The New Golden Route: See Japan on the Route Less Traveled

The New Golden Route: See Japan on the Route Less Traveled

Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka are Japan’s beacon cities when it comes to attracting overseas tourists. Most travel between them on the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train line, commonly known as Japan’s Golden Route. But there’s a new game in town, courtesy of a joint effort between the JR West and JR East railway companies: the Hokuriku Arch Pass. This week-long pass offers unlimited travel between these top destinations using the Hokuriku Shinkansen line, taking travelers to parts of Japan few overseas tourists get to see. This New Golden Route is packed with gems hidden among Japan’s less traveled prefectures.

Starting our journey in Tokyo, let’s make our way westward toward Osaka on the Hokuriku Arch Pass and see what awaits!

Kintsugi Joinery Craft at Showzi Workshop in Tokyo🄫Kintsugi Souke

Kintsugi Joinery Craft at Showzi Workshop in Tokyo

Kintsugi by Don Kennedy©Don Kennedy

In Tokyo, we visit the workshop of Showzi, an award-winning artist practicing the art of kintsugi, repairing broken ceramics with gold, silver, and other metals using a traditional kintsugi technique called maki-e. While you admire his artwork, Showzi might entertain you with stories about his art or even perform an impromptu tea ceremony. He has been practicing kintsugi since 1972, and his pieces have been exhibited internationally in France, Belgium and other countries.

Organic Wines at Musashi Winery in Saitama

Musashi organic wine ©Don Kennedy

Musashi wine shop ©Don Kennedy©Don Kennedy

Moving along to Ogawa town, Saitama, we sample the organic wines of Musashi Winery, made without chemicals or additives. Musashi began producing wines in 2014 using a fermentation process that is also completely natural, based on techniques used to make Japanese sake. Musashi Winery isn’t trying to emulate Western wines but rather make something uniquely Japanese using the yamabudo, a wild, crimson grape native to Japan, and ages the wine in barrels using distinctly Japanese woods.

Oze National Park

Oze National Park

Oze National Park spans over Gunma and three other prefectures, and is a nature lover’s dream that is perfect for outdoor hikes in the clean mountain air. With snow-capped mountains in late autumn and early spring and alpine meadows of wildflowers in the summer months, Oze National Park offers a wilder side of Japan rarely experienced by overseas visitors.  This park allows visitors to enjoy unspoiled nature. The area around Katashina Village in Gunma Prefecture is registered as a "Zero Carbon Park" with the aim of becoming an environmentally friendly national park that can be passed on to the next generation.

Asiatic Black Bear Habitat in Karuizawa

Picchio Wildlife Center dog

Picchio Wildlife Center 🄫Picchio Wildlife Research Center

Karuizawa is a resort town nestled in the forests of Nagano Prefecture. While people have enjoyed Karuizawa for golfing and the many high-end restaurants and accommodations, the forest is home to an abundance of wildlife, including a large population of Asiatic black bears. Picchio is an organization providing tours and educational opportunities for those who wish to explore Nagano’s forests, particularly the complicated relationship between the human and bear population. Picchio offers guided tours in English on how they minimize potential interactions between bears and humans using non-lethal methods such as specially trained bear dogs, bear tracking, and tagging.

Sustainable Tourism and Birdwatching on Niigata’s Sado Island

Sado Island

Sado Island

Niigata’s Sado Island has been inhabited for over 10,000 years and has developed many unique traditions different from most of Japan. Apart from its pristine natural beauty, visitors can enjoy the performing arts of Sado Island’s indigenous people. In 2021, Sado was named one of the Top 100 Sustainable Tourism Destinations in the world for its efforts to protect the crested ibis, once extinct in Japan but can again be enjoyed by birdwatchers and nature lovers.

Art and Food Fusion at BiBiBi & JURULi in Toyama


Moving on to Toyama Prefecture, we visit the unique restaurant BiBiBi & JURULi, where art and food are fused into incredible dishes to delight your eyes as well as your taste buds. Located in the Toyama Prefectural Museum of Art, the restaurant creates playful and modern dishes using locally produced ingredients, served using tableware made by Toyama craftspeople. The restaurant and museum make a perfect combination for foodies and art lovers to enjoy.

Swords and Knives at Seki Cutlery Museum in Gifu

Swords and Knives at Seki Cutlery Museum in Gifu

Visitors, chefs and samurai aficionados especially will enjoy a variety of thrilling blade and sword-related activities at our next destination, the Seki Cutlery Museum in Gifu Prefecture. Seki was once an important sword-making center until the late 19th century when they diversified into making knives due to the decline in the demand for swords. The Seki Cutlery Museum exhibits the traditional process of blade forging, unique swords and knives (many for sale), as well as sword-smithing and knife-making workshops and demonstrations (advanced reservations required). In addition, the attached shop Sanshu Cutlery sells a wide range of knives and other bladed tools made by Seki craftspeople.

Geisha Performance in Kanazawa

geisha evenings

geisha evenings

Another traditional experience awaits in Kanazawa, where you can spend an evening entertained by the music and performances of the geisha of Ishikawa Prefecture. The geisha performances mainly require an invitation from a loyal customer, but Geisha Evenings in Kanazawa was created for overseas visitors who want a peek behind the exclusive curtain. Apart from explanations in English, there are no sacrifices in the authenticity, from the 200-year-old tea house venue to the performers themselves, who are professional geisha.

Eyewear Craftsmanship at Sabae Eye Glass Museum in Fukui

Eyewear Craftsmanship Todd Fong
©Todd Fong

A history of Japanese craftsmanship and innovation is on display in Fukui at the Sabae Eyeglass Museum. Sabae City is responsible for 95% of the domestic production of eyeglasses in Japan and is a global leader in innovations such as the use of bio-made, biodegradable materials to replace traditional plastic. Part museum, part hands-on workshop, and part megastore with 3,000 different styles of eyeglass frames to choose from, you’ll clearly see the quality and ingenuity Japan puts into everyday items.

Woodcarver Workshop in Shiga

wood carving

A tiny village of woodcarvers is tucked away in the mountains of Maibara City in Shiga Prefecture  but its woodcarving artisans are happy to welcome tourists interested in learning their craft. The Kaminyu Woodpeckers are an organization of master woodcarvers passing on their skills in this traditional Japanese art form. The Woodpeckers offer visitors to Kaminyu short workshops to make various crafts, from coasters to coat hangers to toys, and will work with you to show you the techniques and tools used to make them.

Stay Overnight in a Traditional Thatched Grass Roof House in Kyoto

Thatched Grass Roof House in Kyoto
©Todd Fong

We make it to Kyoto, but not the Kyoto you’re thinking of. In the heart of Kyoto Prefecture, learn about the disappearing traditional architecture known as Kayabuki, thatched grass roof houses. Only a bit over one hundred remain here in Miyama town, but you can enjoy a restful night’s sleep in one at Miyama Futon & Breakfast and wake up to a delicious home-cooked meal. You’ll have this renovated thatched roof house to yourself in its traditional glory with modern conveniences to make your stay a comfortable one. They even offer a workshop on how to build and maintain a thatched roof so you can truly appreciate the craftsmanship of your accommodation.

Japanese Sword and Knife-making at Sakai Cutlery Museum in Osaka

Japanese Sword and Knife-making at Sakai Cutlery Museum in Osaka©Don Kennedy

Finally, we arrive in Osaka. Before heading off to enjoy the famed nightlife and fabulous food, we visit another important knife-making area, Sakai city, responsible for 90% of knives made for the professional market. Swords and knives have been made here for 600 years, and between 50 and 100 family businesses are still producing handcrafted knives. The Sakai Cutlery Museum displays 165 different types of knives, and a well-stocked museum shop ensures you don’t have to leave empty-handed.

These are just a few of the highlights awaiting you on the New Golden Route, the alternative way to travel between Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. So rather than follow the crowd, go your own way with JR West and JR East’s Hokuriku Arch Pass and take the route less traveled!

Sponsored by Tokyo, Saitama Prefecture, Gunma Prefecture, Nigata Prefecture, Nagano Prefecture, Toyama Prefecture, Gifu Prefecture, Ishikawa Prefecture, Fukui Prefecture,Shiga Prefecture, Kyoto, Osaka, JR EAST, JR WEST