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Japan Hour

Road Trip on Iwate Galaxy Railway (Part 2)

We resume our two-day trip on Tohoku’s Iwate Galaxy Railway Line. On Day One, we travelled as far as Iwate-Numakunai Station and spent the night at a hot spring inn Yutoland Himekami.

We resume our two-day trip on Tohoku’s Iwate Galaxy Railway Line. On Day One, we travelled as far as Iwate-Numakunai Station and spent the night at a hot spring inn Yutoland Himekami. The next morning, the hotel manager gives us a ride to the station. He recommends we check out the source of the Kitakamigawa River, for which we have to go to the next station, Mido. We catch the 9.45am train and arrive at Mido Station after five minutes.

The source of the Kitakamigawa River is called Yuhazu no Izumi. It is located at the Mido Kannon Temple. Legend has it that an arrow struck a giant tree and water sprung forth from it. However, a local tells us the water source is about 40 minutes away by foot. The bus going there will only come at 11.05am. So we decide to forgo going to the source of the river. We walk around but have no luck finding something else which is worth visiting.   

So we take the train to Okunakayama-Kogen Station, five minutes away. At the station, we meet the second-generation station mascot, a dog named Mack. The former station chief was Maron, a Yorkshire Terrier who was so popular and loved by all that he even has a published photobiography.

A local at the station tells us to go to Yui Cafe to try its Jersey milk ice cream. Many Jersey cows are raised in Okunakayama-Kogen and produce fine-quality milk. We order the “milk float” which also uses Jersey milk. Besides desserts, the cafe also serves other dishes and its lunch menu is rather popular.

We then take the 12.40pm train to Ninohe Station, which is four stops away. On the train, a passenger tells us about an extremely sweet Japanese confection called Nikko Bread and also suggests we try the area’s famous Sasukebuta pork. The train pulls into Ninohe Station at 1.05pm and our next train is will leave over two hours later. We head to a produce market and speak to a greengrocer. He mentions we can try the Inari-sushi with Sasukebuta inside at Yakata, a tavern nearby. The dish is called "Three Meats", referring to Ninohe’s local beef, pork and poultry. It was invented three years ago to raise funds for the town’s renewal project.    

We find out from the tavern’s proprietor that Nikko Bread is sold at the Naniyato Local Products Centre at the station. Several kinds of the sugar-encrusted treat are available at the shop. This speciality is named after a sundry shop called Nikkoya which produced this Japanese sweet in the 19th century. At that time, it was considered a luxury because of its generous dose of sugar which was a scarce commodity back then. Today in the city of Ninohe, four shops produce their own brand of Nikko Bread.

After trying this sweet speciality, we catch the 3.15pm train to the final stop, Kintaichi-Onsen Station. The Kintaichi-Onsen resort area flourished in the early 17th century as a hot spring spa estate of the Nanbu fiefdom. Kintaichi-Onsen is also called “the valley of Zashiki Warashi (Japanese child spirit)” and some people say that the Kamemaro Shrine is haunted by the spirit. The shrine is located within the grounds of a travel lodge called Ryokufuso. Opened in 1950, it is known for being a place of Zashiki Warashi sightings. There have been several accounts of people encountering the spirit here and getting blessed with good fortune. Eight years ago, the lodge was damaged in a fire but miraculously, the shrine was unscathed.

The inn’s proprietor tells us about the legend of the Zashiki Warashi spirit. His ancestors in the 14th century belonged to the Southern Dynasty. They were defeated by the Northern Dynasty and fled to this place. At that time, a six-year-old boy called Kamemaro died from an illness along the way. It has been said that ever since then, he became a Zashiki Warashi spirit and guardian of his household. So the Zashiki Warashi is enshrined at Kamemaro Shrine.

Our final recommended spot of this trip is the day spa at a travel lodge called Obonai. During our two-day journey on the Iwate Galaxy Railway Line, we checked out 10 popular places recommended by the locals.

1) Try products made from Jersey milk when visiting Okunakayama-Kogen
2) Two specialities of Ninohe are the extremely sweet Nikko Bread and Sasukebuta pork


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