Road Trip on Akechi Tetsudo (Part 1)
Highlights this week include a scenic spot with plum trees, a restaurant serving different types of ramen, a “happiness” Jizo statue at a station and a castle town’s famous Hina doll festival.
Join us as we embark on a two-day journey of inquiry and discovery along Akechi Line. Owned by Akechi Railway, the local line boasts scenic views of the peaceful rural landscape. It runs through Gifu Prefecture and has 11 stations, covering a total distance of 25.1km from Ena Station to Akechi Station.
We start from Ena City, which is surrounded by the Central Alps mountains that are over 2,000m high. At Ena Station, we buy a one-day railway pass before hopping on the 10.15am train. We alight at Higashino and have until 11.25am to explore the town. A resident tells us about a temple called Sokyuji, where there is a huge Buddhist statue. After visiting the temple, we head back to the station and take the train to the next stop, Iinuma Station. We reach in about 10 minutes and our next train from here will depart at 2pm.
We drop by a beauty salon, Koume, to ask for recommendations. The owner, Mrs Koume, offers to take us to a rural scenic spot on a hill. Here we see plum trees, with their flowers in full bloom. The place also commands a nice view of the town, terraced fields and mountains.
We then travel by train to Iibama, a five-minute ride away. We are hungry by this time so ask around about restaurants. A resident mentions a Chinese restaurant in the countryside, Fukuryu. It is known for its various kinds of ramen and set meals, which include fried rice. After lunch, we catch the 3.30pm train to Gokuraku, the newest station of the Akechi Line. It is named after a temple, Gokuraku-ji, which used to be in this area. The next train from Gokuraku will leave at 4.40pm.
We come across a large stone masonry, Miyazawa, which was established in 1917. Its third-generation owner tells us he made a “happiness” Jizo statue which was donated to the Gokuraku Station. Another local resident we talk to suggests we visit the historical town of Iwamura. It is known for its Hina doll festival and the Iwamura Castle Ruins.
Before we take the train to Iwamura, we check out the cute Jizo statue at Gokuraku Station. At Iwamura, we ask a local about the festival and find out that the dolls, which belong to families, are on display all around the town from March to April. Iwamura was a castle town during the Edo period and historical elements from that time are still preserved. Iwamura Castle was considered one of the best mountain castles and its ruins can be found at an altitude of 717m. In 1998, the town became a national important preservation area of historic buildings. Iwamura became even more famous after the 2018 NHK drama series, Hanbun Aoi, which was filmed in this town.
We get to see the town’s various Hina dolls, each with different expressions and face shapes. The festival started 17 years ago and more than 3,500 Hina dolls can be found in over 100 different locations. The oldest ones were created during the Edo period and they are called Kyoho Bina. We visit some stores along a shopping street to see the Hina dolls inside. An example is a dyeing shop called Tosaya which opened in the Edo period. It displays Hina dolls from the late Edo period and the 1950s.
After this, we go to Daikokuya, which sells Goheimochi or “half-pounded” rice cakes. The sauce which accompanies the cakes includes walnuts, peanuts, sesame, sugar, miso and soy sauce. The cakes are crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. In the past, rice, miso and sugar were valuable commodities so the rice cakes were only made once a year when rice was harvested. It was thus seen as a special treat and is now one of the specialities of Gifu Prefecture.
We need to find lodging for the night and the rice cake store owner suggests a small guesthouse called Tojiya. Its owners have a clock shop nearby, bought a 200-year-old townhouse and spent two years renovating it, before finally opening this guesthouse in 2015. The accommodation does not include any meals, so we ask the owners to recommend a restaurant for dinner. They mention Izakaya Tono, a traditional Japanese house decorated with “ramen” lanterns, decoration lights and icicle lights.
A couple opened this restaurant in 1997. They also collect toys and figurines, and more than 200 of them are displayed all around the restaurant. We try some sake from Iwamura Jozo. Established in 1787, it is the only sake brewery in Iwamura. Local sake rice and water from Kiso River are used to produce the sake. We order recommended dishes such as soybean curd from Iwamura, a local speciality, and deep-fried frog legs. The grilled tofu, which is served with soy sauce, is stuffed with green onions and ginger. The frog legs are coated with eggs, garlic, salt and pepper before being fried.
1) Fans of dolls should visit Iwamura during the Hina doll festival
2) Goheimochi rice cakes are a speciality of Gifu Prefecture