Tokyo is an exciting city with no shortage of things to do and see! However the city life can be a little overwhelming at times, especially with the summer heat and humidity thats kicked in. It’s times like these where you might look to the country side for a break. Saitama Nagatoro is a great option if you’re looking for a little adventure and breath of fresh air!
Nagatoro has activities such as a traditional japanese boat tour down the river, water sports, hiking, gondala trips and beautiful shrines to visit. Not to mention its also considered a prefecture nature park/reserve and is famous for geology.
How to get there:
There are many options to get to Nagatoro station. One is to start off in Ikebukuro and take the Seibu-ikebukuro line to Chichibu Station. Once you reach Chichibu station you will no longer be able to use a Pasmo or Suica, instead you will need to buy a ticket. Get on the Chichibu line until you reach Nagatoro station (You also have the option to purchase a one day round trip pass for ¥2,500 at Ikebukuro).
Once you get to Nagatoro station, you will see a tourist center directly in front of the station. Here you can get information on all the local activities.
Nagatoro Traditional Boating:
There are three courses you can take: A, B, C. Course A starts at the beginning of the river and ends halfway. Course B starts at the middle of the river and ends at the end. These two courses are 20 min each and one ticket costs ¥1,600. Course C goes through the entirety of the river. It takes around 40 min and costs around ¥3,000.
The tour has a guide who will tell you all about Nagatoro and the different areas you will pass by. However the tour is all in Japanese! so bring somebody who can translate. If you don’t understand Japanese then no problem, you can still enjoy the trip.
The speed of the water during the tour depends on the day. However it is normally a mixture of calm water and rapids, so make sure you’re wearing something you don’t mind getting wet!
After the Trip you can either take the free bus back to the station, or go for a swim! There are many swim spots along the river, so make sure to bring a bathing suit, especially in the Summertime!
Gondola and Hiking
Saitama is famous for being a mountain region, a perfect spot for hiking! There are several hiking trails from the top of the Gondola through the mountains. One roundtrip ticket will cost ¥820 for adults and ¥410 for children and give you a stunning view of Saitama and mountains in Gunma.
The gondola will bring you to the top of a mountain where you can seek out the Hidden shrine at the top, or go to a monkey zoo!
The zoo is about a 8 minute walk from the gondola. When you arrive you will be greeted by a small stuffed bear at the front. The Zoo is known for monkeys, however it also has deer, turtles and other small animals. It’s a small zoo kids would love to see! However it’s not free. make sure to bring some extra yen if you plan to visit it.
If you don’t have children or a particular interest in small zoo’s, I would recommend skipping it and instead exploring the hidden shrines on the mountain.
The most famous shrine in Nagatoro is no doubt the Hodosan Jinja Shrine. There is a grand legend behind this shrine:
1900 years ago Prince Yamato-takeru-no-Mikoto and his army were climbing Hodosan (the surrounding mountain) to pray for the Shinto Kami. Suddenly a forest fire burst out, trapping the Prince and his army. When all seemed lost, suddenly several large black and white dogs burst through the flames and extinguished the fires. The dogs then safely guided the prince and his army up the mountain until they reached the top. The dogs then disappeared without a trace.
The mountain is called Hodoyama (fire stop mountain) However the shrine is Hodosan (fortune climbing mountain) This is due to a legend where a houju no tama (sacred wish giving jewel) suddenly flew to the mountain top and has been hidden there ever since.
link to full story: http://www.hodosan-jinja.or.jp/english/origins/index.html
Tip: There are always hidden shrines and paths through the mountains behind main shrines. If you’re feeling adventurous, try to find one!
There are more shrines hidden up and down the mountain, if you’re lucky and have a sharp eye, you just might be able to find them!
Theres no better time for shaved ice than in summer, and the people of Nagatoro know it! thats why its so easy to find shaved ice, just walk on the main road towards the station. There are tons of flavors from Blue hawaiian to Mango or Premium Strawberry. Either way, you’ll definitely find something to cool yourself down.
If you want something more savory, there are plenty of Soba Udon noodle restaurants around the station. These noodles are locally grown, so you know you’re getting quality Japanese food.
For more information on the ins and outs of Nagatoro, check out: http://www.japanvisitor.com/japan-city-guides/nagatoro-guide