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Discovering Japan by Train

Let's Ride a Steam Train

Steam locomotives are popular not only with kids but adults as well. This was the most common type of train for many years after the first train began rolling in Japan in 1872. With their powerful black bodies and unmistakable steam whistle, steam trains are still used today for sightseeing and special events, and they have many fans.

Moka Railway

You won't believe your eyes when you see Moka Station, the main station on the Moka Railway, where locomotives run on weekends and holidays. It's built in the shape of a steam locomotive! The station is packed with parents and children preparing to board the steam locomotive for a day trip and with people taking pictures.

The Moka Railway stretches from Shimodate in Ibaraki Prefecture to Motegi in Tochigi Prefecture. The steam locomotives that run here are small trains powered with water and coal carried on the back, just like Thomas the Tank Engine. Before the train departs, excited onlookers take commemorative photos in front of the train and climb aboard to have a look at the conductor's cab.

Finally the train is ready to depart. "Whooo!" The sound of the steam whistle fills the air. The large wheels slowly begin to turn, and the train starts to move. It belches black smoke and spurts white steam up into the air. When it goes up a hill, it plows forward bellowing even more smoke. The driver works hard shoveling coal into the furnace to fuel the great machine.


The steam train has many fans (Oigawa Railway)

Oigawa Railway

Steam locomotives run every day (weekends only during winter) on the main line of the Oigawa Railway, which runs along the Oi River in Shizuoka Prefecture. The 39.5-kilometer trip from Kanaya to Senzu takes about an hour and a half. The area's well-known tea plantations can be viewed during this peaceful ride.


Riding through cherry blossoms (Oiwaga Railway)

One of the joys of train travel in Japan is the boxed lunches sold at stations. There are many different varieties, and all of them are delicious. We tried a cute box lunch that features a mini-bottle of soy sauce shaped like a steam locomotive. The lunch was tasty and filling. How about stopping off for a leisurely soak in the hot springs at Kawane Onsen? A range of mountains towers behind the train as it crosses an iron bridge over the Oi River. In autumn, the leaves turn many brilliant colors; in spring, cherries blossom. The scenery is like something out of a landscape painting.

Steam locomotives are not fast like the Shinkansen, but there is something irresistibly fascinating and powerful about the big wheels turning and the giant locomotive running on the power of steam.