Getting from Tokyo to Shirakawa-go is at the top of many visitors' lists. In fact, Japan’s Chubu region is a popular destination among visitors looking to get the quintessential Japanese experience! The region is divided into four areas that are packed with the traditional sights you’re looking for during your trip.
・In the Matsumoto/Kamikochi area, discover the magnificent Matsumoto Castle, a national treasure, and the superb views that spread out nearby.
・The Hida-Takayama/Shirakawa-go area is home to the quaint thatched roof village of Shirakawa-go, a World Heritage site.
・In the Kanazawa area, you can visit Kenrokuen Garden, one of Japan’s three most famous gardens, plus a samurai village.
・And in the Toyama area, you can find the spectacular Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, which is literally carved through the snow when spring comes.
Here we’ll introduce the most recommended sightseeing spots in the Chubu region by area. We will also share how to see the region on a budget, using the best bus passes that’ll help you to visit those places right from Tokyo’s Shinjuku bus terminal.
Japan’s Chubu Region is Filled With Attractions
The Chubu region located in the central part of Honshu, Japan’s main island, where you can enjoy the dramatic, breathtaking natural scenery.
Here you can find the Japan Alps, a sprawling range of 3,000-meter high mountains. You can also enjoy World Heritage sites, old townscapes, and one of Japan's leading hot spring villages.
According to the Japan Tourism Agency's 2014 Consumption Trends of International Visitors to Japan Survey, among tourists to Japan for sightseeing and leisure, only 44% visited the two major metropolitan areas (the Tokyo metro area and the Osaka area).
It is said that visitors to local regions made up the remaining 56%. Given its excellent access from Tokyo and Osaka, the Chubu region is a popular destination for foreign tourists visiting in combination with the two major metropolitan areas.
Here are some recommended sightseeing spots in the Chubu region by area.
Matsumoto City spreads out at the foot of the Northern Alps in the western part of Nagano Prefecture. Featuring historical treasures such as Matsumoto Castle, the Former Kaichi School (Japan’s oldest elementary school), and the Matsumoto City Museum of Art, where Yayoi Kusama's works are always on display, it has the feel of a castle town. You can also find a wealth of attractions, such as Nakamachi Street, where you can enjoy a stroll through a neighborhood of white mud-walled homes and traditional storehouses.
Nearby are Asama Onsen, which has been loved by poets for a long time; Migahara Onsen, where you can enjoy a soak while gazing out at the dramatic Northern Alps; and Shirahone Onsen, which features soothing milky-colored hot water.
If you go a little further in Matsumoto, you can enjoy the impressive nature of Kamikochi and Norikura Kogen.
Matsumoto Castle is a must-see tourist spot in this area. Only 12 castles nationwide were built before the Edo period and have castle towers to date. Only Matsumoto Castle and Himeji Castle have a five-floor structure, and Matsumoto Castle is said to be the oldest existing five-floored castle in Japan. Venturing inside is also a popular experience, but before you do, be sure to walk around the castle and see it from different angles. Known as the “Crow Castle,” its black exterior with white contrasting lines is beautiful, and on a sunny day, you can capture the reflection of the water in the water against the stunning backdrop of the Alps.
Kamikochi is a typical mountain resort in Japan. Cars are sometimes regulated to protect the scenery so you can fully enjoy the magnificent natural views. The trekking courses here are well maintained and easy to walk. They open every year on April 27 and can be enjoyed until it closes on November 15. The courses are wide, ranging from light walks of about one hour to long hikes and full-scale climbing, so you can enjoy the beautiful outdoors according to your preference.
Hida Takayama/Shirakawa-go Area
Takayama City is in the northern part of Gifu Prefecture. It is called "Hida Takayama" because it is located in the center of Japan’s Hida region. Surrounded by the Northern Alps, you can enjoy the magnificent view of nature and the scenery of castle towns and merchant towns that have existed here since the Edo period.
About 50 minutes by bus from Hida Takayama, Shirakawa-go is one of the most famous tourist spots in the Hida region, and was registered as a World Heritage Site in 1995.
One of the main sightseeing spots in this area is the old town. Above all, "Sannomachi Street" feels like a time slip in the Edo period. Also, you can enjoy local cuisine, including skewered dishes, nigiri sushi, croquettes, and other Hida Beef gourmet, and mitarashi dumplings, plus experience the fun of sake tasting.
You’ve probably seen photos of these gorgeous traditional thatched-roof houses! This style of house, characterized by a steep thatched roof, is called gassho. Many of these gassho-style houses remain in Shirakawa-go. The historic villages of Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture and Gokayama in Toyama Prefecture have been registered as World Heritage Sites.
Shirakawa-go has houses (inns) where you can stay, and there are annual events where the village is lit up in the evening from January to February. It is a place where you can enjoy different attributes of the seasons, such as cherry blossoms, fresh green leaves, autumn leaves, and snow scenes.
●Okuhida Onsen Village, Shin-Hotaka Ropeway
This area is also home to Okuhida Onsenkyo, which consists of five hot spring areas: Hirayu, Fukuchi, Shin-Hirayu, Tochio, and Shin-Hotaka. It is said that there are more than 110 open-air baths here, and you can enjoy soaking in the hot springs while gazing out at the Northern Alps.
In Shin-Hotaka, you can also find the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway, the only double-decker cable car in Japan, which leads you to a world above the clouds at an altitude of 2,156m. The Shinhotaka Ropeway was refurbished in July 2020 with wider windows for a wider and clearer view.
Kanazawa in the center of Ishikawa Prefecture. It has a history that flourished as a castle town, and here you can feel that the samurai culture still remains. In addition to the Higashi Chaya District, a beautifully preserved area filled with traditional wooden houses, there are also three famous Chaya Districts where you can get a glimpse of the flower district culture of the Edo period.
At Omicho Market, called Kanazawa's kitchen, you can buy fresh seafood, vegetables, and fruits from the Hokuriku Region. You can eat in the market and enjoy a lively atmosphere. For art lovers, we also recommend the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa.
Kenrokuen Garden, one of Japan’s three major gardens, and is synonymous with sightseeing spots in Kanazawa, is a representation of a Japanese garden.
Ponds, ornamental hills, teahouses, etc. are scattered around the vast grounds. Here you can enjoy strolling around while taking in the scenery of the four seasons.
Yukitsuri, a Japanese technique for protecting tree limbs from snow by attaching them to bamboo poles with ropes, is famous as a winter feature of Kanazawa. You can spend a relaxing time in a space rich with Japanese atmosphere.
Nagamachi is an area where only middle-class samurai of the Kaga clan were allowed to live during the feudal era. At the Nomura Samurai Family Residence, which is open to the public, you can see the interior of the prestigious mansion and the stunning gardens.
Toyama has the Tateyama mountain range where 3,000m-high mountains are connected. Around Toyama Station are Toyama Castle and Kansui Park, which is home to a famous global coffee chain’s “most beautiful shop in the world.”
Also, if you stretch your legs a little, you can experience the greatness of nature at the Kurobe Dam and Toyama Bay. You can also take the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, one of Japan's leading mountain sightseeing routes, and the trolley train in the Kurobe Valley. It is full of spots you can experience.
Plus, along with Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture, you must visit the Gokayama Gassho-style Village, a World Heritage Site. Opened in 2015 and designed by architect Kengo Kuma, the Toyama Glass Art Museum is gaining in popularity as a spot for taking photos.
●Snow Wall (Yuki-no-Otani)
The Snow Wall (Yuki-no-Otani) is said to be the biggest highlight of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. From mid-April to mid-June, you can walk between huge snow walls approaching 20 meters in height.
In addition, there is a promenade on snow overlooking the Tateyama Mountain Range and a snow park where you can play in the snow.
* The best combination of the bus ticket "Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route Shinjuku Ticket" and "Three-Star Route Shinjuku Ticket" will be introduced later.
Toyama Castle is located about 10 minutes on foot from Toyama Station and is located on the grounds of Toyama Castle Ruins Park.
After the war, it was built as a memorial to the 1954 Toyama Sangyo Expo. Today, it is a museum that introduces the local history and culture.
We Recommend Taking the Bus From Tokyo to Matsumoto, Hida Takayama and Shirakawa-go!
Kenrokuen in Kanazawa; the Historical Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama that span Gifu and Toyama prefectures; the Sanmachi District (Old Townscape) in Hida Takayama; and Matsumoto Castle in Matsumoto, are each tourist spots that have received three stars (“highly recommended”) in the renowned Michelin Green Guide Japan.
The bus tickets discussed here are a convenient way to visit such three-star sightseeing spots. By bus, you can get close to sightseeing spots that are otherwise difficult to reach by train alone. Also, it is a nice feature that bus fares are cheaper than flights and Shinkansen.
There are two types of tickets.
A one-way ticket, “Three-star Route Shinjuku Ticket” can go to Kanazawa or Toyama from Shinjuku while passing through Matsumoto, Hirayu Onsen, Hida Takayama, and Shirakawa-go.
The "Three-Star Alps Unlimited Ride Shinjuku Pass" is a set of four-day open tickets that can be used for sightseeing in Shirakawa-go. This round-trip ticket option is available from Shinjuku to Matsumoto and Hida Takayama.
In addition, there is the “World Heritage Bus 1-Day Pass,” which is convenient for those who want to go around the Shirakawa-go and Gokayama World Heritage sites.
●Three-star Route Shinjuku Ticket
The "Three-star Route Shinjuku Ticket" is recommended for those who want to travel from Shinjuku to Kanazawa or Toyama as their final destination, Matsumoto, Hida Takayama, Shirakawa-go, etc. It's one of the best ways to get from Tokyo to Shirakawa-go. Because it is a one-way ticket, it is convenient for those who want to go to another area through Hokuriku. You can fully enjoy the Chubu area in one week of the ticket validity period.
Japan Bus Ticket Details:
・ Highway bus one-way ticket between Shinjuku Bus Terminal (Busta Shinjuku) and Matsumoto Bus Terminal *Reservation required
・ One-way express bus ticket between Matsumoto Bus Terminal and Takayama Bus Terminal (stop off at Hirayu Onsen bus stop)
・ One-way express bus ticket from Takayama Bus Terminal to Shirakawa-go
・ Highway bus one-way ticket from Shirakawa-go to Kanazawa Station or Toyama Station *Reservation required
Adult 9,500 yen, Children (6-12 years old) 4,750 yen
7 days from the use start date
・ Purchase tickets online
1. Tickets going to Kanazawa
2. Tickets going to Toyama
Note: For web purchases, please contact the counter (“Chubu Regional Information Plaza in Keio Shinjuku”) to exchange tickets.
・ To purchase at a ticket window:
"Chubu Regional Information Plaza in Keio Shinjuku"
Location: Inside the basement street "Keio Mall" at Shinjuku Station South Exit
Hours: 8:30am – 7:00pm
●Three-Star Alps Unlimited Ride Shinjuku Pass
The Three-Star Alps Unlimited Ride Shinjuku Pass is a round-trip ticket for arrivals and departures from Shinjuku, so it is recommended for those who want to go to the Chubu area from Tokyo.
The section from Matsumoto to Hida Takayama and Shirakawa-go has a 4-day open ticket, so it is a great deal for those who want to go around that area in detail.
You can also access famous hot spring areas such as Shirahone Onsen, Gero Onsen, and Asama Onsen.
It is also a convenient ticket for those who want to enjoy trekking at Kamikochi, Mount Norikura, and Mount Hotaka in the Northern Alps.
Japan Bus Ticket Details:
・ Highway bus round-trip ticket between Shinjuku Bus Terminal (Busta Shinjuku) and Matsumoto Bus Terminal * Seat reservation required
・ 4 days free ticket for Shinshu / Hida area
* Main free sections (Matsumoto, Kamikochi, Shirakone Onsen, Hirayu Onsen, Norikura Tatadaira, Takayama, Shirakawa-go, etc. + Round-trip ticket to Shinhotaka Ropeway)
4/1 through 11/30: Adult 17,800 yen, Children (6-12 years old) 8,900 yen
12/1 through 3/31: Adult 15,900 yen, Child (6-12 years old) 7,950 yen
7 days from the start of use (4 days for free section)
・Purchase tickets online here
・Ticket window purchases
"Chubu Regional Information Plaza in Keio Shinjuku"
Location: Inside the basement street "Keio Mall" at Shinjuku Station South Exit
Hours: 8:30 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Tickets must be collected in advance. The counter "Chubu Regional Information Plaza in Keio Shinjuku" is open from 8:30 a.m., so if you book an early morning flight, do not forget to go to the window by 7:00 p.m. the day before.
●World Heritage One Day Tour Free Ticket
The World Heritage Bus 1-Day Pass is recommended for those who want to visit the World Heritage sites of Gokayama and Shirakawa-go.
This bus ticket allows you to freely get on and off the route from Shirakawa-go on the Gifu side to Gokayama on the Toyama Prefecture side for one day.
If you purchase at the same time as the "Three-Star Route Shinjuku Ticket / Three-Star Alps Route Shinjuku Ticket", you can get a discount, so if you plan to visit, this option is recommended.
・Open ticket between Shirakawa-go and Ainokuraguchi * Valid only on the issue date
Adult 1,560 yen, children (4 years old-elementary school student) 780 yen additional
(Price: Adult 2,600 yen, Children (4 years old-elementary school student) 1,300 yen)
Traveling by bus from Shinjuku to Matsumoto and Hokuriku via the Chuo Expressway is an excellent experience. Outside your window, you’ll be able to enjoy the mountains of the Japanese Alps and reach the destination in comfort.
Get the most out of your journey to the World Heritage sites with these incredible bus tickets that pair with the three-star sightseeing spots in the Chubu region!
Written by Hiroshi & Risa Hasegawa
Other Recommended Shirakawa-go Tours
Make your trip extra memorable by booking one of these recommended experiences on our partner site, Voyagin!
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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