A nature-lover’s guide to slow train travel in Japan

Before the launch of Japan’s New Golden Route train line, the striking scenery between Tokyo and Osaka would pass by most travellers in a 185mph blur of blue-green and grey. Opting to instead book a Hokuriku Arch Pass, visitors will have easy access to Japan’s countryside, to paddies, Alps, roaring waterways and wide woodlands scattered across Honshu. Partake in these activities on your journey to get hands-on with some of Japan’s most beautiful regions. 

1. Rafting and canyoning on the Tone River, Minakami

The Minakami region tucks itself into the north of Gunma, where the great Tone River begins its rushing journey south to Tokyo. The Tone’s source is in Minakami’s Eco Park, a UNESCO biosphere where colliding climates from the Sea of Japan and the Pacific bring heavy snowfall in the winter, perfect for skiing and snowboarding and also Japan’s best rafting during the summer season. Under the shadows of snow-painted peaks, raft through 15 miles of grade four white waters and close tree-lined canyons. The ride is rapid, rollicking fun and entirely wet.

Canyoning helped put Minakami’s waning onsen resort back on the tourist map; now it’s internationally recognised by adventurers. Fox Canyon provides a great entry level, with jumps and slides into the breathtaking falls and rivers. Willow is for the more experienced, with waterfall abseiling, rope work and a whole series of speeding, slippery sliders.

Details: Book half-day, full-day and combined tours with the aptly named Canyons. From ¥9,500 (£55).

2. Hunt for gems on the Jade Coast, Niigata

Itoigawa’s small station on Niigata’s south coast is the gateway to Japan’s remarkable Jade Coast. The jade doesn’t actually start life on the shore, but in the deep Kotakigawa and Omigawa gorges. Formed by a tectonic split, these valleys are Japan’s largest jade producer. Shards of mint and shamrock-coloured stone wash down the rivers to settle on the coastline, where they can be picked up by visitors. Have your coastal collection appraised at Itoigawa’s Fossa Magna Museum, where you can learn about this prized stone that’s helped form Japan’s history. The country has the oldest jade culture in the world, with stones dating back 6,000 years, and has such a connection with its people that it was voted the national stone in 2016.

Details: Fossa Magna Museum’s fossil, jade and mineral hub operates free appraisals for beach-combed jade. Entrance ¥500 (from £3).


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