The New Golden Route connects Tokyo and Kyoto via Northern Chubu, mostly along the path of the Hokuriku Shinkansen. The route has become popular because of the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen in 2015, and because of the availability of the Hokuriku Arch Pass, which allows a round-trip journey to be done for ¥24,500-25,500 (as of Aug 2021).
Although lying off Japan's main tourist trail, the 2016 extension to the Hokuriku Shinkansen has led to increased number of tourists in many of the route's major stops. Although it is not one of the main 5 routes that historically connected Tokyo and Kyoto, this route has much to offer to most visitors, such as mountainous scenery, world heritage listed farm houses and many of Japan's best preserved cities. The areas that the route passes through are much sparser than most other Japanese regions. As the new golden is not a list of set destinations one can cut destinations that they perceive as uninteresting.
The weather on the route can fluctuate, with Kanazawa being one of Japan's rainiest cities while Takayama and Shirakawa-go receive regular snow in the winter. The areas of Northern Chubu are much busier with domestic tourists trying to escape the heat in the Japan Alps during summer and the climate is much more pleasant than that of major cities like Tokyo and Osaka. One thing one may want to pick up before travelling this route is one of the many regional rail passes that cover parts of the route, the most popular of these is the Hokuriku Arch Pass allowing a round trip to be done for ¥24,500 though this is not economical for most one way trips and does not provide access to Takayama and Shirakawa-go. If one wants to return to Tokyo via the Tokaido Shinkansen one could also purchase the Japan Rail Pass which allows for nation-wide transport for only ¥5,000 more, it additionally lasts one more day but also does not pay for the bus ride to and from Shirakawa-go. Two smaller passes that are also useful are the JR Hokuriku Area Pass and the Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass. The JR Hokuriku Pass allows for cheap transport around Kanazawa and the Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass provides transport between Kyoto and Takayama, this is also the only pass that includes the bus route to Shirakawa-Go in its covered area. All of these passes are cheaper if purchased outside of Japan and should be purchased in advance. When travelling on the Hokuriku Shinkansen on should be aware that the fastest train category, the Kagayaki requires reseverations while the slower Hakutaka has seats that do not.
Those who plan to start in Kyoto will have to start by taking the Thunderbird, a limited express train between Kyoto and Kanazawa (one of the itinerary's major stops) before continuing the route on the Hokuriku Shinkansen.
There are many different ways one can do this route and due to short travel times on the Shinkansen, a quicker traveller could combine multiple stops in one day. This only covers major spots but there are other small cities worth exploring along the route. Many people also choose to do the route in reverse starting in Kyoto after taking the Tokaido Shinkansen to Kyoto
The first stop on the New golden route is Saitama, a suburb 25 minutes north of Tokyo. It is home to one of best Japan's top railway museum and a bonsai village. Nearby 1 Kawagoe is nicknamed "Little Edo" due to its well preserved warehouse district, If you are travelling without a rail pass, don't take the Shinkansen due to the much higher cost compared the minimal time saved.
The Shinkansen second stop Takasaki is famous for its Daruma Dolls and has many nearby attractions such as 2 Tomioka Silk Mill, a Unesco World Heritage site. Takasaki also provides an opportunity to unwind in a nearby onsen such as 3 Ikaho or 4 Shima.
Karuizawa, a mountain resort on the base of an active volcano in Nagano Prefecture is a place to escape the heat and a second home to many wealthy businessmen. Many outdoor activities can be done in the area and nearby by Shiraito waterfalls provides a good one or two day stop. Beware that the fastest train on the Hokuriku shinkansen, the Kagayaki does not stop here; take the slightly slower Hakutaka to access Karuizawa. Despite this the journey from Takasaki only takes 15 minutes and it could be done as a day-trip from Taksaki.
Nagano is the largest city in Nagano prefecture and second largest city on the route, it is common for one to base themselves in the city for multiple days while doing day-trips. It was the host of the 1998 Olympics and its Olympic past can be seen in many museums and former stadiums. Its main tourist attraction is Zenkoji, home to Japan's first Buddha statue. Nagano developed around the temple and it serves as a pilgrimage destination. Due to Karuizawa not being served by the faster Kagayaki one most take the slower Shinkansen to Nagano, the journey takes 45 minnutes
An hour south of Nagano by limited express train, Matsumoto is home to one of Japan's top castle, Matsumoto-jo, and is a pleasant day-trip from Nagano. The city also has many museums and is known for it's locally grown wasabi.
Day-trip to 6 Yamanouchi
Yamanouchi, an hour north of Nagano is most famous for its monkey park where one can see monkeys bathing in onsens. Along with that 7 Shiga Kogen ski resort and Shibu Onsen are also in the area. You can choose to stay at a ryokan in the area for a night if you want to have more time to explore the area or just want to experience one.
Toyama is a coastal city famous for its medicine. It's also known for its unique black ramen and beautiful bay. Many side trips can be done from Toyama like the Kurobe Gorge, a gorge famous for its forested ravine and 8 Takaoka, a centre for metal-working and home to one of Japan's biggest buddhas. 9 Gokayama, the lesser-known cousin of Shirakawa-go can be visited as a day-trip. When travelling from Nagano to Toyama, you could choose to take the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, a scenic route through Mount Tate providing stunning views of the Northern Japan Alps; however, it is much less efficient taking 200 minutes with maximum efficiency though most travel much slower than this due to the many stops on the way. Along with that the Alpine Route costs twice as much as the Shinkansen which does the journey in 45 minutes.
Takayama is a small town near the Japan Alps with well preserved Edo era streets in its old town causing it to be nicknamed "the little Kyoto of Hida". Takayama is famous for its timber production and also for its festival one of Japan's top 3 festival. Nearby is the Okuhida Region with great onsens. Other well preserved towns are nearby like 10 Hida Furukawa . From Takayama one could divert from the standard path and travel along the Takayama Main Line down to 1 Gero Onsen or even further to 2 Gujo or 3 Nagoya before heading to Kyoto by way of Lake Biwa usually with stops in 4 Hikone for its castle or 5 Omihachiman for merchant district and canal. The Shinkansen does not head to Takayama meaning one must take a limited express train or local train on the Takayama Main Line.
Stop 7: 8 Shirakawa-go
Shirakawa-Go, a Unesco World Heritage Site is a region famed for its thatch roof farmhouses. The farmhouses have been preserved in the same state for more than 250 years and are constructed in the Gassho-Zukuri architectural style, which means "praying hands", because it literally resembles hands in prayer. Shirakawa-Go's main village is Ogimachi which has over 250 of the structures with many functioning as museums, restaurants and gift shops. Shirakawa-go is the only major destination on the route not served by train however buses depart hourly from Takayama. Alternatively, buses also run from Kanazawa (see below).
Kanazawa is the largest city and capital of Ishikawa Prefecture. The Ishikawa area was the birthplace of Noh and Japanese tea ceremonies. Kanazawa is famous for its laquerware and Kenroku-en one of Japan's top gardens .The city also houses a samurai district and a reconstructed castle along with Japan's busiest art gallery. Various Shrines and Temples dot the city like the Ninja Temple and Oyama Shrine among others. Nearby the 11 Noto Peninsula has rugged coastline and remote onsens. Buses depart from Shirakawa-go 4 times a day to Kanazawa.
The final city on the New Golden Route is Kyoto, a city filled with numerous temples, shrines and other attractions. As the Shinkansen doesn't connect Kanazawa with Kyoto one must take the Thunderbird Limited Express Train between the two cities, the train departs hourly and takes about 2 hours making it the longest leg of the itinerary, the Shinkansen plans to be extended to Tsuruga in 2022 cutting down travel time and making Fukui and its surrounding attractions more accessible add-ons to New Golden Route itineraries. The nearest airport to Kyoto is Osaka Itami but the nearest international airport is Osaka Kansai. If flying out of Tokyo the quickest overland route would be via the Tokaido Shinkansen however if you have still have the Hokuriku Arch Pass active you can return to Tokyo for free with the Hokuriku Shinkansen if you don't mind a slower return.
- Nara, Popular day-trip from Kyoto home to Horyu-ji and Todai-ji, both grand temples. 40 km south of Kyoto, many travel options
- Uji, Famous for its tea and the Byodo-in temple. 15km south of Kyoto, many travel options
- Osaka, bustling city with a reconstructed castle. 30 km west of Kyoto, many travel options
- Amanohashidate, sandbar known as the Bridge in Heaven and one of Japan's Top three views. 2 hours north of Kyoto by limited express train
- Himeji, home of Himeji Castle, Japan's most popular castle. 45 minutes west of Kyoto by Shinkansen
- Kobe, city famed for its steak. 30 minutes west of Kyoto by Shinkansen
- Hiroshima, a main stop on the Golden Route, famed for its atomic bomb history and usually combined with Miyajima. 90 minutes west of Kyoto by Shinkansen
- Hikone, City on Lake Biwa with well-preserved castle. 30 minutes east of Kyoto by Shinkansen but requires transfer in Maibara, 1 hour on cheaper local trains
- Nagoya, Japan's third largest metro area and major industrial centre. 30 minutes east of Kyoto on Shinkansen
- Kamakura, historical capital with many temples
- Hakone, hotspring resort with views of Mount Fuji
- Nikko, Unesco World Heritage site north of Tokyo
- Yokohama, Japan's second largest city just south of Tokyo
- Fuji Five Lakes, Iconic views of Mount Fuji from these lakes
- Izu Islands, Chain of volcanic islands south of Tokyo