Road Trip on Joshin Dentetsu (Part 1)
A bridge that has appeared in many films and TV dramas, a temple associated with fertility and childbirth, and an eatery known for its giant gyoza dumplings are among the places visited this week.
Our next two-day train trip takes place along Joshin Line. It is operated by Joshin Electric Railway and runs in Gunma Prefecture. We will travel from Takasaki Station to Shimonita Station, covering 20 stations which span a total distance of 33.7km.
While waiting for our train, a railway staff offers to show us an electric locomotive parked in the train depot behind the platform. The train is from the Meiji period and the locals call it Deki. It is also pictured on our one-day passes, which we had purchased earlier.
We then catch the train to Sanonowatashi Station, two stops away from Takasaki. We reach the unmanned station at 9.30am after a five-minute ride. This station was added to the local line in 2014, making it the newest station of Joshin Electric Railway. We speak to a resident, Mr Otsuka, who has been living in this area for more than 30 years. He suggests we visit the Sano Bridge, which has appeared in various films and TV dramas. A symbol of the town, it stretches over the huge Karasugawa River and offers a great view. The bridge was badly damaged by a flood about seven years ago but the bridge girder remained intact.
After this, we hop on the train departing at 11am and advance to Yamana, three stations ahead. The train ride takes less than five minutes. There are several stores near the station. We drop by one of them after seeing a group of ladies having a tea party inside. The store owner has been hosting tea parties for her customers for more than 30 years. Sometimes, she holds up to three parties a day. Customers come to these sessions to have tea and they would also bring along some homemade snacks. We are invited to have tea and are also offered some sweet potatoes.
We ask the ladies to suggest a famous place in the area and they mention the Yamana Hachimangu Shrine. One of them, Ms Teruko, is kind enough to show us the way. There are many Hachiman shrines in Japan and the one in Yamana was constructed about 850 years ago. The deity here is believed to bring luck in childbirth and raising children. The shrine was renovated three years ago and now even has a cafe and bakery.
Next, we take the train to Yoshii Station, which is three stops away. We arrive at 12.35pm and want to have lunch. We go to the community centre and its director recommends we eat at Yokiken, known for its giant gyoza dumplings. The miso ramen is also popular, featuring seven types of miso blended together and a rich white soup made from pork, chicken and vegetables. The dish is topped with thick pieces of roasted pork which has been slowly cooked over three days. The speciality giant gyoza dumplings are stuffed with lots of garlic and vegetables produced in Gunma, such as cabbage. When the restaurant first opened in Tokyo, there was a university nearby. In response to students' requests, the size of the dumplings was increased to its current size.
We then catch the train leaving at 2.50pm head to Joshu-Niiya Station. We arrive five minutes later, start exploring the area and notice a store called Orimo. The owner suggests we try the lemon cake at Komatsuya, a confectionery shop. The store, which opened 115 years ago, has been making this delicious treat for 50 years and sells up to 100,000 lemon cakes each year. Another popular product is called Momo-chan. The chiffon cake is made with high-quality milk and has fresh cream inside. We ask the staff of Komatsuya for tips on where we could spend the night. They tell us about Kanra Furusatokan, located near the next station, Joshu-Fukushima.
We call the hotel and are relieved that there are rooms available. The hotel sends a car to pick us up. Located in the mountains, Furusatokan was established in 1988 and is operated by Kanramachi. Its biggest selling point is its food made from locally produced ingredients. Its spacious public baths are also well-known. The hotel often holds workshops on how to make konnyaku or buckwheat noodles. It even organises activities such as fishing and apple picking. Our rooms are on the second floor and come with a nice view of the greenery. For dinner, we are served local specialities such as Joshu beef stew, tempura made from acacia plants and pheasant dumplings.
The next morning, the hotel’s shuttle drops us at Joshu-Fukushima Station. We buy one-day passes again and head by the 8.55am train to Joshu-Tomioka Station. A local highly recommends we visit the famous Tomioka Silk Mill. On the way to the World Heritage Site, we see a sign for Okatte Market and decide to check it out first.
1) The symbolic Sano Bridge near Sanonowatashi Station has appeared in many films and TV dramas
2) Yamana Hachimangu Shrine’s deity is associated with childbirth and raising children