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Discovering Japan by Train

Exploring Northern Japan on the Tsugaru Railway

photo A train runs through the snow (Tsugaru Railway)

The Tsugaru Peninsula in Aomori Prefecture is located on the northern tip of Honshu, Japan's main island. The Tsugaru Railway departs northbound from Tsugaru-Goshogawara Station. It's a local line with only one track that is 20.7 kilometers long and spans just 12 stations, ending at Tsugaru-Nakasato Station, the final stop.

OK, now we're off! Soon after departing from Tsugaru-Goshogawara Station, the first thing that catches the eye are apple fields and rice paddies, in which farmers can be seen working. The rice paddies look just like a green carpet in summer. In autumn, the ripened rice plants turn a shiny gold color. Cha-chunk! Cha-chunk! The two-car train continues north.

Kanagi, one of the stops, is the birthplace of the famous author Dazai Osamu. There is a Dazai museum nearby. The next stop, Ashino Koen, is famous for its cherry blossoms. During the long holiday in May, the train passes through a tunnel of light-pink blossoms. The dialect of the locals in Tsugaru is a bit hard for people from other parts of Japan to understand, but everyone is very friendly.

photophoto A wind chime (left); a basket of bell crickets (right) (Tsugaru Railway)

In July, a cooling chime echoes inside the train. Nanbu iron wind chimes with strips of paper containing haiku poems hanging down have been placed in the car and sing throughout the train. Passengers can enjoy these sounds through the end of August. From September until the middle of October, baskets containing bell crickets are placed within the car. The voice of these lovely insects announce the coming of autumn.

photo Filling the stove with coal (Tsugaru Railway)

Then winter comes. From November 16 to March of the next year, a potbelly stove is set up in the train. This stove train has become famous. Coal-burning stoves were used for many years as heaters for the cold northern areas, but today they are seldom used. People come from all over to ride and enjoy this happy reminder of the past. Inside the train, passengers toast rice cakes and dried squid atop the stove. In the middle of winter, blizzards bring a thick covering of snow that blankets the surrounding landscape white.