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The Town of Nagatoro

Traditional boats sit on the bank of the Arakawa in Saitama Prefecture’s town of Nagatoro

Japan always manages to surprise me. Every time that I think that I’ve FINALLY crossed an area off of my 5,000 item-long bucket list, I somehow manage to uncover more allures in the region. For example, I was recently showing a friend around Chichibu in Saitama Prefecture, a locale that I had thought I had completed. While there, we decided to check out neighboring Nagatoro. Now, this is a place that I had long been aware of but had neglected to actually visit. Somehow, I had convinced myself that what I read online about the traditional river cruises was sufficient. Lesson learned I guess…

Since most readers out there probably haven’t heard of Chichibu yet (let alone the town of Nagatoro) allow me to begin this exposé with a very brief introduction. Found in the northwesternmost parts of Saitama Prefecture, this rural pocket is home to an eclectic collection of attractions. Easily ranking as one of my top day trips from Tokyo, Chichibu is a place that I’ve returned to time and time again over the years. From the downtown sections near Seibu-Chichibu Station to the ancient Mitsumine Shrine high up in the mountains, there’s just so much to see and do in this neck of the woods.

Seeing that the precinct really deserves its own standalone piece, readers unfamiliar with Chichibu should begin with my in-depth guide. In the remainder of this article, I’m going to focus specifically on the adjacent town of Nagatoro. Situated just to the north of the central parts of Chichibu, Nagatoro is a quaint but scenic village. Especially during the oppressive months of summer, the mountainous environs are popular with Tokyoites who are looking for opportunities to explore its largely unspoiled natural environments. Here, you’ll find all sorts of options for hiking, water spots and traditional river boat cruises.

If you ever happen to find yourself up in Chichibu, consider giving Nagatoro a try. While you’ll need to devote around half a day’s worth of time to thoroughly explore the hamlet, it’s time well spent (even more so if you’re a big fan of the great outdoors). All in all, I was very impressed by Nagatoro. I actually came away feeling a little ashamed that I thought just reading about the traditional river cruises down the Arakawa would be sufficient when authoring my guide to the rest of this part of Saitama Prefecture.

How to Get There

The Chichibu Railways winds its way towards the town of Nagatoro in Saitama Prefecture

Let’s pause for a quick moment to cover some critical logistics before we dive into the weeds on the town of Nagatoro. As noted previously, the Chichibu region is located at the northwestern extremes of Saitama Prefecture. Luckily, getting there is not all too difficult, at least as far as some of the other destinations that I feature on this blog. All you’ll need to do is hop on one of the Laview limited express trains bound for Seibu-Chichibu Station (refer to Jorudan or a similar service for departure schedules). This entire first leg of the journey will take you around an hour and a half.

Once you arrive at Seibu-Chichibu Station, you’ll need to make a short trek over to the neighboring Ohanabatake Station. From here, you’ll be able to catch the local Chichibu Railway to Nagatoro. Just note that IC cards like Suica and Pasmo CANNOT be used on this rather rural line. Since you’ll need to navigate purchasing tickets for you and any travel companions, it would be wise to avoid cutting it close when it comes to the train connections. Missing a train up here can mean half an hour or more of added wait time!

What to Do in Nagatoro

The torii and main hall of Hodosan Shrine in northwestern Saitama’s town of Nagatoro

The Chichibu Railway will take you as far as Nagatoro Station’s historic wooden buildings. From there, the rest of the journey needs to be done largely on foot or rental bicycle. Given that one of the primary reasons for coming to Nagatoro in the first place is the river cruises though, I’d say you’d be best served by sticking to getting around on foot. After all, the river cruises can only go one way down the rapids of the Arakawa and you can’t bring your bike onboard. As a result, you’ll want to take their free shuttle bus back to Nagatoro Station.

While you’re free to explore Nagatoro as you see fit (and I encourage those looking for a more leisurely day to spend time doing so), the following itinerary is an efficient route for getting the most out of the town…

  • Iwadatami Dori
    This is the main street in Nagatoro. It runs from the foothills of nearby Mt. Hodo all the way down to the banks of the Arakawa. Seeing as Iwadatami Dori runs right by the station, the shopping street is pretty hard to miss. That said, do make a point of checking out some of the many vendors that can be found on either side of the lane. Here, you’ll find shops hawking all kinds of wares including pickled mountain vegetables, regionally grown walnuts and sundried tomatoes. The locally sourced soba is also great!

  • River Cruises
    At the end of Iwadatami Dori, you’ll arrive at the rushing Arakawa. This important river was vital to the development of the greater Tokyo area throughout history. In Nagatoro, you can experience what it would have been like traveling down the waterway during the days of yesteryear for only 1,600 yen per person. It’s definitely one of the highlights of Nagatoro and something you should be sure not to miss. Just note that you’re bound to get wet if the Arakawa is feeling moody that day…

  • Hodosan Shrine
    Pictured above, this ancient sanctuary is dedicated to nearby Mt. Hodo (or just “Hodosan” in Japanese). Though not particularly high at a mere 497 meters, Mt. Hodo and its shrine have long been important to the people living in the town of Nagatoro. In fact, according to some interesting folktales, Hodosan Shrine was founded by the legendary Yamato Takeru. Occasionally compared to the West’s King Arthur, Yamato Takeru allegedly built Hodosan Shrine in homage to a bunch of phantom canines that saved him and his party from an inferno on the foothills of Mt. Hodo.

  • Mt. Hodo
    While totally optional, Mt. Hodo is also worth challenging if you’re an intrepid mountaineer. The reasonably sized peak can be attempted via a number of hiking trails or by the ropeway if you’re feeling lazy. The upper portions provide some amazing views of Chichibu and its iconic Mt. Buko. Note that the best time to ascend Mt. Hodo is during winter when the crag’s many plum trees start to finally blossom.

While I wasn’t able to ride one myself, I did see a number of out of place tuk-tuks driving about Nagatoro. Color me confused but it looks like you can actually hire one to cart you around. Weird…

Other Nearby Attractions

An evening view of Chichibu and Nagatoro from Minoyama Park

Now, let me be the first to say that you’d be a fool to come up to this remote part of Saitama Prefecture and not explore out what else is on offer. During my most recent stint, I was able to hit up Chichibu Shrine and soak in the onsen built into Seibu-Chichibu Station while also seeing the town of Nagatoro. Unfortunately, you’ll need to pass on the likes of Mitsumine Shrine if you’re just doing a mere day trip. While one of my favorites in Chichibu, it doesn’t combine logistically well with Nagatoro.

One other recommendation I have in the vicinity is to check out a few allures that are related to Wado Kaichin. Officially Japanese oldest coinage, the copper for Wado Kaichin was actually sourced from a mine that sits between central Chichibu and the town of Nagatoro. If you’d like to learn more about this little known part of Japanese history, know that there are a handful of attractions sprinkled around Wado-Kuroya Station. If you have time, consider a visit on the way back from Nagatoro!

Until next time travelers…

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