A great outdoor break ! About 2 hours away from busy Tokyo, in Western Saitama prefecture, Nagatoro is a beautiful city offering a great nature and impressive gorges. And the best way to explore these is to take a traditional gondola tours through Arakawa river stream. Nagatoro is one of the Heisei 100 landscapes, and a well-kept secret among Japanese. On the weekends, the Paleo Express, an old steam loco, is also to be seen in the area.
Nagatoro is definitely one of the easiest nature break from Tokyo, being only about two hours away from the big city! And the quiet town in Saitama prefecture becomes quite busy every sunny weekends with the capital inhabitants looking for a refreshing escape. The main activity to be found in Nagatoro, since the early 20th century, is boat rafting on the Arakawa river. Nowadays, canoes and inflatable boats are also available, but the traditional way is to follow the stream on gondolas.
Two roads are available, up or down Nagatoro, both with quiet moments and more intense ones. Road B departure is in Iwadatami – the name of the huge rock formation to be found upstream – at the end of Nagatoro main commercial street. After the 30 minutes cruises, buses are taking the passengers back to the city while the gondolas are moved up the river by trucks. Iwadatami is also Road A arrival, with the same logical except that time passengers begin their journey by bus.
Walking along the river from Iwadatami is also possible and allows one to catch glimpses of the rafting boat and explore the rock formation. Beware of the snake to be found there on quiet days (they mostly remain hidden when too many people are around).
Both gondola tours (A and B) are 1600 yen per person (and half-price for children under 12 years old, cruises everyday from 9am to 4pm – coming weather and phone number are to be found here). There is no need of booking in advance, but it is definitely better to arrive early on the weekends.
In summertime, another sight to catch in Nagatoro is the beautiful Paleo Express steam locomotive crossing the Arakawa river. Running for tourists, the locomotive belonging to the Chichibu railways can also be boarded for a nice journey in the area.
How to get there?
Two main options are available to reach Nagatoro from Tokyo, either beginning the journey in Ikebukuro or in Ueno/Tokyo station.
From Ikebukuro, you will have to take the Seibu Chichibu line to the same name station. From there, a 5 minutes walk is necessary to reach Ohanabatake station and the Chichibu railways. The last company is running trains towards Nagatoro, among others, and the I.C. cards are not working in the several old-fashioned stations. About 2 hours and 2000 yen.
The other option, a better deal for JR Pass holders, begins in Ueno or Tokyo stations with the JR Takasaki line, and continues with a change in Kumagaya for the Chichibu railways (a second part where the JR pass can’t be used). About 2 hours and 1900 yen.