Road Trip on Dosan Line (Part 1)
Roasting Kochi's famous bonito with straws, trying "outer space" sake and seeing the beautiful Niyodo River with its crystal-clear blue water are some of the highlights of this week's train trip.
Our two-day train journey of enquiry and discovery this time takes place along the JR Dosan Line in Kochi Prefecture. The railway line, which offers beautiful views of Tosa Bay, was established in 1889 and used to be operated by Sanuki Railway. The local line was later placed under state control and extended in 1951. It now connects Kochi Prefecture to Tokushima Prefecture and then continues to Tadotsu Station in Kagawa Prefecture.
For our trip, we will travel from Kubokawa Station in Takaoka County, Kochi Prefecture, to Kochi Station in the prefecture capital. Our route spans 72.1km and covers 28 stations. Our first stop is Tosa-Kure Station, 25 minutes away from Kubokawa Station. Tosa-Kure is a fishing town and is known for Kochi’s speciality, bonito. We have nearly four hours to explore the area since the next train is only at 1.30pm.
We ask a passerby to recommend a place to eat bonito and she suggests a roadside station and a hot spring inn called Kuroshio Honjin, both of which have roasted bonito. We later meet the branch manager of a local bank and he tells us to check out the famous Kure Taisho-machi Market. Since it is just five minutes from Tosa-Kure Station, we decide to go to the market. It is located inside a 30-metre-long arcade. Its shops sell not only fresh seafood but also local delicacies, vegetables and fruits. We are told that we can purchase fish from the market and get it cooked at a restaurant within the market.
We decide to buy what is known as the first bonito of the season. We head to the restaurant and find out that we can roast the bonito ourselves. We are taught how to roast it with straw, which is believed to make the bonito even more delicious. We also try some raw bonito, commonly eaten by people in Kochi Prefecture.
After this, we ask some more locals about popular spots. One of them mentions a viewing platform at Nakatosacho, near Tosa-Kure Station. It was originally built as a tsunami evacuation tower. From the top of the tower, one can see Kure Bay and Futana Island, said to be one of the 10 most scenic spots of Tosa. In addition, in 2011, the scenery of the harbour in Kure was selected as one of the nation's important cultural landscapes.
We walk back to Tosa-Kure Station and take the train to Susaki Station, which is 15 minutes away. At the station, we meet Shinjo-kun, a mascot character based on a Japanese river otter which was last seen in Susaki City. He is very popular and even won the top prize in a competition for local mascot characters.
A 70-year-old resident who has lived in Susaki for 50 years tells us that besides seafood and vegetables, the city is also known for its nabeyaki ramen. The locals started eating it after World War II. The first people who started serving nabeyaki ramen were the owners of a restaurant called Taniguchi. When they delivered their ramen, they did not want their ramen to get cold, so they started to use hot earthenware pots. They had to close the restaurant eventually because they were getting on in years and did not have anyone to take over the business. However, the ramen is now available at other restaurants in Susaki
The elderly lady recommends we eat the ramen at Hashimoto's. The restaurant has been in business for more than 40 years. We later learn from Hashimoto's chef that there are strict rules about preparing nabeyaki ramen. The soup has to be chicken based; fish cake, green onion and raw eggs have to be added; and the hot ramen of slim noodles has to be served in an earthenware pot, just like in the past.
After savouring Susaki’s speciality nabeyaki ramen, we catch the 3.15pm train and advance to Sakawa Station, six stops away. We arrive at 3.35pm and decide to take the 5.25pm train from here later. A resident recommends we visit Tsukasa-Botan, a sake brewing company, and a traditional building near the brewery, Takemura House.
Sakawa was a lively castle town during the Edo period and was known for its sake. Traditional sake breweries and merchant houses from that time period are still preserved in the town. We first go to the sake brewery, which was established in 1603. The owners still brew sake the same way they did in the past. We try a unique sake called Uchushu or “outer space” sake. It is brewed by sending yeast and rice into space in a rocket. It is kept and aged in space for 10 days, resulting in a sake which has a refreshing taste and smooth aroma.
Next, we make our way to Takemura House. Takemura was a distinguished family which helped establish Tsukasa-Botan. Their mansion is considered an important cultural property. After this, we meet another resident and this time, we ask about places where we could stay near our next stop, Ino Station. The person recommends the Kanpo Inn, which has a hot spring. We then hop on the 5.25pm train and ride for 25 minutes to Ino. The Niyodo River flows near the station. It is one of the most famous rivers in Shikoku and is known for its clear stream. Its blue and transparent water is called Niyodo Blue. We walk for about 30 minutes before reaching Kanpo Inn.
1) Check out the viewing platform at Nakatosacho, near Tosa-Kure Station, to enjoy beautiful views of Kure Bay and the scenic Futana Island
2) A must-try speciality of Susaki City is nabeyaki ramen