Just the Ticket: Discover Japan on the Mitsuboshi-Kaidou: Three-Star Road

Just the Ticket: Discover Japan on the Mitsuboshi-Kaidou: Three-Star Road

Taking you from snow-capped mountains to hiking trails between waterfalls, through morning markets and rural enclaves, the Mitsuboshi-Kaidou: Three-Star Route Option Ticket (one-way) is the perfect Japanese travelling companion. More than just a way to get from A to B, it’s a chance to immerse yourself in the real Japan. Trust us, there’s a whole lot to see.

In partnership withOption Ticket Mitsuboshi-Kaidou, Kanazawa City, and Nagano City

through the centre of Japan, the Mitsuboshi-Kaidou: Three-Star Road navigates
ribbon-like streams, wedding-cake-white mountains and rural
creative enclaves. Cutting through some of Japan’s lesser-explored
pockets, the road takes travellers between chaya houses, ancient
castles and the homes of samurai warriors.

Running between six cities, spread across four prefectures where
mountain air mixes with hot-spring steam and dense forests cusp
vibrant old towns, the route is now easier than ever to explore
with the hop-on, hop-off Three-Star Route Option Ticket (one-way). Offering a
fuss-free and affordable way to immerse yourself in the artistic
instricies that are woven into Japanese culture, the route takes
you from A to B, with a whole lot of C’s – by which we mean
community, culture and cuisines – in between.

Get a head start on your itinerary below, but feel free to remix
as you go along – after all, the one-way Three-Star Route Option
Ticket suits the slower-paced, intuitive traveller. The route can
take you to some of Japan’s lesser-explored regions including
Nagano, Matsumoto, Hirayu Onsen and the cultural delights of
Takayama, Shirakawa and Kanazawa. Use the freedom of the pass to
linger a little longer in your favourite destinations or skip
others. All aboard.

Japan’s Mitsuboshi-Kaidou: Three-Star Road: Six Cities, Four
Prefectures, One Easy Ticket

Nagano City

Giving you the flexibility to customise your own itinerary,
kick-off in Nagano. Nagano City draws visitors with its rich culinary
scene, mountain hiking trails and the chance to observe the
notorious snow monkeys bathing.

Rise early to attend a morning spiritual ritual service at
Zenkoji Temple. Built in the 7th century, it’s a famed pilgrimage
site for the Buddhist community, home to the first Buddha image to
arrive in Japan. The original is kept concealed behind a curtain
and is only revealed once every six or seven years. The next
celebration – called Gokaicho – takes place in 2022.

After orienting yourself at the temple, tuck into the area’s
culinary delights. Sample oyaki (a buckwheat dumpling usually
stuffed with vegetables) at Ogawa No Sho Daimon Store before
heading to stock up on shichimi togarashi. Roughly translated to
mean “seven spices” the blend features crushed chillies, sesame
seeds and dried orange peel, and tastes best sprinkled over soba
noodles. Passing the recipe from generation to generation, Yawataya
has been producing it for more than 280 years.

Catch a bus to the Togakushi Shrine, where hiking trails weave
between cedar trees and glistening ponds. Starting at the lower of
Togakushi’s three shrines, embark on the 2km ascent to its
middle-level counterpart. Detour from the well-trodden trail to be
rewarded with mountainscapes reflected in Kagamiike Pond, the
so-called “mirror pond”. Pro tip: the soba noodles from the nearby
street-food stall are excellent fuel for the return hike.

In winter, snow-sure revellers will want to hit the nearby
pistes. Host of the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano is a trusted entry
point to the Japan Alps’ best resorts – all interconnected ski
fields and powder-perfect runs, including the highest in Japan.
Shimmy across to Shiga Kogen to mix days on the mountains with
visits to the notorious snow monkeys. More than 200 monkeys bathe
in the hot springs at Jigokudani Monkey Park giving you a chance to
get up close with the playful troops.

Stay: Bed down at Oumeitei Tsuji Ryokan to catch the sunrise ceremony in
the morning.


Be sure to stop by Matsumoto, where modernity and tradition exist in
harmony. Far from just a tick-box for visitors, Matsumoto Castle is the city’s epicentre; many
must-visit streets radiate like a web from the castle walls. It’s a
good place to get your bearings. From the outside, the castle’s
multi-roofed, six-storied structure is architecturally spectacular;
inside snaking staircases lead you past ancient armour and weapons
from the Sengoku period before delivering you to the castle’s best
viewpoint: the narrow wooden windows once used by archers and
gunmen. Now, they’re framed by cherry blossom and open up to views
of a moat where, if you are lucky, you will spot a swan or two.

Next, nip in and out of neighbouring Nakamachi Street, a chessboard of black and white
buildings housing artisan craft ships and cute cafés. Try the
soft-serve ice cream from Café Senri. Time to study Matsumoto’s famous import:
soba noodles. Buckwheat – soba’s signature ingredient – is grown in
abundance in the surrounding areas, making Matsumoto soba noodles
some of Japan’s best. Roll up your sleeves and get in at Takagi’s
soba-noodle workshop. And yes, you get to slurp
your hand-rolled noodles afterwards.

Fill yourself with fresh air and take a day trip to Kamikochi, located an hour west of the city. Open from
mid-April to mid-November, its walking trails are
fill-up-your-camera photogenic. Ramble past tranquil ponds, over
the Kappa Bridge that straddles sake-clear waters and marvel at the
mountainscapes reflected in the Taisho Pond. What’s an alpine
adventure without sufficient snacks? Stop by Kamonjigoya (you’ll
find it just in front of the Myojin Pond) for fish cooked over
wood, and nearby Trois Cinq by Gosenjaku for apple pie.

Stay: At the historic ryokan Tsuki
no Shizuka

Hirayu Onsen

So you’ve feasted on slurp-worthy soba noodles, zipped up
snow-heavy mountains and hiked through spectacular natural
surrounds, now it’s time to perfect the art of doing nothing. Your
next destination? Hirayu Onsen, where steam curls around the base of the
mountains thanks to its abundance of healing hot springs – there’s
even a rotenburo (outdoor bath) atop the bus station.

Post bus-station soak, head to Hirayu
. Part museum, part farmhouse and part public onsen,
it woos visitors with mountain vistas and natural surrounds. Try to
squeeze in a dip at Hirayu no Mori too.

Fancy venturing a little farther? Day trip across to Shirahone
Onsen. Unlike the steam-filled baths of Hirayu Onsen, the water
here is creamy white and rich with magnesium and calcium that’s
said to relieve gastrointestinal ailments. Shirahone Onsen Public
Notenburo is our pick for its riverside position. Nothing says Zen
like the sound of a rushing river.

Stay: Splash out at Miyama Ouan for its private onsen baths and
jaw-achingly beautiful views.


Punching above its weight when it comes to its culinary
credentials, Takayama is renowned as the birthplace of hida beef –
a delicacy that (whisper it) we’re claiming is the best style of
wagyu. Reared on mountain air and spring water for 14 months, the
beef’s marbling resembles a cherry-pink Jackson Pollock painting.
Jostle elbow-to-elbow with locals at the Miyagawa Morning Market to
sample the delicacy in croquettes, as sashimi and atop sizzling

Walk it off with a trip up to the top of Mount Hotaka. Running
up the Sengoku Ridge is the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway cable car – the first
double-decker gondola in Japan – soaring more than 2,200m above sea
level. Reach the top to peer across pistes that spill into villages
and hamlets across the valley. In autumn, the gondola openings
times are extended to catch the sunset from above the clouds. It’s
pretty spectacular. Avid climber? Pick up a hiking trail from the
Shinhotaka Visitor Center, where the Ropeway
sets off. Be warned, you’ll need all the proper gear. This is
strictly a no-novice zone and the trek can get pretty treacherous
in parts.

Widely seen as one of Japan’s most exciting festivals, the
Takayama Matsuri takes place here in April and October – the latter
featuring the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall, too. Shining
examples of Takayama’s long legacy of craftsmanship, these
centuries-old floats are renowned for their flamboyant carvings
and, in some cases, karakuri ningyō (marionette) shows. Next door
to the exhibition hall, Sakurayama Nikkokan, is a warehouse-style
hangar filled with miniatures of Japan’s most celebrated shrines.
It’s a great introduction into the spiritual history of Japan if
you haven’t got time to visit them all IRL.

Stay: Oyado Koto No Yume is centrally located among
Takayama’s must-see attractions.


Up next: Shirakawa-go. A landlocked, secluded village in the
heart of the Japan Alps. Guarded by frost-tipped mountains, it’s
famed for its 300-year-old, thatched-roof gassho-zukuri houses –
the roofs resemble a monk’s praying hands.

The architecture accomplishments are as much about form as they
are function. Roofs are designed to protect the house from
collapsing and heavy snowfall and the loft space is utilised to
harvest silkworms as a source of village income with all techniques
being passed through generations.

Strong pioneers for community tourism, villagers here live by
the powerful philosophy of “yui”. They meet once a month to discuss
ways in which they can preserve their natural environment while
also encouraging visitors to educate themselves on everyday life.
Stay the night to get to grips with the spirit and spend time
listening to the stories of roofers, teachers and children who make
up this treasured alpine community.

Stay: Book a homestay at Shirakawago-Shimizu.


We’re ending our journey in Kanazawa, where you’ll be greeted by
meticulously manicured Japanese gardens, timeless chaya houses and
geishas scurrying in and out of narrow streets. The beauty of the
city? You’re plunged straight into Japan’s cultural core.

Nearly all journeys begin at the city’s poster-child landmark,
Kanazawa Castle, home of the Maeda clan for 14
generations from 1583. This family helped establish Kanazawa as a
creative enclave by prioritising spending on the arts and setting
up workshops for travelling craftspeople within the castle grounds.
Visit the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art and the minimalist
masterpiece D.T. Suzuki Museum for glimpses of the city’s rich
heritage that still exists today. Each offers a chance to immerse
yourself in local traditions and culture, old and new.

Stroll through the neighbouring Kenrokuen Garden blossoming with immaculate landscapes
before making tracks towards the Nagamachi district, located just
west of the castle. Once the home of respected samurai warriors,
it’s here you’ll find rows of traditional houses concealing Kaga
Yuzen silk-dyeing workshops and stores. Dating back 500-years, this
intricate technique is commonly used in the creation of kimonos.
Roll up your sleeves and try hand-painting your own at the Kaga Yuzen Kimono Center.

Cross to the Higashi Chaya District. Wander through the maze of alleyways
guarded by traditional chaya houses, recognisable by the delicate
“kimusuko” lattice on the outside, before visiting the Kaikaro
Teahouse for an authentic tea ceremony. Pay attention to the
details – vegetable-dyed tatami (mats of woven straw) and fusuma-e
(paintings on sliding-door panels) are both prime examples of
traditional chaya interiors. Time your trip in line with a geisha
performance, commonly held on Saturdays.

Stay: Kanazawa Machiya Kenroku‘s owner, Mr Konishi –
or Hitty, as you’ll come to know him – will let you in on all of
Kanazawa’s hotspots. Lucky guests might even receive a home-baked
welcome cake. What more could you ask for?

The Lowdown

For more information and to start planning your trip, visit
option-ticket.mitsuboshi-kaidou.com, visitkanazawa.jp and nagano.cvb.or.jp

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