Japan is known for its super fast and comfortable trains. Shinkansen Bullet Train in less than 2.5 hours travel the route of 500 kilometers, that’s how much it takes from Tokyo to Kyoto. However, Japan has much more to offer in the field of trains. There are a lot of tourist railways, whose task is to show and promote places in Japan. Passengers have the chance to admire the landscape through the train windows. Tourist trains are very different. From journeys lasting a few days in very luxurious trains, which decoration depicts traditional Japanese crafts and art. For short, one or two-hour routes. Very often during the trip a meal consisting of local ingredients is served or souvenirs are sold.
An example of a tourist railway is the Sagano Scenic Railway in Kyoto. It is its official name, but I prefer the less official – Sagano Romantic Train;). The line is located near Arashiyama and the famous bamboo forest. It’s been 27 years since the line first opened and it’s now one of Kyoto’s most popular tourist destinations. Sagano Scenic Railway is the first railway in Japan dedicated for operating tourist trains.
View from Sagano Romantic Train, in this area are also popular rafting trips
The line is 7,3 kilometers long and the train is making nine round trips for a day. One way trip takes 25 minutes. More than 1,2 million people visit the line every year to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Hozugawa Ravine which changes dramatically with the seasons.
It’s Japan, so it must be Hello Kitty everywhere…
Until 1989 the Sagano Scenic Railway was part of the JR San-in Main Line but due to electrification and double-tracking the route was changed and this section of the old line was closed. Then the local government made a request to the West Japan Railway to use the closed line for tourist purposes and the Sagano scenic Railway was founded. Opening the route again was not a simple task. The rails that have been abandoned for two years were rusted and weeds covered the track. There was no platform and no station building, and even no trains.
… and animated conductor
Replacing the rails and installing safety measures to prevent falling rocks and landslides costed around 600,000$. Aside from maintenance work, station platforms and headquarters also had to be built. The company bought a locomotive scheduled for scrap and repaired it. For the passenger cars scrapped freight cars were used as a base with the car bodies constructed on top. The Sagano Scenic Railway opened in April 1991 and it was expected that the company would only be in business for three years. In 1998 a new and very unique car was built, with an open lattice floor and 2/3 of the roof made of glass. That was a hit with the passengers who could fully enjoy the refreshing mountain air. As you can guess, the seats in this car are the most popular. You can buy them only on the day of travel, so you should arrive early. The cost of one-way ticket is 620 yen.
After opening of the railway, the railway company began thinking about how to continuously attract visitors. They turned their attention to the scenery of the Hozugawa Ravine which is surrounding by mountains. The idea was to plant the sides of the ravine with cherry trees, which will bloom in the spring and maple trees, which red leaves will attract tourists in the autumn. 200 trees were planted every year, the campaign was in media, so the trees were sponsored by various places from all over Japan. In addition to employees of the line, also volunteers helped plant trees. 27 years later, over 4,000 cherries and maple trees are located on the Sagano Romantic Train route.
Unfortunately, in the mountains the cherries bloom late which is why during our trip we could admire only the early varieties. Full bloom started probably a few days later ;(
The 19th century hall was built beside Saga Torokko Station to attract more visitors, there is a cafe and souvenir shops. In 2003 a museum was created, showing the technology of steam locomotives, which symbolize the 19th century. There are 4 steam locomotives in the permanent exhibition.
An this is replica of a handcar, people used to push this kind of passenger carriage. Handcars were popular in local areas in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Trains in Japan are more than just a means of transport. They are also a tourist attraction and this trend will continue to develop. New routes and tourist trains are created every year. Sagano Romantic Train was the first tourist train and although it is neither super fast nor modern, it still attracts many people who want to admire the beautiful nature of the Hozugawa Ravine. This is also an example of how the involvement and ingenuity of people can bring back to life something that has long been forgotten.
On the last station there are Tanuki’s figures…wait…what he has between his legs?! Bad Tanuki!
Tanuki is a symbol of happiness in Japan, just need to stroke him in the right place 😉
I invite you to the new project about Japan – Amazing Japan! It’s just launched and we want to connect all Japan Lovers and anyone who wants to know more about Japan.