Viewing Autumn Leaves at Nagatoro, Saitama
Nagatoro is a town located in Chichibu district, Saitama prefecture. It nestles at the boundary of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park (which extends through the four prefectures of Yamanashi, Tokyo, Saitama and Nagano). Nagatoro is conveniently accessible from the capital, both by public transportation and by car. This is an excellent destination for day trippers from Tokyo who have limited time and still want to enjoy some attractive natural spot.
Rock Tatami Cliff (Nagatoro no Iwadatami, 長瀞の岩畳), namely crystalline schist creating successive layers of rock overlapping each other’s, is the quintessential scene of Nagatoro Valley. The name, Iwadatami derives from its similarity to a tatami -matted floor.
A very popular activity is the boat ride along the embankments of the Arakawa River on about 3 km (30 minutes). Those long Japanese wooden boats seat about 20 persons and offer close view on the rocky shores of the river and waterfalls! The current is mostly still, but gets rapid when some rough rocks exposed to the flow surface, but don't expect a heart- racing ride though. If you prefer experiencing some excitement, then rafting is also available.
Aside from the magnificent cliff, Nagatoro Valley is a well-known autumn leaves viewing spot in Saitama. From mid-November to early December, visitors flock to the place for stunning autumn foliage of the valley reflected on the Arakawa River. Most of them just reach the shore of the river from the station and enjoy the view directly from there, but I recommend you to walk upstream, where the river is wilder - and where there are much less packed with people. A small 20-minute walk would be enough to get in Tsukihoshi Momiji Park, there you can see the vibrant yellow, red and orange Japanese maple trees lit up after sunset.
After taking a stroll along the river, you can have some lunch at one of the restaurants in the merchant houses close to the station. Do not expect to find a fancy meal here as the food is not the main selling point. However, it is fantastic though. Tourist are encouraged to enjoy the savoriness of locally produced buckwheat noodles, freshly made each morning. Some of the restaurants offer the view overlooking the gorge and the Arakawa River, but they are pretty small, and tend to be very crowded.
Nagatoro is also a real family leisure place in the sense that it also houses Nagatoro Town Museum and Saitama Museum of Natural History. Nagatoro Town Museum features silkworm culture and farming implements that have been gathered mostly from Nagatoro town, while Saitama Museum of Natural History exhibits a number of fossils, rocks, minerals, skeletal specimen of animals/sea creatures and many more.
It is possible to take a full day to stop off for sightseeing and refreshment. However, if you don't want to rush you trip, spend a night at Nagatoro Choseikan, a gorgeous ryokan established more than 100 years ago, conveniently located just 3 minutes on foot from Nagatoro Station. Experience a true Japanese culture such as, kaiseki, (a Japanese set meal full of local specialties), irori (a traditional fireplace built into the center the house to provide light and warmth throughout winter), etc.
Or if you prefer, spend a night at one of Chichibu's numerous Ryokans and soak your tiredness away at the area's natural hot spring. I encourage you to plan for an overnight stay enjoying the true comfort of Japanese hospitality and service at Ogano Onsen Suzaki Ryokan, a stylish Ryokan, boasting a history that dates back to the Meiji Period.
There is a shopping district that runs 800 m. across Nagatoro from East to West featuring various shops. The stores showcase local unique flavor, souvenirs, nostalgic toys, and much more. I had a very pleasant afternoon lingering here, buying many things from food stores to taste and try.
With its wide selection of goods as well as cafes and restaurant, the place is a perfect destination for buying souvenirs or just as a rest stop for those strolling out the town.
- The traditional boats operate from early March to mid-December while rafting is available all year round.
- Good shoes are necessary, as you walk there directly on the rocks
Access from Central Tokyo
- Using the Seibu Line
From Ikebukuro Station, take the Seibu Ikebukuro Line (Red Arrow Limited Express) to Seibu-Chichibu (80 min.) Station. Transfer to the Chichibu Railway at Ohanabatake Station to Nagatoro Station.（20 min.)
- Using the JR train
From Ueno Station, take the JR Takasaki Line to Kumagaya Station (60 min. Transfer to the Chichibu Railway to Nagatoro Station (50 min.）
- By car
Take the Kan-etsu Highway to Hanazono (花園IC, about 60 km from Ikebukuro) and then 18 km on a national road.
Website: Nagatoro City, the official site of the town.