5 Must-Ride Local Lines in Japan
If you want to leisurely enjoy beautiful sceneries that are full of nature, then going by local train is recommended. Here are five local lines that will let you enjoy picturesque views with their own individual appeals.
Oigawa Railway traverses the central area of Shizuoka from north to south along the Oigawa (Oi River). It has two main lines – the Main Line and the Ikawa Line. The Main Line is a route that offers passengers gorgeous views of Oigawa and vast tea plantations. It has become a famous line thanks to the operation of the SL (steam locomotive) all throughout the year. There are other lines that run on SL, but the Main Line enables passengers to ride on it any time of the year, and has the most number of days in operation (all seats are reserved, so reservation is required). This line offers a lot of picture-perfect spots, and people riding on this train take pictures not only of the sceneries outside the windows, but also of the running SL. Meanwhile, the Ikawa Line is the only line in Japan in which an Abt-system (railway system for raising the steep slope) train runs on a mountain trail. The line that passes through a gorge offers a lot of truly beautiful spots, including the Sekinosawa Bridge, Japan’s highest railway bridge, and Okuoi Kojo, which is Japan’s sole lakeside station. In particular, the contrast between the Okuoi Lake that shines emerald green when seen from the Okuoi Kojo Station and the red steel bridge is so beautiful that it seems like a sight from another world. You should not miss it.
*The service between Sessokyo Onsen Station and Ikawa Station in the Ikawa Line is not running as of June 2016 due to a landslide. It is set to resume operation in November 2016.
Noto Railway, which runs along Nanao Bay in Ishikawa’s Noto Peninsula, is an extremely short line with just eight stations. Despite that, however, its magical landscape filled with the Japanese spirit has become a location for a number of movies and animation, among others. If you want to enjoy this scenery, then by all means, ride on the Satoyama Satoumi Line that runs slower than the usual trains. This special train temporarily stops at recommended viewing spots, which is perfect for people who want to take pictures. On the Noto Railway, all six stations from Tatsuruhama Station to Anamizu Station have their own nicknames, expressing their individuality. Among these stations, the one that people have to check out especially in the spring, is the Noto-Kashima Station that is familiarly known as “Noto-Sakura Station”. This station is place that is known for its cherry blossoms. The rows of nearly 100 cherry blossom trees on either side of the platform that go on like a tunnel is a sight that will virtually take your breath away. Use the one-day ride-all-you-can ticket “Tsukote Kudashi Free Ticket” (1,000 JPY for adults, can be purchased on board) that now comes with complimentary tickets to the hot springs, museums, and other establishments along the line, and then try to explore and feel the magic in each station.
*Satoyama Satoumi Train: Passengers riding the Casual Course (runs on weekdays, except Wednesday) do not need to make reservations and will be charged 300 JPY on top of the regular fares, while those riding the Yuttari Course (runs on weekends and holidays, and on some specific days) can book their seats at the price of 1,500 JPY for adults (there are plans that come with meals).
*On days when the Yuttari Course runs, the Casual Course does not operate.
Nagaragawa Railway is a railway service where passengers get to enjoy the nature-filled scenery of the Nagaragawa, a famous river even in terms of cormorant fishing (fishing method that uses sea birds called cormorant to catch fish). The regular train is run by a one-man team and has no conductor, and the short trains with just 1-2 carriages are too cute for words. The sightseeing train Nagara that kicked off operation at the end of April 2016 has a retro and classy feel in the interior that uses wood produced in Gifu, which makes it more appealing. So, if you want to take in the views along the railway, the Yurari Nagamete Seiryu Ressha (one train each runs on the down and up tracks daily), which slows down in areas offering a picturesque view of passing through large bridges, is recommended. Something else that must not be missed in this railway is the many traditional spots along the railroad. How about getting off at Minoshi Station, where there is a town of Japanese paper and short pillars (decorations used on old Japanese houses), or at Seki Station that is known for cutting tools and cormorant fishing that has a long history spanning 700 years, and then exploring the traditional culture of Japan?
Toyama Chiho Railway has a total of four lines, including the Main Line and the Tateyama Line where passengers are able to marvel at the spectacular view of the gorge facing the Hida mountain ridges, and a tram with retro carriages that run within the city of Toyama. One of the biggest appeals of Toyama Chiho Railway is its station buildings. With its oldest line commencing its run in 1914, many of its stations on the Toyama Chiho Railway are modern wooden structures with history that were built around the time the railway kicked off operation, so even the waiting area and platforms managed to keep the atmosphere at that time intact. The “Chitetsu Kanko Ressha Free Ticket” (1,500 JPY for adults) is recommended to people who want to go around the old and elegant stations – Tsukioka Station, Kamihori Station, Etchu-Sango Station and Terada Station. It is a one-day unlimited ride on trains in the city of Toyama, including trams. For people who want to stretch their legs, there is also the 1-day Tetsudo Kido Zensen One-day Free Ticket (2,500 JPY for adults) with which passengers can ride all trains as much as they want. And for those who want to marvel at the Hida Mountains and at nature in Kurobe, then it would also be a great idea to head toward Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route via Tateyama Station.
The Gono Line, which celebrated its 80th anniversary since it opened in 2016, links Kawabe Station and Higashi-Noshiro Station along the Sea of Japan. Even among the local lines it is a popular line that contends for the No. 1 or No. 2 position in popularity rankings. The reason behind this is that with this line, passengers are able to enjoy the spectacular landscape of the Sea of Japan that manifests various feelings. This line also passes through many places that are so close to the sea that the train is almost hit by a sea spray, and many spots where the sun setting in the Sea of Japan is most beautiful. If you are eager to check out such wonderful sceneries, then the special train Resort Shirakami (all reserved seats) is recommended. The Resort Shirakami has huge windows that will not only let passengers marvel at the view to their heart’s content inside the relaxed carriage, but also holds such events as the Tsugaru Shamisen (a type of Japanese musical instrument) performances. When you get hungry, they also sell the “Awabi Gonosen Bento" (1,300 JPY (incl. tax)) that uses a lot of local crops and ingredients harvested along the Gono railroad (it may be bought inside the train). However, for passengers who have enough time to get off the train, then try to stop by Todoroki Station. There, you will witness exquisite views of the Sea of Japan and the serene small wooden stations. Note that their beauty differs from when they are seen through the train windows. The landscape is especially wonderful in winter when snow falls. Try to go there during that season and there is no doubt that what you see will move you.
Local train lines have their own gorgeous views of Japan. Make sure to etch an image of what you see in your memory and take a lot of pictures with your camera.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.