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Setsugekka Train - An Unforgettable Three Hour Ride Through Niigata's Nature

Setsugekka Train - An Unforgettable Three Hour Ride Through Niigata's Nature

Niigata 2019.05.24 Bookmark

Setsugekka is a luxury train that runs in Niigata Prefecture, an area known for its heavy snowfall, dramatic mountain ranges, and majestic views of the Japan Sea. Learn more about this three-hour, once-in-a-lifetime ride, filled with stunning views of nature and delicious cuisine.

Translated by Shinji Takaramura

Written by Kousuke DEKI

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An Adventure on the Luxury Train Setsugekka

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

Picture courtesy of Echigo TOKImeki Railway Company (ETR)

The luxury train Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka offers a one-of-a-kind experience. It operates in Niigata Prefecture in central Japan, running through Joetsumyoko Station, Itoigawa Station, and Myoko-Kogen Station for a total of three hours.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

Picture courtesy of ETR

Passengers can enjoy snowfield scenery, a magnificent view of the mountains and the ocean, and a delicious meal. This article covers all the appeals of Setsugekka experience on a ride.

Three Reasons to Ride the Setsugekka

Setsugekka operates two times a day, in the morning and in the afternoon, only on weekends. The seats are limited, and the train is often fully booked for months. Many of the passengers are repeaters who enjoyed their first ride so much that they wanted to repeat the experience.

The train cars are filled with unique appeals. We will briefly introduce them below.

1. Panoramic Windows

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

Picture courtesy of ETR

Setsugekka has the largest windows installed on Japanese trains, allowing an unparalleled, panoramic view. The train runs past numerous picturesque sights, so be sure to have your camera ready.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

The train will run through a snowfield during winter and spring. Niigata is known for its chilly climate; the route goes through Myoko, an area where the snow piles up every winter. The picture above displays the panoramic snowscape view that can be seen.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

Picture courtesy of ETR

Depending on the season, riders can also take in views of the cherry blossoms in spring or colorful leaves in fall. During the three-hour ride, passengers will also see rice paddies, mountains, the ocean, and the rural life of the locals.

2. Fine Cuisine

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

Setsugekka also offers superb dining that is included in the tour.

There are two types of meals. The morning train serves French cuisine created by a Michelin Guide-recognized chef awarded with two stars. The afternoon train serves dishes prepared by a Japanese-style restaurant in Niigata with 200 years of history. Both meals are made from the best of Niigata ingredients and food products.

Continue reading to learn about what kind of meals you can enjoy on the train ride.

3. Connect with Niigata Residents

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

During the ride, Setsugekka makes several stops for around 15-minutes each. Passengers have a chance to walk around near the train station and buy souvenirs during the stops. Locals will come to the station to sell souvenirs, and passengers can also enjoy talking with them.

10:19 - Depart from Joetsumyoko Station

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

Snow-covered mountains viewed from Joetsumyoko Station.

The ride described in this article is the Setsugekka running in the morning, which departs from Joetsumyoko Station. From Tokyo, it takes about two hours on the Hakutaka Shinkansen to Joetsumyoko. For this article, the writer took a 7:52-departure Shinkansen from Tokyo Station and arrived at Joetsumyoko at 9:54.

The station is located in southwestern Niigata Prefecture. The morning train heads north towards Itoigawa Station, which fronts the Japan Sea (*1). Receive your tickets at the Echigo TOKImeki Railway gate, and the tour starts.

*1 The afternoon train departs from Itoigawa Station and makes its final stop at Joetsumyoko Station.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

At the time of departure, many small children were on the platform. Locals sometime see off passengers of the train. On this day, children from the nearby nursery school came.

Events like jazz performances, and appearances of Uesugi Kenshin, a feudal lord of the Sengoku Period welcoming the passengers, are held irregularly at stations. They enhance the festive atmosphere.

A Welcome Drink

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

A welcome drink will be delivered to your seat. If you prefer an alcoholic beverage, try the special sparkling wine (*2).

This wine is produced for Setsugekka by Fermier, a winery in Niigata.

*2 There are also non-alcoholic drinks, such as cider and apple juice.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

The grapes used in the wine are cultivated in an ideal environment, so the wine has a brilliant, fresh fragrance. Even those who don't drink often can enjoy it. Take in the view as you enjoy your drink.

Explore the Train Cars

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

Picture courtesy of ETR

After the drink, take a walk through the train. Setsugekka has two cars, and all seats are reserved. Echigo Sugi (Japanese cedar tree produced in Niigata Prefecture) was used for the interior of the spacious Car No. 1. There are seats along the counter with a great view.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

All passengers can use the High Deck, located at the front of Car No. 1, and enjoy the panoramic view.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

Picture courtesy of ETR

Car No. 2 has a stylish, tranquil atmosphere. The seating is perfect for spending time with someone special.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

Sakura Lounge is a cafe and bar space inside Car No. 2 that all passengers can use. The lounge offers sake from the twenty Japanese sake breweries located along the train route and locally produced wine.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

Niigata is known for its sake. In fact, the prefecture has the the highest number of sake breweries and largest consumption per person. Sakura Lounge sells sake from some of the best breweries. (*3)

*3 Please note that all the drinks sold at the lounge require an additional fee.

Majestic Mountains

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

While you savor your drink, the snow-covered Myokosan (Mt. Myoko) will come into view. On the Setsugekka, the passengers first encounter the grand mountains. Myokosan, rising 2,454 meters above sea level, is one of the prominent peaks in Niigata.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

After this, the train will run through the snowscape, climbing towards Nihongi Station.

10:35 - Nihongi Station: Encounter History

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

Nihongi Station is the first stop of the Setsugekka train. The station is located 200 meters above sea level, and the snow in this area piles up as high as two to three meters.

Joestsumyoko Station has around an elevation of about 70 m, so the train has already climbed more than 100 meters at this point.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

The conductor will explain the history of the stations where Setsugekka stops at.

Setsugekka stops at stations with particular historical prominence. Nihongi Station is one of them. The wooden station building and the brick lamp shed (both constructed in 1910), along with the wooden snow shed (built in 1922), are all in active service. These facilities will be registered as tangible cultural assets by the Japanese Government in 2019.

11:14 - Myoko-Kogen Station: Souvenir Shopping

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

At Myoko Kogen Station, the next stop, be sure to visit the souvenir shop, which is filled with Niigata-made products.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

All the small jars in the picture are packed with kanzuri, a local condiment.

Visitors should try the kanzuri seasoning. It is a fermented product made by exposing red pepper to snow and adding koji, yuzu (citrus fruit), and salt.

While some people may imagine something hot, the spiciness and bitterness are reduced by the snow, creating a mild flavor. The fine fragrance and the flavor make kanzuri delicious to eat with Japanese food such as yakitori and miso soup. It will likely pair deliciously with international cuisines, too.

11:30 - Lunch by a Two-Star Chef

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

Imagining what food to enjoy with kanzuri may make some people hungry. After souvenir shopping, it's time for lunch.

The lunchboxes resemble osechi, the food served during the Japanese New Year, but what is inside is different. Let's take a look.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

The boxes contain a French cuisine, made mostly from local products. There are three boxes, with two boxes filled with eight colorful dishes, and one box containing sandwiches and baguettes.

The recipes were made by Iizuka Ryuta, who is from Tookamachi City in Niigata. Mr. Iizuka is the owner and chef of Restaurant Ryuzu, located in Roppongi, Tokyo, a two-star restaurant listed in the "Michelin Guide."

The actual cooking is handled by the chef of a well-regarded hotel in Niigata.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

The meal is filled with surprises. The rich array of colors is a playful, fun presentation. Vegetables and various ingredients from the mountains and sea are transformed into something new.

The texture will also delight passengers. Enjoy crispy wrapped vegetables, the creaminess of the shrimp flan, and the firm Tsumari Pork sandwich, made from local pork. The texture changes with every dish.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

The taste, which surpasses the passengers' imagination, will keep diners satisfied with every bite. The writer's favorite was the sandwich, which comes with a kanzuri sauce, and the eggplant omelet. All the dishes go well with alcoholic beverages, so it's a treat for everyone who likes to drink.

*Please note that the menu changes seasonally.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

Dessert consists of three dishes that are an excellent way to end the meal.

The food mentioned above is served on the morning train. The train that runs in the afternoon features a menu created by Tsurukiya, a Japanese restaurant located in Itoigawa City, Niigata.

12:48 - Head Towards the Japan Sea

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

Picture courtesy of ETR

The train travels through the snow-filled highlands and proceeds to the seaside area.

The train runs along the Japan Sea and passengers can enjoy seasonal views such as the the magnificent sunset in summer and dramatic waves in winter.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

The roof of the seaside houses are covered with black tiles. While the snowfall is relatively light in these areas, strong winds are prevalent, so the black tiles, which can withstand the winds, are used. Riders can see a glimpse of this from the train.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

Most of the the lights will be turned off while passing through Tsutsuishi Station, which is located inside a tunnel. With the soft lighting, the train cars exude a charming, sleeper train-like atmosphere.

13:10 - Itoigawa Station

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

Three hours will pass in an instant, and before you know it, the train will reach Itoigawa Station, the last stop. Don't forget to take the castella (sponge cake) and rice, which are given as souvenirs.

Post-Tour Recommendations

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

Visitors can look for jade on the Hisui Kaigan Beach and take it home as a souvenir.

Itoigawa Station faces the ocean. There are a number of sushi restaurants that serve fresh seafood and are recommended for lunch.

Sightseeing spots such as Hisui Kaigan (Jade Beach), where visitors can look for jade, and Tanimura Art Museum, a unique museum displaying ten Buddhist statues, are also located nearby.

Visitors can rent bicycles (Japanese link) at Itoigawa Station.

From Itoigawa, it is easy to go to Kanazawa (a fifty minute ride on the Hakutaka Shinkansen) or head back to Tokyo (a two hour ride on Hakutaka).

A Three Hour Luxury Tour

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

During the three hour ride, there is nothing else to do besides enjoying the meals, walking around the stations during the stops, and appreciating the scenery.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

However, the views can keep you very busy as there is so much to see, like the beautiful mountains, clear rivers, and the vast ocean.

Riders also are greeted by locals and offered a superb dining experience. A ride on the Sestugekka isn't just a form of transportation--it's an activity.

Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

Picture courtesy of ETR

The ride takes only three hours, but it will create a lifelong memory. Why not give it a try?

Reservations and Fares

Setsugekka is operated on a reservation-only system, running on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, except during the year-end and New Year period in Japan. The reservations start on the first day every month, when a four-month schedule is released on the official Japanese website.

The fare is 17,500 yen per passenger, for both adults and children, and includes meals. Reservations can be made only by telephone. For further information, please contact ETR.

Reservation Center Number: +81-25-543-8988 (English support available)
Inquires: https://www.echigo-tokimeki.co.jp/setsugekka/contact/

Made in cooperation with Echigo TOKImeki Railway Company (ETR)

Go to Yamagata And Niigata with JR EAST PASS!

Go to Yamagata And Niigata with JR EAST PASS!

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.

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