The Snow Country Region Information Center arrange a program of special tours to allow visitors to see the best of the region and get to places they may not be able to get to on their own. They are great value, and entertaining days out.
The Chinkoro Market Day Tour met at the Information Center at 9am. It was then straight down to the station to catch the 0917 Snow Rabbit train – an express service under the hill with no stops before Tokamachi.
First call on the tour was the Chinkoro Winter Market. It was already busy with long lines of people queuing up to buy their little rice flour charms. The cute little figures were in high demand and people seemed happy standing in line nibbling on snacks that they had purchased in the market street.
Monkeys are the animal this year and featured prominently. There were also handmade goods such as baskets, snowshoes and hats for sale at some stalls, as well as seasonal produce and other foodstuffs like pickles and spices.
Next stop was the House of Light. It is a work of art by American, James Turrell. It is a building that incorporates light and shadows in various ways and is a guest house for meditation. The roof can slide back to give a view up into the heavens and the November night sky is supposed to be particularly impressive.
It is a beautiful building, both inside and out, and the tour around is interesting as all the features are pointed out. Definitely a place that would make for an interesting stay.
The drive up to the House of Light passed some other art works that were also part of the Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale.
Lunch was the next item on the itinerary after a busy morning. Being in Tokamachi the obvious choice was the famous local soba accompanied with delicious crispy tempura.
We stopped at Yoshiya that served mustard instead of wasabi to mixed in with the soba dipping sauce. The restaurant was full throughout our meal which says a lot. The tempura prawns were wrapped in shiso leaves and were fantastic.
A short walk from Yoshiya is Doichi Station – a tiny little hut on the Iiyama line – where we hopped on the train to Tsunan.
The train line crosses the Shinano River and has great views of the surrounding countryside. It was full of weekenders armed with cameras all trying to get the best shots.
From Tsunan Station – a JR Station with its own onsen!- we had a short picturesque drive to Bijinbayashi in Matsunoyama Onsen. Here we were strapped into snowshoes and headed off out into the woods.
It is wonderfully peaceful strolling through the snow with just the sound of the snow crunching under your feet. The trees are ideally spaced for walking and they tower above you, with the odd bit of snow drifting down around you.
After the fresh air and tranquility of Bijinbayashi it was a drive back to the Snow Country Region Information Center and the end of a fantastic day.
The Chinkoro Market Day Tour cost 5,000 yen and was a really good day out. Plenty of variation, local history, art, delicious food and a memorable snow experience.
There are several other tours available at the Information Center and all incorporate destinations specially selected to appeal to visitors. For more information on any of them you can drop into the Information Center just outside the West Exit of Echigo-Yuzawa Station or email sugiyama(a)yuzawaonsen.gr.jp