Since we moved to Japan a year ago, we’ve spent a lot of time exploring the Tokyo area. We’ve also had an opportunity to travel outside the country — South Korea, Russia, Hungary, UAE, Germany – it has been a great experience. What we haven’t done very much is travel within Japan. And there are so many places in this country to see!
We decided at the last minute this week to take a trip over this three-day weekend (Monday is Vernal Equinox Day, traditionally a National Holiday in Japan). A couple of days ago we decided we would go to Nagano, a prefecture northwest of Tokyo where we had never visited.
The first thing we learned is that there are really two ways to go to Nagano — by highway bus, or by Shinkansen high speed train (of course, you can also drive, assuming you have a car and a driver’s license, both of which we lack). The highway bus is easy and relatively cheap, but takes a few hours. We decided to take the Shinkansen, Japan’s outstanding train system.
In trying to reserve the trip, we found that you can’t make an online reservation less than three days before the trip. So, it was off to the train station to buy tickets the old-fashioned way – at the ticket office. There, we were greeted by a very friendly agent who even spoke a bit of English. He quickly checked on our travel request. We could get reserved seats for the return trip, but going to Nagano only “free seating” was available. Not really knowing what that meant, we bought the tickets and went to do some research. A quick check on the internet (Google knows everything) showed that the first 3 or 4 Shinkansen cars are often “free seating” – unreserved, take what’s available. The website said most times, you could get a seat. But on holidays, the trains are often oversold up to 200 percent, so you might have to stand.
Long story short, the train was packed full. We stood for the whole 90 minute ride from Tokyo Station to Nagano. Not awful, but we will appreciate our reserved seats on the way back.
Nagano is a great place. Surprisingly not very crowded. Historic temples, great food places. Tomorrow, we go to see the snow monkeys.
Over the next few months, we plan more trips around Japan. It is diverse, historic, fascinating country. We look forward to seeing as much of it as possible during our time there.