DESTINATIONS
18. YUZAWA & NIIGATA
Yuzawa & Niigata Ski Resorts

Yuzawa & Niigata Ski Resorts

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Bordering Nagano Prefecture to the north, Niigata is home to around fifty ski resorts known for their deep powder. Located closer to the coast than the resorts of Nagano, Niigata typically receives earlier and heavier snowfall and lays claim to some of the deepest powder in the world. Nagano-aficionados will tell you that Niigata’s snow is wetter and not as good however those in Niigata will boast about how much they have and tell you, people in Nagano are just envious! Either way, the region is home to some truly epic powder and a number of excellent ski resorts.

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When discussing the ski resorts of Yuzawa and Niigata it’s important to note where each resort is. In recent years, the resorts of Myoko Kogen in Niigata have become increasingly popular for international visitors. Located at the southern tip of Niigata Prefecture, when planning a trip to Myoko it’s best to consider it as part of Nagano as it’s much closer to resorts including Nozawa Onsen and Madarao, than it is the other main resorts of Niigata including those around Yuzawa (which are located at least two hours drive from Myoko). For that reason, we don’t cover the resorts of Myoko Kogen on this page – for information about them, see our ‘Myoko Kogen Ski Resorts’ page.

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On this page, we discuss the ski resorts in and around the Yuzawa area including Gala Yuzwa, Kagura, Naeba and Muikamachi Hakkaisan. These are just four of many resorts in the area, that are easily accessed from Tokyo using Joetsu Shinkansen services bound for Echigo-Yuzawa Station.

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Given the ease of access from Tokyo, Yuzawa town and the main resort of Gala Yuzawa is hugely popular. While it will appeal to some visitors, we recommend looking at little further afield and heading to the resorts of Kagura and Naeba or for upper-intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders wanting to experience Japan’s legendary powder, head to the powder paradise of Muikamachi Hakkaisan. To keep things simple, let’s consider each resort in turn:

GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT


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As the most central resort of the Yuzawa area and super easy to get to from Tokyo, Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort is a good option for absolute beginners or visitors just wanting an easy day-trip from Tokyo. The resort has a Shinkansen/Bullet Train station directly underneath, allowing visitors to step-off the train, take the escalator up into the main building above and straight into the resort gondola. Understandably, this makes the resort extremely popular for residents of Tokyo who flock to Gala on holidays, weekends and when the snow is good. On those days, the resort can be too busy to enjoy with people stopping and sitting all over the runs. So if you’re heading to Gala set your expectations. It’s a resort of convenience not a fantastic resort and one best enjoyed by paying for the overpriced ‘Big Mountain Yuzawa Snow Link’ Pass which covers Gala Yuzawa along with the connected resorts of Yuzawa Kogen and Ishiuchi Maruyama and accessing better terrain and snow in those ski fields.

Operating Dates & Times

Yuzawa receives heavy snowfall each year allowing Gala Yuzawa to have a long season. The resort is typically open from mid-December until late-April with most lifts operating daily from 08:00 until 17:30. Gala Yuzawa does not have night-skiing.

Ski Runs

The resort has 16 courses serviced by 9 chairlifts, 1 gondola and 1 ropeway. Courses breakdown as: beginner 35% / intermediate 45% / advanced 20%. Situated between 800 to 1181 metres, Gala Yuzawa only offers 381 metres of vertical. The long ski run is 2.6km. While Gala Yuzawa is small it connects to Yuzawa Kogen and Ishiuchi Maruyama. All three resorts are covered by an all-mountain pass and when considered together, offer a much more attractive option – see below for details.

Highlights

Gala Yuzawa is a small resort best-suited to newbies and visitors looking for a resort they can visit easily as a day-trip from Tokyo. Ease of access to the resort mean that is extremely busy, especially on weekends and holidays so any positives of the resort are often overwhelmed by the sheer number of skiers and snowboarders cutting-up the ski runs, especially beginners who tend to be a frustration by stopping or sitting all over the runs. Being located in Yuzawa, the resort receives a good amount of snow and powder can be good, however the resort is quite exposed meaning that conditions can be icy and might not meet your expectations of Japan’s legendary powder. If you’re an intermediate or advanced skier/boarder headed to Gala Yuzawa, we recommended swallowing the pain and paying for the overpriced ‘Big Mountain Yuzawa Snow Link’ Pass which covers Gala along with the connected resorts of Yuzawa Kogen and Ishiuchi Maruyama – the best of three (see the trail maps below).

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By taking that option you have access to some much better and less-crowded trails, better snow and powder zones, far more vertical, and decent amount of terrain serviced by a total of 30 lifts.

Tickets & Passes

Day-passes for Gala Yuzawa-only cost: Adults (13+) JPY5200 / Children (6-12)JPY2600 / Seniors (55+) JPY4400. If you buy online, the pass is a little cheaper. Gala Yuzawa, Yuzawa Kogen and Ishiuchi Maruyama are also covered by the ‘Big Mountain Yuzawa Snow Link’ Pass. The cost of the pass is expensive and varies in price through the season. During peak season from January to mid-March expect to pay: Adults JPY6200 / Children JPY4700 / Seniors JPY5500 and in early and late season: JPY5700 / Children JPY4200 / Seniors JPY5000.

Rental & Ski School

Popular with Tokyoites, Gala Yuzawa is well-setup for rental and ski schools. Gala Salomon Station Rental is located inside the resort’s main building and has everything you need including mid-range to high-end ski and snowboard gear. Rental can be arranged in advance through the resorts website. English and other foreign language ski and snowboard lessons are available at Gala including a number of independent schools located nearby that will cover Gala Yuzawa and other resorts.

Kids & Families

Gala Yuzawa has a nursery/day-care service inside the resort’s main building. Operating from 10:00 to 12:00 and 13:00 to 16:00, the service is available for children aged 2 to 6 years of age. Also located in the same building and ideal for families, the resort has a hot spring and swimming pool open daily from 12:00 to 19:00. Outside, the ‘Snow Enjoyment Park’ (Yuki Asobi Park) is an activity area intended for families with young children and free to use.

Accommodation & Village Info

Directly accessible from the surrounding hot spring town of Yuzawa, visitors to Gala Yuzawa are spoiled for choice when it comes to accommodation and restaurants. Yuzawa has a number of excellent ‘onsen’ (hot spring) guesthouses ranging from large hotels to much more intimate options, with high-end and mid-range options to choose from. The town has a good number of restaurants and a couple bars making it by far the best area to base yourself when heading to Gala Yuzawa or any other resort in the area.

For listings in Yuzawa, see our ‘Yuzawa Area’ hotel page.

Getting to Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort

Distance to Echigo-Yuzawa Station: 2.5km / 7-min drive.

Please note, while Echigo-Yuzawa Station is the main/all-year-round station for the Yuzawa area there is an additional/winter-only station directly underneath the resort – Gala Yuzawa Station. In winter, some Joetsu Shinkasen services from Tokyo run to Gala Yuzawa Station in around 80-minutes making Gala hugely popular given the ease of access from the capital. For directions to the Yuzawa area, see our ‘How to Get to Yuzawa’ page.

KAGURA SKI RESORT


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Kagura Ski Resort is probably the least well-known, well-known big resort in Niigata or Nagano (hopefully that makes sense). Offering around 170ha of terrain by itself, Kagura is comparable in size to the joint resort of Hakuba Goryu/47 in Nagano but when you consider that Kagura is connected to nearby Naeba Ski Resort via a joint gondola, visitors to the area have access a huge amount of terrain (by Japanese standards). The ski runs are best-suited to beginners and lower-intermediates with a little too much mellow terrain to keep upper-intermediate and advanced riders happy on-piste. Yet the resort is still hugely popular with both intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders given its excellent side and backcountry. Combine that with Kagura’s reliably good snow and the fact that it’s much quieter than Naeba, you’ll understand why we consider it one of the best options in the region.

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Operating Dates & Times

Kagura’s location blesses it with good snow and a longer season, typically running from late-November into May. In that time, lifts operate daily from 07:30/08:00 to 17:00. Kagura does not have night-skiing.

Ski Runs

The resort has 23 ski runs spread across almost 170ha of terrain and serviced by 18 lifts, 2 ropeways and 1 gondola. Courses breakdown as: beginner 35% / intermediate 35% / advanced 30% (but in reality, a lot of the intermediate is mellow and closer to beginner). Sitting between 620 to 1845 metres, Kagura offers an excellent 1225 metres of vertical with longest ski run hitting 6km in length. Kagura’s liberal approach to side and backcountry make it a solid all-round resort that wins lots of fans.

Highlights

Kagura Ski Resort is made-up of three areas – Kagura, Mitsumata and Tashiro. Offering a total of around 170ha terrain plus access to excellent side and backcountry, plenty of people will tell you that by itself, Kagura is the best resort in the Yuzawa area. But then when you consider that Kagura is connected to Naeba by the long ‘Dragondola’ and covered by an all-mountain pass, you also have access to Naeba’s even larger 196ha of terrain! It’s important to treat the two resorts separately given you can’t ski/board from one to the other and are reliant on a long gondola ride taking 20-minutes. Beginners and lower-intermediates will love all the mellow, green terrain while upper-intermediates and advanced skiers/boarders can take advantage to Kagura’s excellent sidecountry along with backcountry accessible from the top of the resort via Kagura Pair Lift No.5. Kagura also offers a couple of parks including ‘Mitsumata Ups’n’Downs’ and ‘Area 51s Park’ in the Mitsumata Area, the ‘Beginners Park’ in the Tashiro Area and the ‘Kagura Park’ in the Kagura area. 

Tickets & Passes

A joint Kagura-Naeba day-pass costs: Adults JPY6000 / Students JPY4600 / Seniors JPY5300 / Children Free. A Kagura-only day-pass costs: JPY4900 / Students JPY4000 / Seniors JPY4400 / Children Free

Rental & Ski School

Standard ski and snowboard rental are available at both Mitsumata Station and Tashiro Station with backcountry gear available at Kagura Powder Station in the Mitsumata parking lot. Ski and snowboard lessons are also available, with several operators in the area providing English and other foreign language lessons.

Kids & Families

Kagura has very limited services for families and children. There is a childrens play area at the bottom of the Family Course in the Mitsumata area of the resort but not much else to speak of.

Accommodation & Village Info

There are a number of small hotels and guesthouses in and around Kagura including ‘Wada Goya’, a basic mountain hotel located at 1380 metres above sea level providing ski in/out access for guests. Most guesthouses are however located around the base stations with many visitors choosing to stay in the large Prince Hotel in Naeba and use the gondola to come over to Kagura. Alternatively, Kagura is readily accessible using the shuttle bus or taxi from Echigo-Yuzawa Station in the hot spring town of Yuzawa, – the best option in terms of range of accommodation, restaurants and nightlife.

For listings in and around Kagura, see our ‘Yuzawa Area’ hotel page.

Getting to Kagura Ski Resort

Distance to Echigo-Yuzawa Station: 8.5km / <15-min drive to Kagura Mitsumata Ropeway/Base Station or 15km / 20-min drive to Kaguara Tashiro Ropeway/Base Station.

For directions to Kagura and the Yuzawa area, see our ‘How to Get to Yuzawa’ page.

NAEBA SKI RESORT


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Located around 30-minutes drive from Echigo-Yuzawa Station, Naeba is the largest stand-alone resort in the area offering just under 200ha of terrain. Connected to Kagura Ski Resort via the ‘Dragondola’, the combined ski fields offer the best overall skiing and snowboarding in the Yuzawa area. Naeba is operated by the Prince Hotels group and as such, has good infrastructure and services catering to both Japanese and international visitors. The resort offers a good mix of terrain catering to all levels and when considered together with Kagura, provides access to some of the best side and backcountry in Niigata (accessible from Kagura). Although Naeba doesn’t get the powder of other resorts, the snow is typically good making Naeba a popular resort. It can get busy, especially on weekends and holidays but other than that, Naeba is a good all-round resort.

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Operating Dates & Times

Naeba has a fairly long season, typically running from early-December to early-April with lifts operating from 08:00 to 17:00 and night-skiing available in some areas of the resort until 20:00.

Ski Runs

The resorts offers 196ha of terrain across 22 courses, serviced by 9 lifts and 3 gondolas. Courses breakdown as: beginner 30% / intermediate 40% / advanced 30%. Sitting between 900 to 1789 metres, Naeba offers a decent 889 metres of vertical and some of the best terrain parks in Niigata or Nagano. Unlike nearby Kagura, Naeba restricts side and backcountry to the frustration of intermediate and advanced riders. The longest ski run is 4km.

Highlights

Naeba is a large resort (by Japanese standards) that caters to all levels. When considered in conjunction with Kagura Ski Resort – which is connected to Naeba by the long ‘Dragondola’ – you have one of Niigata and Nagano’s best ski areas that continues to fly a little under the radar for international visitors. Naeba is more popular than Kagura and can get busy on holidays and weekends. It also doesn’t match Kagura in terms of snow quality or access to side and backcountry. But the ability to go from one resort to the other using the all-mountain pass means visitors can enjoy the best of both, including Naeba’s fantastic terrain parks – some of the best in Niigata or Nagano. Boasting modern infrastructure, plenty of foreign language services, better snow, much more terrain, parks and backcountry, we regard Naeba and Kagura as much better options than Gala Yuzawa.

Tickets & Passes

A joint Naeba-Kagura day-pass costs: Adults JPY6000 / Students JPY4600 / Seniors JPY5300 / Children Free. A Naeba-only day-pass costs: JPY5200 / Students JPY4200 / Seniors JPY4700 / Children Free.

Rental & Ski School

The resort’s huge Prince Hotel has two in-house rental services, Brand Viking and Salomon Station, offering a full-range of ski and snowboard rental including mid-range and premium options. Sherpa International Snow School Naeba offers both group and private lessons in English and Chinese.

Kids & Families

Naeba is very well-suited to families including those with young children. Child-care services are available inside Prince Hotel while the resort has three activity areas for families and children including ‘Waku Waku Family Snowland’ – a large area of three play zones including a snow train and other rides – located by the Naeba South Gate, ‘Kappa Snowmobile Land’ located by the N-Plateau day trip ski centre at the base of the resort, and ‘Pandaruman Hiroba’ area including tubes and sleds in front of Prince hotel.

Accommodation & Village Info

Operated the Prince Hotels, Naeba is serviced by the 1200+ room Prince Hotel. The immense hotel offers ski in/out access to central ski slopes, more than 20 in-house restaurants ranging from a food-court to fine-dining, two large public hot springs, in-house shops and services including rental, ski school, day-care and foreign language-speakingstaff. While it won’t appeal to everyone, the hotel is well-suited to international visitors and families that want everything within easy reach. Alternatively, Naeba is readily accessible using the shuttle bus or taxi from Echigo-Yuzawa Station. Located in the hot spring town of Yuzawa, it’s the best option in terms of range of accommodation, restaurants and nightlife.

For listings in and around Naeba, see our ‘Yuzawa Area’ hotel page.

Getting to Naeba Ski Resort

Distance to Echigo-Yuzawa Station: 20km / 30-min drive.

For directions to Naeba and the Yuzawa area, see our ‘How to Get to Yuzawa’ page.

MUIKAMACHI HAKKAISAN SKI RESORT


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Not to be mistaken with the unremarkable Hakkai Sanroku Ski Area, Muikamachi Hakkaisan Ski Resort is very much the hidden gem of Niigata, mostly unknown international visitors. A long and steep resort serviced by a 166-person ropeway, Hakkaisan is a true powder paradise and heaven for upper-intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders wanting to escape the crowds and dive into the deep stuff. And when we say deep, we mean deep! Hakkaisan receives huge dumps of powder which given the resort’s steep terrain, combines to create a uniquely challenging and fun resort. A favourite with locals, most everyone who heads to Hakkaisan knows what they’re doing. This is no place for newbies and with few foreign faces around, expect a warm welcome and to strike-up a few conversations with people wanting to know how you ended-up there. To be clear, if you’re a beginner, lower-intermediate or family with young children, then Muikamachi Hakkaisan probably isn’t for you. But if you’re up for some of Japan’s legendary powder and decent terrain, then rent a car and head to Hakkaisan.

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Operating Dates & Times

The resort is typically open from mid-December until the end of March with the ropeway and lifts operating from 08:30 until 16:00. Hakkaisan does not have night-skiing.

Ski Runs

Hakkaisan offers a tiny 36ha of terrain with only 15 ski runs serviced by 3 lifts and the resort’s immense 166-person ropeway. Courses breakdown as: beginner 30% / intermediate 40% / advanced 40%. Sitting between 355 to 1147 metres, the resort offers a reasonable 792 metres of vertical from top to bottom. The longest ski run is 5.5km.

Highlights

By the numbers, you might think what’s so good about this resort? It’s quite simple. It’s all about the powder. Hakkaisan tends to get massive dumps of powder but is not well-known to most Japanese or international visitors. It’s a very local resort where most everyone knows how to handle themselves. You won’t find newbies here – unless they are very lost or delusional – given it takes a bit more effort to get to, doesn’t have the frills of resorts like Gala Yuzawa and Naeba, and most of the resort is steep. The majority of the runs are at Hakkaisan are red and black, with a winding green forest trail which you can cut down through the trees – great fun in the powder! The resort offers ‘First Tracks’ tickets on on weekends allowing those with advanced bookings to head-up 10-minutes before the resort opens and get the first powder all to themselves. Given the amount of snow and steepness of the terrain, backcountry is forbidden (unless you have a guide) and should you break the rules and go out, don’t expect anyone to come looking for you. Quite simply, no one will come to help. So stay within the boundaries and enjoy one of Japan’s true hidden gems!

Tickets & Passes

A day-pass for Hakkaisan costs: Adults JPY4100 / Students JPY3500 / Seniors JPY3000 / Children are free, while a 4-hour pass (valid for 4-hours from time of purchase) costs: Adults JPY3500 / Students 2900.

Rental & Ski School

English-speaking ski instructors are available at Hakkaisan however advanced bookings are required. Rental is also available inside the resorts main building/base camp. But this is a resort for upper-intermediate to advanced riders so if you’re looking to learn, we recommend doing it elsewhere and if you’re headed to Hakkaisan, take your own gear to avoid missing the best powder.

Kids & Families

The ‘Chibbiko’ (Kids Trail) area for young children is located by the base area and there is a nice area of wide mellow terrain to learn on. But again, this is a resort best-suited to experienced skiers and snowboarders. Families will find a lot more to do at Naeba, Kagura and Gala Yuzawa.

Accommodation & Village Info

Accommodation around the resort is limited to ‘minshuku’ and ‘penions’ – family-run, basic lodges. While these are perfectly fine and can offer great value for money, most international visitors will be best-served by staying in the hot spring town of Yuzawa – it’s the best option in terms of range of accommodation, restaurants and nightlife.

For listings in and around Hakkaisan, see our ‘Yuzawa Area’ hotel page.

Getting to Muikamachi Hakkaisan Ski Resort

Distance to Echigo-Yuzawa Station: 35km / 50 to 60-min drive.

Hakkaisan is located a little further from Yuzawa than the other resorts but it’s worth making the effort and will be easiest for visitors with their own transport/rental car. On weekends and holidays between December 21st and March 15th, a free shuttle bus runs from the East Exit of Echigo-Yuzawa Station. It takes around 60-minutes. Alternatively, local buses run from Muikamachi Station – the nearest station to the resort – taking around 30-minutes to reach Hakkaisan.

For directions to the Yuzawa area, see our ‘How to Get to Yuzawa’ page.

JAPAN SKI RESORTS: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW


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Did you know that the resorts of Yuzawa are just some of the more than five hundred in Japan? Needless to say, when you choose Nagano for your winter getaway you are spoiled for choice! Our ‘Japan Ski Resorts’ page has everything you need to know to start planning your ski and snowboard adventure including: LATEST NEWS & DEALS, THE BEST RESORTS IN NAGANO & JAPAN, FAQs and of course OUR SKI PACKAGES, ACCOMMODATION, TRANSPORT & TOURS.

GETTING TO & AROUND YUZAWA IN WINTER


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Our ‘How to Get to Yuzawa’ page provides information on how to reach Myoko from locations including Nagano Station, Tokyo and the airports. For many if not most visitors, accessing the ski fields of Yuzawa via Echigo-Yuzawa Station will be the most convenient option.

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Running from Tokyo Station and ending in Niigata City, the Joetsu Shinkansen line stops at Echigo-Yuzawa Station, with an additional station, Gala Yuzawa Station, operating beneath Gala Yuzawa Ski Resort in winter. Two services – the ‘Toki’ and ‘Tanigawa’ – operate between Tokyo and Echigo-Yuzawa taking around 80-minutes. In winter, some services will continue onto Gala Yuzawa Station, only a couple more minutes along the line.

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Once at the station, shuttle buses and taxis will connect you to the surrounding resorts.

BOOK WITH US! NAGANO’S NO.1 TOUR & CHARTER OPERATOR


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Locally-based and operating all year round, Snow Monkey Resorts is Nagano’s No.1 tour and charter operator. We have the local knowledge of where and when to go, to help you discover and enjoy the region’s many ski resorts and other fantastic destinations and activities.

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For guests wanting to access the resorts in the comfort of their own transport, we can arrange a private tour or charter customised to fit your needs, starting and ending at any destination including from/to Nagano Station and any resort in the region. Our drivers and vehicles are fully certified, allowing us to transport you to and from your preferred destinations in combination with any activity that suits your schedule.

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All vehicles are fitted with a protective screen – separating the driver from passenger and luggage area – and our drivers wear protective masks, allowing you to move between your destinations in comfort and safety.

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We can arrange both private tours with an English-speaking guide or a private charter, including a private vehicle and driver but without a guide. We’d love to be part of that experience and help you discover even more!

Why choose us?

Awarded a 2019 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award for our 1-Day Snow Monkeys, Zenko-ji Temple & Sake Tour – recognised as one of the Top 10 Experiences in Japan – we have the local knowledge and experience to help you get the most out of your time in Nagano.

Got a question about visiting Yuzawa and Central Japan this winter? Contact us at snowmonkeyresorts@machinovate.com and let’s get planning together!

JAPAN RAIL DEALS: TRAVEL PASSES & DISCOUNTED TICKETS


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Many if not most people heading to the ski resorts of Nagano and Niigata do so via Nagano Station and Echigo-Yuzawa Station. Both are serviced by Shinkansen/Bullet Train lines running from Tokyo, making them quick and easy to get to.

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Any foreign passport-holder – both international visitors and foreign residents of Japan – is eligible for the ‘Japan Rail (JR) East Pass’ for Nagano & Niigata. Covering 5 days of unlimited use within a 14-day period, the pass includes travel on both the Hokuirku Shinkansen and Joetsu Shinkansen lines – a great deal if you’re planning to move between the regions while here.

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In addition, JR East offers a 3-Day ‘Welcome Pass’ for foreign passport-holders. The pass covers multiple shinkansen lines and other major train routes – a fantastic deal and great option for getting to and moving around Central Japan.

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Japan Rail is currently also offering discounted prices on many train services, including shinkansen lines across the country. With discounts of up to 50% available when purchasing online, our ‘Discount Shinkansen Tickets: How to Buy Online’ page includes an English step-by-step guide of how to purchase tickets online.

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