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Rail Report: Nagano’s scenic countryside and mountains with the Resort View Furusato

Rail Report: Nagano’s scenic countryside and mountains with the Resort View Furusato

If you’ve been to Nagano Prefecture (長野県 Nagano-ken), you’ll know that it’s home to beautiful nature and some of Japan’s highest mountains. Nagano is also home to three of JR East’s Joyful Trains—themed sightseeing trains that make railway journeys even more enjoyable. My colleagues Julia and Nazrul have already covered the HIGH RAIL 1375 and Oykot respectively, and this time I’ll be sharing about the Resort View Furusato (リゾートビューふるさと Rizо̄to Byū Furusato), one of my favourite Joyful Trains.

 

Route of the Resort View Furusato. (Image credit: JR East)

 

The Resort View Furusato runs between Nagano Station (長野駅 Nagano-eki) and Minami-Otari Station (南小谷駅 Minami-Otari-eki), along the Shinonoi and О̄ito Lines. It was launched in 2010 to coincide with the Shinshu Destination Campaign (Shinshu (信州 Shinshū) is an old name for Nagano). With many fun stops and stunning views along the way, the train certainly lives up to its name.

  • Resort: The train makes multiple pitstops along the way, with activities for passengers to enjoy
  • View: The views of the Zenkoji Plains from Obasute Station and the Northern Alps along the О̄ito Line are magnificent
  • Furusato: “Furusato” means “hometown” in Japanese, and the train passes by many beautiful countryside villages

 

Setting off from Nagano Station

Before departing Nagano Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

The train departs Nagano Station at 9:46, and we were heading to Hakuba, one stop before the terminal station. It was going to be a long ride, so we got some ekiben (駅弁 lunch box for eating on the train) before boarding. At the platform, the friendly station staff were holding a banner to wish us an enjoyable journey.

 

Arukuma details on the Resort View Furusato. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Do you know Arukuma? A smiley green bear wearing an apple on his head, Arukuma is the mascot character of Nagano Prefecture, and you will probably see him all around Nagano. To celebrate his 10th anniversary, the Resort View Furusato got a special Arukuma wrapping, so its exterior featured Arukuma in various outfits and in different seasons.

 

Inside the train, there was also a huge plushie of Arukuma, so don’t forget to snap a commemorative photo with him! There were also decals of Arukuma by the windows, with each window having a different design.

 

Panoramic views from Obasute Station

At around 10:10, the train made a stop at Obasute Station (姨捨駅 Obasute-eki), a station with a very interesting name. The station itself is located on a higher elevation, providing fantastic views of the Zenkoji Plains below.

 

Our first pitstop at Obasute Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

The name “Obasute” literally means “throw away old ladies”, and comes from a local legend where people used to abandon the elderly on mountains. However, instead of encouraging people to abandon their elderly, the tale is meant to inspire filial piety; who could bear to leave their elderly relatives behind?

 

Obasute Station’s platform overlooks the Zenkoji Plains and rice terraces. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Obasute is also known for its rice terraces, and we were lucky to be able to see some from the station platform. When we visited in late September, the terraces were a beautiful bright yellow.

 

Due to the higher elevation and steepness of the tracks leading to the station, trains travelling to Obasute Station need to make a switchback manoeuvre, where the train moves in a zigzag manner to go up a slope. There are only a few places in Japan where you can see a switchback, and Obasute is one of them.

 

The view from Obasute Station’s platform is really breathtaking, so it’s no wonder that it is considered as one of Japan’s Three Great Train Views (日本三大車窓 Nihon Sandai Shasо̄). The Resort View Furusato stopped here for about 30 minutes, so we had plenty of time to enjoy the views.

 

Night view at Obasute Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

During some evenings in summer, a service using this train vehicle operates between Nagano Station and Obasute Station, known as the Night View Obasute (ナイトビュー姨捨 Naito Byū Obasute). The service was created to let people enjoy the amazing night view at Obasute. If you have the chance, I recommend visiting if you can!

 

Eating my ekiben. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

After our 30 minutes at Obasute Station, it was time to say goodbye and get back on the train. As we continued on our journey, it was time for lunch, and I took out the Shinshu Bisaizen (信州美彩膳) ekiben that I had bought at Nagano Station earlier. Its name means “beautiful, colourful meal of Shinshu”.

 

I did not expect the ekiben to have two layers, and was treated to a scrumptious feast of a variety of dishes made with local Shinshu ingredients. Nagano is a landlocked, mountainous prefecture with delicious food, known for its mountain vegetables (山菜 sansai) and cultivated Shinshu salmon, and I was delighted that these were included in the ekiben.

 

The upper layer consisted of five different skewers, mountain vegetables, pickles, and tofu, while the bottom layer featured Shinshu salmon, mountain vegetables, and egg on a bed of rice. Every item was delicious, and before I knew it, I had finished the whole box.

 

Directional change at Matsumoto

Roomy seats on the Resort View Furusato. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

At around 11:33, the train stopped at Matsumoto Station (松本駅 Matsumoto-eki), where it switched tracks from the Shinonoi Line (篠ノ井線) to the О̄ito Line (大糸線). To do this, the train had to change directions, so while the train stopped at Matsumoto Station, passengers could try their hand at rotating the seats. For many foreign visitors to Japan, rotating train seats is not something we get to see often, and on the Resort View Furusato, you can try it out yourself.

 

Matsumoto Castle in different seasons. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Or, if you are getting off at Matsumoto, it is a beautiful city surrounded by scenic mountains, and home to the spectacular Matsumoto Castle. This stunning black castle is a National Treasure, and just a 15-minute walk from the station. It is one of my personal favourite castles in Japan, and is a marvel to look at in all seasons of the year and all times of the day.

 

Shrine excursion at Hotaka Station

Hotaka Station’s station building. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

If you’re continuing on, the next stop that the Resort View Furusato will make is at Hotaka Station (穂高駅 Hotaka-eki) at around 12:06. Here, the train will stop for about 30 minutes, and passengers can use the time to visit the nearby Hotaka Shrine (穂高神社 Hotaka Jinja), which is less than a 5-minute walk from the station.

 

The shrine gets its name from the nearby Hotaka Mountain Range, which is the source of the life-giving water that the city receives. The shrine compound is surrounded with tall cedar trees, which give it a calm atmosphere. At Hotaka Shrine, I got a goshuinchо̄ (御朱印帳), a book that you can use to collect calligraphy stamps (御朱印 goshuin) from temples and shrines. When we visited, it was close to the Boat Festival date, so there was a special paper cut-out goshuin that was available, which Julia and I bought as mementos of our visit.

 

Gateway to the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route: Shinano- О̄machi Station

Short stop at Shinano-О̄machi Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

At around 13:00, we arrived at Shinano-О̄machi Station (信濃大町駅 Shinano-О̄machi-eki). This was a shorter stop of about 10 minutes, but we still got to enjoy a few activities at the platform, such as taking photos with some backdrops and getting the station stamp.

 

Shinano-О̄machi Station is where you can get off if you are heading to the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. A 40-minute bus ride from Shinano-О̄machi connects you to Ogizawa, the start of the Nagano side of the route.

 

Our stop for today: Hakuba Station

Exterior of Hakuba Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Finally, at around 13:42, we reached Hakuba Station (白馬駅 Hakuba-eki), where we would be getting off to explore. Hakuba is well-known for its beautiful powder snow and its many ski resorts, becoming a popular winter destination for foreigners after hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics. However, outside of winter, there are so many more amazing things to experience and do, especially the stunning landscapes and nature.

 

At Hakuba, there are three main gondolas I recommend for enjoying Nagano’s fantastic nature: the Eve Gondola to Tsugaike Kogen, the Adam Gondola to Happo, and the Noah Gondola to Iwatake. When we visited in September, we headed to Tsugaike Kogen, the furthest from the station.

 

Tsugaike Nature Park

Taking the ropeway up to Tsugaike Nature Park. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

After arriving at the lower gondola station, we took the Tsugaike Gondola Lift “Eve”, transferred to the Tsugaike Ropeway, and got off at Tsugaike Nature Park (栂池自然園 Tsugaike Shizenen). Unfortunately, due to the rain, we could not see much on the gondola ride up, but while on the ropeway the skies cleared up a bit, and we got a peek at the panoramic scenery.

 

View at Tsugaike Nature Park on a rainy day. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

From the top of the ropeway station, we walked up a sloping path for about 10 minutes, and arrived at the Visitors’ Centre, the gateway to Tsugaike Nature Park. Alas, the rain was coming back, and the park was shrouded with white vapour.

 

At an elevation of 1,900m above sea level, Tsugaike Nature Park is one of Japan’s highest marshlands, and around the park are wooden boardwalks which make hiking a breeze. It was autumn when we visited, so we could see a little bit of yellow on the plants.

 

Rainy day activity: fun with the photobooth. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh and 栂池自然園)

 

Despite the rain, we had a pleasant time exploring the area. When the rain started to get heavier, we rushed back to the Visitors’ Centre, where we discovered a fun rainy-day activity: a photo booth!

 

At the photo booth, you could choose from various backdrops of Tsugaike Nature Park’s scenery in different seasons, pose, and the machine would take a photo. The photos will be uploaded to Tsugaike Nature Park’s website, from where you can download it later. Or, if you would like to have the photo printed, you could do so at the Visitors’ Centre for ¥300.

 

Happo Pond

On the way to Happo Pond. (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)

 

Other than Tsugaike Nature Park, there are two other places I recommend for enjoying views of nature at Hakuba. The first is Happo Pond (八方池 Happо̄-ike), which can be reached by taking the “Adam” Gondola and chair lifts up, followed by a 90-minute climb. If you love nature, I highly recommend this as the views while climbing up are spectacular.

 


The picturesque Happo Pond. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

The highlight of the route is Happo Pond, which is located at an elevation of 2,060m. When the water is still, you can enjoy the wondrous sight of the Hakuba Sanzan mountains reflected in the pond, a sight that is sure to take your breath away!

 

HAKUBA MOUNTAIN HARBOR

Panoramic view from HAKUBA MOUNTAIN HARBOR. (Image credit: Hakuba IWATAKE)

 

For those less physically able or for those who prefer something easier to access, you can take the “Noah” Gondola up to Hakuba Iwatake Mountain Resort. From the upper gondola station, it’s just a 3-minute walk to HAKUBA MOUNTAIN HARBOR, which is a free observation deck with stunning views of the mountains of Hakuba.

 

There’s also a café—The City Bakery—by the terrace, so you can get some food and drinks while you enjoy the view. Tip: the hot chocolate and baker’s muffin are really tasty!

 

Closing

The Resort View Furusato is one of my favourite Joyful Trains, and I could ride it over and over again just to enjoy the fantastic views. Nagano is filled with so much magnificent nature, and I always look forward to visiting again. There’s always a new mountain to explore, or a different scenery to check out. While the weather may disrupt travelling plans, there are still so many sights to enjoy, and I hope you can do so with the Resort View Furusato the next time you visit Nagano!

 

JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area)

The JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)

 

If you are thinking of riding the Resort View Furusato and visiting Nagano Prefecture, check out the JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area), an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 5 consecutive days at only ¥27,000. You can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains and Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, on the JR-EAST Train Reservation.

 

The JR-EAST Train Reservation. (Image credit: JR East)

 

The JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) can be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use this pass.

 

Header image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh

 

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