There are four trains that run from Tokyo to Niigata: Max Toki, Max Tanigawa, Toki, and the Tanigawa. The total trip from both stations is about two hours. The stations starting from Tokyo are as follows: Ueno,Omiya,Kumagaya, Honjowaseda, Takasaki, Jomo-Kogen,Echigo-Yuzawa, Urasa, Nagaoka, Tsubamesanjo, and the last stop Niigata!
Now, if you have a car and prefer to drive then I highly recommend taking the Kanetsu Expressway. You don't want to miss out on an opportunity to drive through the Kanetsu Tunnel, the longest and most used tunnel in Japan! I think it's also the longest and most technologically advanced tunnel in the world. Before this tunnel was built, the average commute time around this mountain range was about 4 hours! Now it only takes less than 30 minutes to get through. Not everybody has a car though, so the train is the next best option. I've tried both. By train you you give up a lot of scenery because of the speed at which you'd be traveling. Everything is just a blur from the window.
Before I plunge in, let me make a quick mention about Takasaki station, the sixth stop on this line. First off, this is a major major connection stopover for about nine different lines! In other words, a regional transportation hub. Here is the list: Joetsu Line, Shinetsu Line, Takasaki Line, Nagano Shinkansen, Joetsu Shinkansen, Hachiko Line, Agatsuma Line, Joshin Line, Ryomo Line. People in transit from all over Japan stop over at this station juncture to make their connections, and then continue on to their destination.
The train station itself is located in Gunma, and is ran by JR East. Gunma is one of my favorites prefectures, too! I love the onsen, the food, girls and it's the home of Yasuhiro Nakasone, former prime minister. Let me also not forget the Daruma Doll! I want to post pics but won't this time around.
As we move along this line after passing Kumagaya and Honjowaseda, then past Takasaki, if you have a chance to get off there then do, and moving along past Jomo-Kogen to a big stop called Echigo-Yuzawa, you finally start to get a taste of the Hokuriku region of Japan. Now this station for me is the station of all stations on this line because there's a real 100% onsen in the station that has nihonshu added to it! But be forewarned the water is extremely hot. Last time I took a dip in that bath it was about 45degrees centigrade. If you are a seasoned dipper like me then this temperature is not too bare able.
Generally people prefer to sit in water that's at around 37 degrees centigrade, which is about body temperature. After a nice dip, head over to the sake tasting room. Give the attendent a thousand yen, she/he will give you ten tokens in return. Walk around and sample over one hundred different sake for every one token. Afterwards, you can head over to the souvenir shop and purchase a designer sake cup and some delicious nihonshu cake with gold pieces in them. It's like a Disneyland for sake related products. If you would rather eat out, then just across the street there is a place called Fukuan, which specializes in Soba and delicious tempura, and of course delicious sake! If you would like a nicer and more relaxing onsen experience then I recommend Hotel Sporea which is very near by the way. You can walk there from the station, but I recommend a taxi if you feel a bit nervous.
Of course skiing is always wonderful up here also. You have the GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort, which is 800m above sea level and is connected directly to the station. Two different stations. GALA YUZAWA STATION can be reached from Echigo Yuzawa Station via the Gala Yuzawa line. (1.8km)
Passing Urasa station, as we climb further up in elevation to our next stop is Nagaoka. I love this part of Niigata for a few good reasons. One the love hotels are very cheap and very nice. The chain sushi shops sell the freshest catches. I mean real generous portion sizes of sushi as well as an assorted array of seasonal catches. I'm never disappointed when I come to this area. I always love camping up around here as well. And in the daytime, usually by reservation only, you can tour a few really good sake brewery's. Nagaoka is also home to some exceptionally delicious sake. If you can spend a day up here just hanging around I would.
Next fantastic stop is Tsubamesanjo station, which connects to the Yahiko Line that was named after a small isolated rural village called Yahiko Village. Nice if you want to experience something different.
Now the only reason I stopped through Tsubamesanjo was because of one very famous sushi shop, no other reason. The shop is called Tsubame-sushi-ya san, and it's very popular with the locals. Here the lines were very long, the longest I could remember from any other sushi shop. One thing I noticed was at how warm the fish were. The sushi guy was pulling the fish right out of the crates they were shipped in and cutting them right there in front us. The fish had no time to be iced at all, some were still moving. I ordered the chef's special and boy what a treat that was. I had never eaten fish that fresh before in my life! And the sake! Ooh, god! Very cold nama sake produced by Kirinzan. Two pics are at the bottom.
The last and final stop along this line is Niigata station and from here you can connect to Echigo Line, Shinetsu Line, Hakushin Line, Ban-etsu-West Line. This is the best all around station in terms of convenience I think. They have a Toyuku Inn attached alongside the station which came in handy when I missed my last stop back to Fukushima. There are many restaurants and souvenir shops here also.