Initially I had not planned for a trip to Tsuwano on Day 3 as it is actually out of the way from Okayama and I intend to visit it later when I head back to Hiroshima. However, while doing my research, I discovered that there is a Special Steam Locomotive that runs only during the weekends and on Public Holiday. That alone convince me to take a detour back to Yamaguchi just for the train ride.
The Steam Locomotive (SL) Yamaguchi (SL「やまぐち」号) is fully covered by the JR pass. It was cost 1,660 JPY for a single trip from Shin-Yamaguchi JR Station to Tsuwano. IC Card is not allowed for this ride and tickets are sold up to one month in advance.
I arrived earlier than expected in Shin-Yamaguchi and managed to walk around the station to take pictures of the train.
Here’s an overview of the train ride that I am taking:
The SL Yamaguchi line do not stop at all stations. Here’s the list of stops that it will make.
At certain stations, the train will make a brief stop and you can get down to take pictures. There are two stops that you can get down to take some memorial pictures of the train. They are Niho 仁保 and Jifuku 地福. Here’s a picture that I have taken at Jifuku.
One way trip on the train takes about two hours. Along the journey, there are many nice scenery to enjoy. The reason why I love train ride is to sit back and relax and just look out of the window.
The journey didn’t seems to have taken so long and the very friendly Japanese Uncle おじさん who shared a booth with me pointed it out to me that we have arrived in Tsuwano 津和野 when he spotted the Tsuwano Castle Ruins.
Tsuwano is a small tranquil town. There are a few places of interest in Tsuwano but the train timing is not very favorable for a long exploration. I headed straight for the Taikodani Inari Shrine 太鼓谷稲荷神社.
Taikodani Inari Shrine is one of the five greatest Inari Shrines in Japan. It was built in the mid 18th century to pray for peace and security of the Tsuwano Castle as well as the happiness of the Tsuwano people. From Tsuwano station, you can head towards the Tonomachi Street or along train track to get to the bottom of the Tori gates. I opted for the journey along the train track. It takes about 10mins for me to reach the bottom of the gates.
It is seriously not an easy task to climb up the gates. I had to take a few breaks in between since I’m not exactly a very fit person. However that sense of achievement when I reached the top and the beautiful sight rewarded to me is breath taking.
The way back down was so much easier for me when I am going along with gravity. This time, I headed towards Tonomachi. Tonomachi is a preserved former samurai district. I was walking along the street and felt amazed by the Koi in the canal! The canal on the side of the street is filled with Carps!
There is also a Catholic Church along Tonomachi. An interesting thing about this Church is that instead of benches, it is filled with tatami mat.
By the time I finished my stroll, it was too late for lunch but I still headed to Mino-ya みのや for a quick lunch.
At this place, I had one of the best udon I ever tasted! The soup is very flavourful! It seems like they have put yuzu (a kind of citrus fruit) in the soup.
I also tried the dango that comes in a special set with the udon. They are very delicious too. I haven’t had such nice dango for a long time.
I can’t remember how much the meal cost but I think I paid around 1,200 JPY for this meal. Mino-ya is located just a short walk (3-5 mins) from the Tsuwano Station.
I also tried the red bean paste crepe 源氏巻 from Sanshodo 三松堂. This is a Tsuwano local delicacy and I am a fan of red bean so I just can’t leave without it. The filling is not too sweet and the crepe is like pancake. There are many shops in Tsuwano that sells this so you won’t miss it if you are there.
On my return journey to Shin-Yamaguchi, I met a group of uncle おじさん from Osaka travelling in a tour group. They are so friendly and asked me a lot of questions about why I am travelling alone. They had thought that I am an exchange student and was surprised that I am only here for a vacation. Throughout the journey, they shared food and drinks with me. This is one of the reason why I love Japan. The locals are all so friendly! Look at what they shared with me even though we just happened to be sharing a booth on the train.
I must said that I quite enjoyed their funny converation and the singing in the train. That kept me so entertained on my train back. Even after we alighted from the SL train and I was waiting for my Shinkansen back to Okayama, we met again on the platform as they are taking the same train back to Osaka. When they saw me, they immediately called out to me. “先の彼女！” (That girl from just now) and they all waved happily at me. Haha!
Even though it was a long journey for me to travel all the way back to Tsuwano, the Steam Locomotive Train ride was a good experience for me and it’s actually my first time on a train that runs on coal. Another place crossed off my bucket list.