This week, two teams embark on a “local fixed-route bus versus local train” race over two days. They will leave from Chichibu Station in Saitama Prefecture and aim to be the first to reach Nikko Toshogu Shrine, a World Heritage Site. One team will travel by bus only and the other by train. There are two checkpoints which they have to pass before heading to the goal. The teams can each spend up to 10,000 yen on taxis during the race.
From Chichibu Station, the two teams will head to the first checkpoint, a farm called Three Brown in Maebashi City, Gunma Prefecture, which produces “legendary” cheese. The bus team goes to the tourist information centre first to find out the best way to head north from Chichibu Station. They are told there is just one bus which travels north and it only goes as far as Minano Station. So they catch the bus bound for Minano at 10.40am. Members of the other team, meanwhile, miss their train and have to wait until the next one.
The bus team asks the bus driver about heading north from Minano Station. They are advised to alight at Irohabashi Orikaeshijo and transfer buses to get to Kodama Station in Honjo City.
The train team members finally catch a Chichibu Railway train at 11am and head to Hanyu Station, the terminal station. They arrive at 12.35pm and then transfer to the Tobu Isesaki Line, catching the 12.40pm train to Ota Station in Gunma Prefecture. From here, they will go to Akagi and then take a Jomo Electric Railway train to Kasukawa Station near the first checkpoint. The train team members are now ahead of the bus team.
In the meantime, the bus team arrives at Minano Station and the participants have to wait for 40 minutes before taking the next bus at 12.10pm. They decide to have lunch at a Korean restaurant and order the sundubu set, which features a clam-based stew cooked with homemade spicy miso and shiitake mushrooms. The team leader books a demand bus called Motoizumi-go. This reservation-based bus picks up passengers and drops them at any bus stop within this area for 300 yen per person. The Motoizumi-go bus picks them up from the Irohabashi bus stop and takes them to Kodama Station in Saitama Prefecture. They then transfer to a fixed-route bus and head to Isesaki Station in Gunma Prefecture.
By this time, the train team has arrived at Ota Station. The train to Akagi Station will depart at 1.50pm, which gives them half an hour to have lunch. They find a noodle restaurant near the station and order Ota’s speciality fried noodles. After that, they take the train to Akagi and will catch a Jomo Electric Railway train to Kasukawa Station.
The bus team, meanwhile, transfers from a demand bus to a fixed-route bus and heads to Isesaki Station. The ride takes about half an hour. The team members go to the information centre to ask about how to get to Mount Akagi. They are told they can take the Akabori shuttle bus, alight near a Jomo Electric Railway station and transfer to the Furusato demand bus to get to the first checkpoint. However, there are no buses until 4pm - two hours later - and they need to reach the cheese farm before it closes at 5pm. So the team leader decides they will first reserve a demand bus at the nearest Ogo Station for 4.30pm. They will then take a taxi for part of the journey and walk the rest of the way to Ogo.
In the meantime, the train team somehow misses their train and they only arrive at Kasukawa Station at 3.15pm, half an hour later than scheduled. They must walk for 8km to reach the Three Brown cheese farm, navigating through several steep hills along the way. They walk halfway before deciding to take a taxi the rest of the way, as they only have half an hour left till the time limit of 5pm.
Members of the bus team, on the other hand, have walked for one hour and advanced 3.2km. They reach Ogo Station and transfer to the demand bus called Furusato, which they had reserved earlier. They arrive at the first checkpoint, the Three Brown farm, at 4.45pm. It is located at the foot of Mount Akagi in Gunma Prefecture. The farm’s rich cheese is called “legendary” because it is made with milk from Brown Swiss cows - they make up less than 1 per cent of the cows raised in Japan. One of the farm’s most popular products is cheese mixed with iyokan.
The train team finally reaches the Three Brown farm around 4.55pm and meets the other team there. The bus team leaves the place first. As the next checkpoint of the race - one of Japan’s biggest waterfalls - is near the prefectural border of Tochigi, the bus team decides to stay at an inn called Nashigikan nearby. They call the inn to book their rooms. The manager picks them up and drives them to the hot spring hotel situated in the mountains near Watarase Valley.
Meanwhile, the train team spends slightly more than 2,000 yen on a taxi and heads towards Kasukawa Station. The members then take the train to Kiryu Station, where they spend the night at Park Inn Kiryu near the station.
1) Make use of the time in between bus or train rides to try local specialities
2) Find accommodation near the station to save time the following morning