The Hokuriku Arch Pass and How To Use It

Highlights of Hokuriku

The Hokuriku Arch Pass is a 7 day unlimited ride pass from Tokyo to Osaka via the Hokuriku area (Nagano, Niigata, Toyama, Kanazawa and Fukui). It is available to people arriving for short term travel of up to 90 days and can be purchased outside Japan slightly more cheaply than after you arrive. It allows some travel in Tokyo, the Hokuriku shinkansen line as well as the JR lines from Kanazawa to Kyoto and Osaka. The pass will also get you discounts at attractions along the route. Check the website here for detailed information.
 
Sounds good, right? But what to see along the way? Well the good news is, lots! The bigger problem will be how to explore this incredible part of Japan in just 7 days. Here are my recommendations for an awesome Japan holiday that’s just a little bit different than the well worn ‘Golden Route’.
 

Nagano

Departing from Tokyo, your first stop could be Nagano. Home of the 1998 Winter Olympics, snow is obviously a big drawcard in winter but the alps are spectaular year round. Stop in Nagano city itself to visit Zenkoji Temple or jump on a bus out to Jigokudani Yaen Park to see the onsen monkeys. Another alternative is to travel a little further to Matsumoto (train fare not covered by pass) for the lovely laid back town and Matsumoto castle, which I think is one of the nicest in Japan. 

Toyama

Gokayama Village and Mt Tateyama

Spend time here exploring Takaoka and traditional bronze wares or the beautiful thatched roof houses of Gokayama. Alternatively, in season (late April to November) head for the Tateyama Alpine route to really experience the majestic Japan Alps. This route requires a different ticket, but the arch pass does provide a discount. Get more information and inspiration here.

Kanazawa

Sights of Kanazawa Top L-R Higashi Chaya district, Omi-cho Market Bottom L-R Kenrokuen, Myoryu-ji, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary art installation

Sometimes called ‘little Kyoto’, there is so much to do here. From the Omi-cho markets, to the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art to the famous Kenrokuen garden. You’ll want more than a day to explore. For more ideas, check out 5 Things You Can’t Miss in Kanazawa.

Fukui 

Head to Fukui and explore a prefecture that is only visited by only around 30,000 foreign tourists a year (1/10 of the number that visit Kanazawa). Areas to visit include Katsuyama with its incredible Dinosaur Museum and Daibutsu (bigger than the one in Nara and far more peaceful); Mikuni for the Tojinbo cliffs and festivals throughout the year; Obama and Tsuruga for coastal scenery, waterfalls, shrines and temples and Fukui and its surrounding areas for hands on experiences such as paper and soba noodle making, cherry blossoms (in season) and for finding the hidden hipster cafes and bars of the city. If you are planning to explore the more southern reaches such as Obama and Tsuruga, a hire car will help you get the most out of your day.
 
Leave Hokuriku behind and head for Kansai where you can stay and explore Kyoto, Osaka and Nara. If you make all the stops above, chances are you will reach the end of your Hokuriku Arch Pass here. Luckily, Kyoto is only a hop, skip and jump to both Osaka and Nara so your transport costs should be reasonable, even without the pass.
 
 So much to explore, so what are you waiting for? 

Photo Credits
Kanazawa Higashi Chaya by Andrea Schaffer, Flickr Creative Commons
Omi-cho Markets Daderot at the English language Wikipedia, Creative Commons
Myoryu-ji by Daa Nell, Flickr Creative Commons License
Zenko-ji by 633highland, Creative Commons
Other photos by the author or in the public domain

Travelling Firefly