Special FeatureTravel Japan by Train
Getting there is twice the fun on the unusual trains that still run in different parts of the country. Come take a ride to see Japan from an entirely different perspective.
Written by Sanada Kuniko Photos by Kawada Masahiro
Other photo credits: Tsugaru Railway, Mashima Mitsuhide Photo Office
Tatami mats to relax on, low tables for sitting around, shoes taken off and neatly arranged... At first glance you might think you are in a traditional Japanese house. After all, the décor is exactly what you would expect in an o-zashiki, a tatami-mat room used mainly for receiving guests in the home. But no, you are on a train operated by Aizu Railway, passing by beautiful scenery in Fukushima Prefecture, in the Tohoku region.
The train has three railcars: the o-zashiki car at the back, an open car (with regular seats) that was once a freight car, and an observation car at the front. This combination gives the train the name, O-za toro tenbo ressha (“tatami-mat car + open car + observation car train”). It runs mainly when the leaves have turned in the autumn, and on holidays.
The o-zashiki car lets you enjoy the scenery while eating a meal and chatting, seated “at home” Japanese style. The trip, on a 45-km stretch of track between Aizu Wakamatsu and Aizu Tajima stations, takes about 90 minutes. All aboard for a scenic journey through valleys and quiet mountain villages!
When the wind blows strong in mid-winter, the snow flies up from the ground and pummels you. At least that is what they say in the Tsugaru region of Aomori Prefecture, in the far north of Honshu, where winters are frigid and snowfalls are heavy.
Tsugaru Railway’s “Pot-Belly Stove Train” runs from December to March across the snowy Tsugaru Plain between Tsugaru Goshogawara and Tsugaru Nakasato stations, a distance of 20.7 kilometers. The two cars, dating from 1948, both have a coal stove, and the walls and floors are made of wood. The stoves heat the interior, and passengers are free to grill snack food like dried squid and mochi rice cakes on the stovetops.
Take a trip on ribbons of steel into the Japan of yesteryear, and enjoy the cozy warmth of a pot-belly stove.