Freshly-picked strawberries for breakfast!
Day 4 of my Northward Golden Route adventure got me the most questions on Instagram!
We started the morning at Takumi no Sato which is an arts and crafts village in Gunma set amongst rice fields and strawberry farms and against the backdrop of Minakami's mountains. Scattered throughout this small village are several workshops and stores where you can shop for various Japanese crafts, as well as experience traditional Japanese craft-making such as woodworking, Bamboo working, and Japanese origami.
Strawberry House is a retail shop and cafe specialising in everything strawberry.
They also have a strawberry farm where for JPY1800, you get to pick and eat all the ichigo you want in 30 minutes.
They are all super sweet and juicy but if you want to know how heaven tastes like, you can dip them in the Hokkaido condensed milk provided.
Takuminosato Horakukan // 〒379-1418 Gunma-ken,Tone-gun Minakami-machi,Sukawa847 // Website
After our scrumptious breakfast of freshly-picked strawberries, we took the Max Tanigawa 309 train from Jomo Kogen Station to GALA Yuzawa Station.
GALA Yuzawa is a ski resort located in Yuzawa-machi, Niigata and although we did the least here, this attraction impressed me the most.
For a start, it is directly connected to the shinkansen station. That is to say, you are in the resort the very second you step off the train.
They offer a wide range of snow activities for both children and adults such as skiing, snowboarding, trekking with the traditional Japanese snow shoes (which we were supposed to try!) and the resort also has an indoor heated pool, outdoor jacuzzi and onsen.
Unfortunately, when we were there, the weather wasn't exactly favorable (you can get updates from their website daily at 6.30am re weather conditions!) and the slopes were hence closed.
We obviously still had fun nonetheless.
(I also had one of the best fish and chips in my life at their in-house restaurant!)
GALA Yuzawa is only 75 minutes away from Tokyo station and there are special packages available if you are holding on to the JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area).
What appealed to me was how you DON'T have to specially plan a trip to Hokkaido with all your gear/ equipment for you to ski or snowboard. GALA offers a wide range of SALOMON skis and snowboard and even trendy snow wear and accessories so you can just show up at the resort empty-handed. Can you imagine how hassle free it is to plan your usual shopping/ sightseeing holiday with the freedom to slot in a day or two of snow play?
GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort // 〒949-6101 Niigata-ken Minamiuonoma-gun Yuzawa-machi Ooaza Yuzawa Aza Kayabira 1039-2 // Website
After an afternoon of snow sledding, we took the resort's shuttle bus to the Echigo-Yuzawa Station for what would be the most beautiful shinkansen ride ever.
But first, sake.
(I was pumping and dumping on this trip so I had a VERY good time drinking lots of sake. I mean, after all, the Niigata Prefecture produces one of the finest sake in the world!)
This was at the Sake Museum Ponshu-kan inside the station which offers more than 100 varieties of sake, shochu, umeshu, and Japanese wine (all from Niigata) for you to try. For 500 JPY, you will be given a small sake tasting cup and five tokens for you to use freely.
You can even take a dip in a sake bath next door for 800 JPY!
Ponshu-kan //2427 Yuzawa, Yuzawa Town, Niigata (Inside Echigo-Yuzawa Station) // Website
Next, we went up to the train platform to board the Genbi Shinkansen which is literally the world’s fastest art gallery as this train houses numerous modern art installations by prominent artists. The train even has a cafe too! The cafe serves Tsubame Coffee, a popular beverage from Tsubame-Sanjo, and desserts made from carefully selected local ingredients under the supervision of Chef Romi Igarashi from romi-unie.
Yes, this is an actual train carriage.
There's also a playroom on board where kids can interact with modern art first hand, and train windows that offer beautiful panoramas along the route.
More on my IG stories!
The Genbi Shinkansen 現美新幹線 runs from Echigo-Yuzawa to Niigata (timetable here) and tickets for the ride are not available for sale outside Japan. The JR EAST PASS covers the travel area and train ride - details here.
We then alighted at Tsubame-Sanjō Station and went to the Tsubamesanjo Industrial Promotion Center.
TSUBAMESANJO is Japan’s top metalware production area in Niigata and this "craftsmen town" displays and sells almost 10,000 different types of cutlery, knives, kitchen tools, pots and pans.
The (un)domestic goddess in me went a little crazy. They seriously have some of the niftiest household utensils here - from butter cutters to sushi makers and takoyaki makers, I wanted to bring home the whole store!
The Japan tax-free shop also sells local sake and famous Echigo confectionaries and snacks only available in Niigata.
We also underwent a knife sharpening lesson (it's free by the way!) that confirmed my non-existent domestic abilities but it's ok, some things are best left to the experts.
TSUBAMESANJO Regional Industries Promotion Center // 1-17 Sugoro, Sanjo City, Niigata 955-0092 // Website
Our final ryokan stay was at Inn of Four Seasons - Minoya.
This Japanese-style inn is over 300 years old and is located right in front of Yahiko Shrine which is known throughout Japan as the most famous shrine in the Echigo Province.
I like how this ryokan, while retaining its traditional style from the Taisho era (1912-1926), also includes some modern elements, which makes the entire stay very unique and comfortable. This can be observed from the layout of the room, furnishing on every floor and the exquisite dinner put together with ingredients from Niigata - I don't usually fancy fusion dishes (they confuse my taste buds and mind!) but I thoroughly enjoyed the salad which had a good mix of wakame, seafood and a delightfully refreshing dressing.
Our quiet library corner at the lift landing outside our rooms
Minoya comes complete with a tea lounge, karaoke room, izakaya and onsen facilities. You can enjoy the view of Mt. Yahiko from the outdoor bath and it's said that the 47.9°C waters from Yu-jinja Hot Spring will leave your skin smooth and beautiful.
By the way, I was told that when PM Lee was holidaying in Japan, he'd wanted to stay at Minoya but they were unfortunately full.
I must have been very lucky then!
Inn of Four Seasons - Minoya // Yahiko, Yahiko Village, Nishikanbara-gun, Niigata Prefecture 959-0323 // Website
About the Northward Golden Route
The Northward Golden Route is a new train route that connects three areas of Saitama, Gunma, and Niigata Prefectures along with the outskirts of Tokyo. Through the route, you can enjoy experiences that you can't usually get in Tokyo such as unique cuisines, magnificent nature sites, onsen hot springs and SNOW!
You can explore the Northward Golden Route with the JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) and you can purchase it for ¥17,000 at the East Japan Rail website or the Japan Rail Cafe in Singapore. If you prefer to get it when you land in Japan, you can purchase it at Narita or Haneda Airport, as well as Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shinjuku, Nagano, Niigata and many other JR East stations for ¥18,000.
The JR EAST PASS is a flexible pass that is valid for up to 14 days as long as you take the trains only on any 5 days during the period (so you can take your time to explore these areas) and allows unlimited train rides including Shinkansen (bullet trains) between Tokyo and Joetsu and Shinetsu area. Specifically, the pass covers unlimited rides using reserved seats (you can reserve up to 3 days in advance at the JR East ticket reservation page) on the ordinary cars of the limited express trains (including shinkansen), express trains and local trains on JR EAST train lines, all the Izu Kyuko lines, al the Tokyo Monorail lines, all the Hokuetsu Express lines and the Echigo TOKImeki Railway line (between Naoetsu and Arai) within the “Unlimited-ride area”. In addition, the pass also allows unlimited rides using reserved seats on the ordinary cars of the limited express trains such as the Tobu Direct Limited Express “Nikko”, “Kinugawa”, and “SPACIA Kinugawa” trains.
More details at: http://www.jp-rail-sg.com/northward-golden-route/