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Railway to the past in northern Honshu
From LAX, nonstop service to Tokyo is available on Japan Airlines, Northwest, Korean, Singapore and ANA, and connecting service (change of planes) is available on United, American, Air Canada, Continental, EVA, China Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Delta. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $620.
Japan's best travel bargain is the Japan Rail Pass, valid for unlimited rail travel. A seven-day nationwide pass costs about $246; a five-day JR East Pass for Tohoku is about $175. Travelers buy a voucher in their home country, which they exchange for the pass after arriving in Japan. In the U.S., passes are sold by JTB USA, Gramercy Plaza, 2050 W. 190th St., Suite 108, Torrance, CA 90504, (800) 685-5824, fax (310) 618-1294, http://www.jtbusa.com; and Kintetsu, 1325 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 2002, New York, NY 10019; (212) 259-9700, fax (212) 259-9705, http://www.kintetsu.com.
To call the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code), 81 (country code for Japan) and the local number.
WHERE TO STAY:
Takizawa Minshuku in Aizuwakamatsu, 242-25-3183, is homey and hospitable. It costs $56 per person for a room with dinner and breakfast. The family will pick you up from the train station.
Motsu Temple, 191-46-2331, fax 191-46-4184. The historic inn on the grounds of the temple in Hiraizumi has simple private rooms for $41 per person or dormitory beds for $28 per person.
In Hirosaki, we stayed near the castle at Hirosaki Youth Hostel, 11 Mori-machi, 172-33-7066, where private Japanese-style rooms are $26 per person.
WHERE TO EAT:
Hisakoya, no phone, in the "ramen town" of Kitakata, is one street east and two streets north of the train station. This is where we tried, for about $7 each, gomoku ramen, huge bowls of chewy fresh noodles in pork broth, with roast pork slices, fish sausage, boiled egg and steamed greens. Delicious and filling.
In Kakunodate, Buke Yashiki Cha-No-Ya, no phone, across the street from the gate of Aoyagi House, has tasty gyudon (braised beef on rice) for $6.50 and a lovely view of the weeping cherry trees.
In Hirosaki, Yamauta Live House, 172-36-1835, is renowned for its folk music. Meals from $15. Open 5-11 p.m.; closed Monday. It's a three-minute walk southeast on the main street from the train station's main entrance.
TO LEARN MORE:
Japan National Tourist Organization, 515 S. Figueroa St., Suite 1470, Los Angeles, CA 90071; (213) 623-1952, fax (213) 623-6301, http://www.jnto.go.jp.