Reasonably priced with more freedom—Visiting the “Three-Star Alps Route” from central Tokyo using the highway bus


“Michelin Green Guide Japan,” a world renowned traveler’s guidebook, awarded three stars to a wide area sightseeing route called “Three-Star Japan Alps Route” which is made up of Matsumoto Castle, Hida Takayama, Shirakawa-go, Kenrokuen Garden, etc. There are many magnificent places such as old Japanesque townscapes, one of Japan’s best mountain resorts, and world heritage sites. Here, we introduce you to their highlights and reasonably priced highway bus tickets. At Tokyo’s Shinjuku Express Bus Terminal, which is the starting point for highway buses, a tourist information office where information is provided by municipalities from the aforementioned areas has been launched. How about appreciating the Northern Alps to your heart’s content?

Matsumoto Castle—designated a national treasure, its surviving main keep is a must-see (Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture)

Photo: Matsumoto Castle management office

Painted in jet black, Matsumoto Castle is truly a vision. The five layer six story Great Keep and the three layer four story Inui Small Keep, which were built for battle, the open structured Tsukimi Tower which was later built in a more peaceful era, and others make up a compound and adjoined style construction, and look quite different depending which angle you look at. In mid-April each year, by the moats surrounding the castle, Someiyoshino (Prunus yedoensis), higan cherry, and weeping cherry trees, a total of 320 of them, blossom in full glory with the Northern Alps in the background.

●0263-32-2902 (Matsumoto Castle management office)
●8:30-17:00 (8:00-18:00 during Golden Week and summer season), last admission 30 minutes before closing time
●Adult: 610 yen
●Closed December 29-31 *for January 1-3, please contact the office for opening time

Kamikochi and Mt. Norikuradake—admire “Japan’s roof” and mountain route (Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture and Takayama, Gifu Prefecture)

Kamikochi and Mt. Norikura are called “Japan’s roof,” and represent Northern Alps’ tourist site. On April 27, there will be an official “mountain opening” ceremony at Kamikochi, where you will see the Hodaka mountain range right in front of you. Further, on May 15, the Norikura Skyline Road, which takes you from Hirayu Hot Spring to an altitude of 2,600 meters at Tatamidaira, Mt. Norikuradake, will officially open also. You will see beautiful fresh greens on the foothills and gradually enter a world of silvery white snow as you move along the Skyline.

●0263-95-2433 (Kamikochi Information Center)

●0577-78-2345 (Hida Norikura Tourist Association)
●Norikura Skyline open May 15-October 31

Hida Takayama—take a stroll through a town known as Japan’s unspoilt landscape (Takayama, Gifu Prefecture)

Takayama is also called “Hida’s smaller Kyoto” because of its unchanged old townscape since the Edo period. You are sure to enjoy looking for souvenirs of traditional crafts and dagashi sweets as you walk along. Scrumptious mitarashidango (rice dumplings in sweet soy glaze) and tender Hida beef cuisine should make your taste buds happy. If you can visit Takayama in the morning, going to the morning market selling vegetables and fruit of the season and folk art is a must. Takayama Spring Festival will be held April 14 and 15. Festival lavish floats with mechanical gimmicks and lines of people dressed in traditional costumes are not to be missed!

●0577-36-1011(Hida-Takayama Tourism and Convention Bureau)

Shirakawa-go—an area with Gassho-zukuri houses still lives on to this day (Shirakawa Village, Gifu Prefecture)

The place has become world-famous after it was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. To withstand heavy snowfall in the area, the houses have steep roofs, and the attic space is used for cultivating silkworms. People still live in the main area, Ogimachi, and rethatching of the roofs every 30 to 40 years is done by these local residents. Every year in April, late spring arrives as snow finally melts away in Shirakawa-go.

●05769-6-1013 (Shirakawa-go Tourism Association)

Kanazawa City— a castle town that used to yield one million koku(*1) of rice, and today, rich in culture (Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture)

Kanazawa is the largest city in the Hokuriku region. As it was a castle city under Kaga Domain’s feudal lord Maeda family, the most powerful feudal lord in Japan during the Edo period, Kanazawa boasts a refined culture of traditional crafts and Japanese sweets. The elegant city as a whole is worth sightseeing, but Kenrokuen Garden, one of three best gardens in Japan is a must-see. The vast go round style garden was gradually formed by the successive Kaga Domain feudal lords, as beautiful flowers blossom for each season. Kenrokuen Garden is known to be a famous cherry blossom site, and they are open to the public free of charge during the cherry blossom season. You will also be able to enjoy them at night when they are lit up. “Kenrokuen kikuzakura” is said to have the most petals among the variety of cherry blossoms in Japan, and is a must-see. *1) koku: A unit of volume. Equivalent to 180 liters

●076-232-5555 (Kanazawa City Tourism Association)

●Kenrokuen Garden
●076-234-3800 (Kanazawa Castle Park and Kenrokuen Garden Office)
●7:00-18:00 (8:00-17:00 from October 16 to end of February)
●open year-round *Admission is free during early mornings, time depends on the season
●Adult (18 and over): 310yen, 6-17 year olds: 100yen

The following bus tickets are convenient if you want to enjoy your trip visiting the “Three-Star Alps Route” (Matsumoto Castle, Northern Japanese Alps, Hida Takayama, Shirakawa-go, and Kanazawa) at a reasonable price.

■“Three-Star Route Shinjuku Ticket” —Depart at Shinjuku and go to Kanazawa through the Three-Star Alps Route

Depart Shinjuku, change buses at Matsumoto/Takayama and arrive at Kanazawa. It is a simple one-way ticket. You may stop by at Hirayu Hot Spring and Shirakawa-go. Compared to the regular prices, it is 30 percent cheaper, at 8,200 yen.

■“Three-Star Alps Unlimited Ride Pass”—Depart at Shinjuku and arrive at Kanazawa. You are free to stop by at sightseeing places in between

This ticket includes a highway bus ride from Shinjuku to Matsumoto, and a 4-day pass for sightseeing in Matsumoto, Kamikochi, Norikura, Hida Takayama, and Shirakawa-go (Alps Wide Free Passport), and a highway bus ride to Kanazawa. There are also coupons of sightseeing facilities in Matsumoto, Hida, and Kanazawa, and a 1-day unlimited ride pass in Kanazawa City. The price is more than 21 percent cheaper at 16,900 yen (15,000 yen between December 1 and March 31). *You may go to Toyama instead of Kanazawa.

■“Three-Star Alps Unlimited Shinjuku Pass”—depart Shinjuku and freely visit sightseeing areas, then go back to Shinjuku

This ticket is a combination of a round-trip highway bus ticket between Shinjuku and Matsumoto and the “Alps Wide Free Passport.” There are also coupons of sightseeing facilities. The price is more than 30 percent cheaper at 16,900 yen (15,000 yen between December 1 and March 31). With an extra 3,000 yen, you can get an outward or homeward highway bus ticket to depart from or arrive at Takayama.

All three tickets are valid for 7 whole days!

●03-5376-2222 (Keio Bus)

From gathering information before your departure to getting your ticket let them do the work for you! “Central Honshu Information Plaza in Keio Shinjuku” (Shinjuku Station, Tokyo)

At Shinjuku Keio Mall, Central Honshu Information Plaza in Keio Shinjuku has opened, where you can get integrated sightseeing information such as “Three-Star Japanese Alps Route” and more. Over 10 municipalities and others have provided information. At the Plaza, not only do they have sightseeing information, but they also make arrangements to buy bus tickets such as Three-Star bus tickets, making reservations for accommodations, optional tours, sell SIM cards to travelers from abroad, and rent out mobile WiFi devices. No problems with the English and Chinese languages!

●In the Keio Mall, South Exit Basement Mall No. 1, 1 chome, Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
●open year-round (except for when there is a facility inspection)

*The above information was last updated January 12, 2017. For more details, please contact the facilities directly.

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