidity.
Meals and drink for the duration of the journey
As ever in Japan, check out the community ekiben bento bins featuring scrumptious regional specialties, normally in excess of rice, and look at stopping off at one of the omiyage memento stalls at your departure station for delightful treats (Japanese individuals get them to bring household for friends and colleagues). These stores are also excellent for neighborhood sake and the developing assortment of Japanese regional craft beers.
As with pretty much all trains in Japan, ticket priced are mounted fairly than dynamic. You’ll pay the same no matter if you reserve months in progress or stroll up the day you’re touring.
Fares are based mostly on distance ($37) in addition a reserved seat fare ($21, or $51 for the Eco-friendly Motor vehicle initial class seats, undoubtedly well worth it if you can get the panoramic entrance vehicle). You can buy tickets from any JR ticket office environment in Japan, or from Japan-expert journey brokers.
Rail passes covering the space, like the nationwide Japan Rail Go, can be employed but demand progress reservation.
Nagoya’s Chubu Centrair international airport has flights to dozens of Asian destinations, as effectively as Detroit (Delta Air Traces), Guam (United Airlines) and Honolulu (Japan Airlines). Prior to the Russian overflight bans, Finnair also made available connections from Helsinki.
As with most Japanese towns, you will obtain all the things from capsule accommodations by means of reasonably priced nevertheless reputable “business hotels” up to worldwide brand names close to the two Nagoya and Toyama stations.