61 Best Sights in The Japan Alps and the North Chubu Coast, Japan

Nakamachi District

In the Edo era (1603--1868) Nakamachi was Matsumoto's central district, through which passed a key highway connecting the region to Kyoto, Nagoya, and Zenko-ji Temple in Nagano. Today, the main street here is still lined with old wooden buildings and white-painted kura (warehouses) that house craft stores, galleries, and hip cafes. It's a lovely place for a stroll. Running parallel, just across the Metoba River, Nawate Street has a similarly retro vibe, though that comes alive more at night because of its cluster of restaurants and bars. Nakamachi is a five-minute walk south of the castle or 10 minutes east of Matsumoto Station. The Town Sneaker bus also stops there.

Netsu-no-yu Bath

This is the often unbearably hot public bath next door to the yu-batake (hot springs field) that is popularly known as a "fever bath." You can't actually bathe here, but you can watch one of six daily yumomi shows in which locals in colorful traditional garb churn the waters with long wooden planks until they reach a comfortable temperature. You can also sign up for a Yumomi Experience and try churning the waters yourself. It's about 20 minutes of churning and fairly tiring, but you'll be enthusiastically encouraged by local yumomi pros.

414 Kusatsu-cho, 377-1711, Japan
0279-88–3613
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Yumomi Show ¥600, Yumomi Experience ¥250

Nomura-ke Samurai Residence

This elegant house in Naga-machi was rebuilt more than 100 years ago by an industrialist named Nomura. Visit the Jodan-no-ma drawing room made of cypress, with elaborate designs in rosewood and ebony. Then pass through the sliding doors to a wooden veranda. Rest your feet here, and take in the stunning little garden with weathered lanterns among pine and maple trees, and various shrubs and bonsai. Stepping stones lead to a pond dotted with moss-covered rocks and brilliant orange-flecked carp. In the upstairs tearoom you can enjoy a bird's-eye view of the gardens and a cup of matcha (green tea) for ¥300.

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Northern Culture Museum

On the banks of the Agano River on the Kanbara Plain, the museum is a 40-minute bus ride from Niigata Station. This former estate was established in the Edo period by the Ito family, which, by the 1930s, was the largest landowner in the Kaetsu area, with 8,352 acres of paddy fields, 2,500 acres of forest, and 78 overseers who controlled no fewer than 2,800 tenants. Ito Mansion, built in 1887, was their home for generations until the Land Reform Act of 1946. With its valuable art collection it became this museum, which has 65 rooms, as well as three restaurants and a coffee shop.

Its five teahouses are in different parts of the garden (two of them built later), and numerous natural rocks—mostly from Kyoto—are artistically arranged around the pond. At Niigata ask the tourist information office to point you in the direction of the right bus, which takes 40 minutes. A taxi takes 20 minutes.

Noto Seacoast

Although inland buses will get you around faster, the coastal route is recommended for its scenic value. The 16-km (10-mile) stretch between Fuku-ura and Sekinohana, known as the Noto Seacoast, has fantastic wind- and wave-eroded rocks, from craggy towers to partly submerged checkerboard-pattern platforms. Among the best is Gan-mon, a rock cut through the center by water. Gan-mon is about 45 minutes north of Hakui and is a stop on tour-bus routes. The Wajima Tourist Information Center can give you details of boat tours, if you want to see the coast from the water.

Ogi

This tiny port town on Sado's southwest coast is famous for taraibune, tublike boats used for fishing. You can be paddled around the harbor in one by old ladies in traditional attire for a small fee. Taraibune can also be found in the village of Shukunegi on the Sawasaki coast, where the water is dotted with rocky islets and the shore is covered with rock lilies in summer.

Ogi Machi, Sado, 952-0605, Japan
Sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥600 for 10-min taraibune trip

Omi-cho Market

This market in the center of the downtown was established almost 300 years ago. Today, the 170 or so vendors here run the gamut from fishmongers selling highly prized crab and seafood from the Sea of Japan, to sake stores, grocers and restaurants. The place is full of energy and color. Most stores are open from 9 am to 5:30 pm, although the restaurants in the second floor stay open later.

Osado Skyline Drive

The island's most scenic route is the roughly 30-km (19-mile) Osado Skyline Drive, which snakes across the mountains from Ryotsu to Aikawa. If you aren't using a rental car, you must take either a tour bus from Ryotsu or a taxi from Aikawa to Chiguse, where you can catch a bus for the return trip. (You can do the route in reverse as well.) It's particularly beautiful in autumn foliage season.

Oyama Shrine

Built in 1599, Oyama Jinja was dedicated to Lord Toshiie Maeda, the founder of the Maeda clan. The shrine's unusual three-story gate, Shin-mon, was completed in 1875. Previously located atop Mt. Utatsu, the square arch and its stained-glass windows were believed to once function as a lighthouse, guiding ships in from the Sea of Japan to the Kanaiwa Port, 6 km (4 miles) northwest. You're free to walk around the shrine.

Ponshukan

Chuo-ku

This sake shop in the malls connected to Niigata Station is best known for its tasting room, where you can sample little cups of sake from each of Niigata's 90 or so breweries, all self-served from a wall of 100 shiny, silver vending machines. For a small fee, you'll be given a sake cup and five coins for the vending machines. You can also try pairing each sake with a selection of regional salts. Afterwards, the shop itself has an interesting range of sake-related souvenirs, from the actual drinks to moisturizing masks and soap made with sake lees, plus regional snacks and deli foods.

Rokuzan Art Museum

This museum displays the work of Rokuzan Ogiwara, a sculptor who was influenced by Auguste Rodin and pioneered modern sculptural styles in Japan. He is especially known for his female figures in repose and male figures in heroic poses. This ivy-covered brick building with a stunning bell tower is in Hotaka, 26 minutes (¥330) north of Matsumoto Station on the JR Oito Line. From Hotaka Station it's a 10-minute walk to the museum.

5095--1 Hotaka, 399-8303, Japan
0263-82–2094
Sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥700, Closed Mon. and the day following a public holiday Nov.--Apr.

Sado Gold Mine

This mine was once the most productive in Japan, producing gold, silver, and copper for the Tokugawa shogunate. After closing in the late 1980s, it has been preserved as a historical museum. Part of the mine's 325 km (250 miles) of underground tunnels, some running as deep as 1,969 feet, are open to the public. For a steep fee, you could don Mixed Reality glasses for a 30-minute walk in the Dohyu Tunnel, to see how Edo-period slaves worked the mine in appalling conditions. A cheaper option is to pay for tech-free access to parts of the Dohyu and Sohdayu tunnels. The mine is a tough 40-minute uphill walk or a five-minute taxi ride (about ¥900) from the bus stop at Aikawa. Three daily Nana-Ura Kaigan buses let you off at the Sado-Kinzan-mae bus stop.

1305 Shimo-Aikawa, Sado, 952-1501, Japan
0259-74–2389
Sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥1,400; ¥3,000 VR Experience

Sai-no-Kawara Open-Air Bath

For a soak in the open air, try this expansive bath at the western end of Kusatsu village, which has pleasing scenery by day and lots of stars by night. Known for its milky waters, the bath can hold up to 100 people at a time. It's a 15-minute walk west from the Kusatsu bus terminal.

Saitou Family Villa

Chuo-ku

The Saitou family was one of Niigata's most successful merchant families in the Meiji period. Their old villa, built in 1917, is a charming two-story wooden building with a pretty landscaped garden that is especially stunning when the leaves change color in the fall. Once you've explored the building and strolled the garden, stop for matcha tea and sweets in the tatami-floored tearoom that looks out into the grounds. To get there, take the Niigata loop bus to the Hoppo Bunka Hakubutsukan Niigata Bunkan-mae stop, from where it's a two-minute walk.

567 Nishi Ohatamachi, Niigata, 951-8104, Japan
025-210–8350
Sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥300; tea and sweets ¥500, Closed Mon.

Sanmachi Suji District

A 10-minute walk east of Takayama Station, this charming, old street in the heart of Takayama's historic quarter is lined with wooden Edo-era merchant homes and stores, as well as the occasional tall kura warehouse built to house Takayama's priceless festival floats. Be warned that it can get extremely crowded with tourists, but it's still worth a stroll. You'll find old sake breweries here, like Funasaka at the street's southern end, where you can sample local brews. As well as craft stores and cafes, there are also plenty of small stores selling snacks, such as skewers of Hida beef, Hida beef sushi, or sweet dango dumplings.

Senkaku Bay

Glass-bottomed boats operate sightseeing cruises around Senakaku Bay, offering views of the fantastic, sea-eroded rock formations and 60-foot cliffs. You get off the boat at Senkaku-wan Ageshima Yuen (Senkaku Bay Ageshima Island Park), where you can picnic, stroll, and gaze at the varied rock formations offshore. From the park, return by bus from the pier to Aikawa. To reach the bay, take a 15-minute bus ride from Aikawa to Senkaku-wan Ageshima Yuen Mae bus stop, where you catch boats for the 40-minute sightseeing cruise. The one-way cruise boat runs mid-March to late November. It's also possible to enter the park without taking a cruise. Once there, you could also try several hands-on activities, including fishing with a bamboo rod (¥550, 30 minutes) and preparing dried squid (¥1,500, 40 minutes).

Senkaku-wan Ageshima Yuen, 952-2133, Japan
0259-75--2311
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Boats ¥1,100; park entry ¥550

Shibu Onsen's Nine Baths

Yamanouchi-machi

As well as hot-spring baths within ryokan, Shibu has nine baths scattered around town, each of which is said to bring a different benefit to bathers, from soothing intestinal issues to treating neuralgia. Legend has it that bathing in all nine results in longevity and protection from evil. Bath number 9 (called O-yu) is open to day-trippers (buy a ticket at the local tourist office), but if you stay at an inn in Shibu, you'll be given a key that unlocks all nine baths, so you can don your in-room yukata gown and hop from bath to bath.

2112--1 Hirao, Shimo-Takai-gun, 381-0401, Japan
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Free for ryokan guests; ¥500 for bath number 9 for non-ryokan guests, Baths open 6 am to 10 pm

Shima Teahouse

Constructed in the early 19th century, this elegant former geisha house, listed as a National Important Cultural Asset, is now a museum of Kanazawa geisha culture. While there, stop off in the tea room for matcha and sweets. That costs an extra ¥500 to ¥700 on top of admission, depending on the type of sweet.

Shiraito and Ryugaeshi Waterfalls

Hiking paths get crowded during the tourist season, but these waterfalls make a good afternoon excursion in the off-season. To get to the trailhead at Mine-no-Chaya, take the bus from Karuizawa Station. The ride takes about 25 minutes and costs ¥710. From the trailhead it's about a one-hour hike to Shiraito for the 3-meter-high, 70-meter-wide falls. You can take the bus back to Karuizawa Station from here or continue on to the not-so-impressive Ryugaeshi falls (90 minutes). From these falls it's a 15-minute walk to the bus stop and a 20-minute bus ride back to Karuizawa.

Shiraito-no-taki, Japan
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Free

Shoren-ji Temple

The main hall of Shoren-ji in Shiroyama Koen (Shiroyama Park) was built in 1504. It was moved here in 1961 from its original site in Shirakawa-go, right before the area was flooded by the Miboro Dam. Beautifully carved, allegedly from the wood of a single cedar tree, this temple is an excellent example of classic Muromachi-period architecture. The temple sits on a hill surrounded by gardens, and you can see the Takayama skyline and the park below.

Shiroyama Koen, Takayama, 506-0822, Japan
0577-32–2052

Shukunegi

Once known for building small wooden ships to traverse the waters between Sado and Honshu, laid-back Shukunegi is a great place to see traditional buildings that date back more than a century. From Ogi, you can reach Shukunegi by bus or by bike. If renting a bike in Ogi, ask for an electric assist model to help power you up the steep hills between the two towns.

Soji-ji Soin Temple

Monzen-cho

The Zen temple complex at Monzen once served as the Soto sect's headquarters. Though a fire destroyed most of the buildings in 1818 and the sect moved its headquarters to Yokohama in 1911, this is still an important training temple. Strolling paths traverse the lush grounds, where you can see some spectacular red maples and an elaborately carved gate. It's possible to stay here for ¥7,000 if you have a serious interest in Zen Buddhism (be advised that room doors don't lock). To get here, take a bus to the Soji-ji Soin Mae bus stop.

1--18--1 Monzen, Wajima, 927-2156, Japan
0768-42–0005
Sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥500

Takaoka City

The southern gateway to the Noto Peninsula, thanks to being a shinkansen stop, Takaoka is mostly known for its traditions of copper, bronze, and iron smithing, and remains a major bell-casting center. No wonder it has one of Japan's three oldest Daibutsu (Great Buddha) statues. The Takaoka Daibutsu is made entirely of bronze. A short walk from the station is Zuiryu-ji, a delightful Zen temple. A sprawling park, Kojo-koen, is particularly stunning in autumn, with its red-and-silver maples. With Yamachosuji and Kanayamachi, the city also has a pair of historic, merchant districts dotted with old buildings.

Takayama Float Exhibition Hall

This community center displays four of the 17th- and 18th-century yatai (festival floats) used in Takayama's famous Sanno and Hachi-man festivals. More than two centuries ago Japan was ravaged by the bubonic plague, and yatai were built and paraded through the streets to appease the gods. Because this seemed to work, locals built bigger, more elaborate yatai to prevent further outbreaks. The delicately etched wooden panels, carved wooden lion-head masks for dances, and elaborate tapestries are remarkable. Technical wizardry is also involved, as each yatai contains puppets, controlled by rods and wires, that perform amazing, gymnast-like feats.

178 Sakura-machi, Takayama, 506-0858, Japan
0577-32–5100
Sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥1,000

Takayama Jinya Historical Government House

This rare collection of stately buildings housed the 25 officials of the Tokugawa Shogunate who administered the Hida region for 176 years. Highlights include an original storehouse (1606), which held city taxes in sacks of rice, a torture chamber (curiously translated as the "law court"), and samurai barracks. Free, guided tours in English are available on request and take 30 to 50 minutes. Fruit, vegetables, and local crafts are sold at the nearby Jinya-mae Asa-ichi morning market, open until noon. From the JR Station, head east on Hirokoji-dori for a few blocks to the old section of town. Before the bridge, which crosses the small Miya-gawa, turn right, pass another bridge, and the Takayama Jinya is on your right.

1--5 Hachiken-machi, Takayama, 506-0012, Japan
0577-32–0643
Sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥440

Tsugaike Nature Garden

This marshland, almost 6,000 feet above sea level, dazzles with a wide variety of rare alpine flora from early June to late October and is graced with gold and crimson leaves from September to October. It's a three-hour walk to take in the entire park. If the weather turns bad, there's always the climbing wall in the visitor center to try. The best way to get here is to take a bus (25 minutes) from Otari Station, two stops from Hakuba, and then a gondola up to the alpine park.

Chikuniotsu, Otari-mura, 399-9422, Japan
0261-82–2233
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Park entry ¥320. Gondola (with park entry) ¥3,700 return

Wajima Lacquerware Museum

To observe the traditional lacquerware manufacturing process, visit Wajima Lacquerware Museum. The production of a single piece involves more than 20 steps, from wood preparation and linen reinforcement to the application of layers of lacquer, carefully dried and polished between coats. The facility is in the center of town on the north side of Route 249, near the New Bridge.

24--55 Kawai-machi, Wajima, 928-0001, Japan
0768-22–2155
Sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥300

Wajima Morning Market

At the tip of the peninsula, the fishing village of Wajima is known for its gorgeous lacquerware. A good place to purchase some fine pieces is the Wajima Morning Market, held from 8 am to noon daily except for the second and fourth Wednesday of each month. You can also buy seafood, fruit, vegetables, and local crafts from elderly women wearing indigo monpei (field pants). Almost anyone can point you in the right direction.

Kawai-machi, Wajima, 928-0001, Japan
0768-22–7653

Workshop of Kaga-Yuzen

A few houses have been carefully restored in the Naga-machi samurai district, including the Naga-machi Yuzenkan, where you can buy silk products and watch demonstrations of Yuzen silk painting—a centuries-old technique in which intricate floral designs with delicate white outlines are meticulously painted onto silk used for kimonos. You can also sign up for a wide range of experiences, from dressing up in kimono to creating your own designs on silk.

2--6--16 Naga-machi, Kanazawa, 920-0865, Japan
076-264–2811
Sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥350, Closed Tues. and Wed., and Dec.--Feb.

Yari Onsen

The trail from Sarukura to Yarigatake—a hike of four hours—leads to the area's highest outdoor hot spring, Yari Onsen. It's part of a lodge that also has camping grounds (with gear rentals), but you can payto use the onsen. The lodge is open from mid-July to the end of September. Sarukura is a 40-minute bus ride from Hakuba Station. Crampons can be rented in Hakuba Village.