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Japan Hour

Road Trip on Matsuura Railway (Part 1)

This week, we take a two-day trip on the Matsuura Railway line, which links Nagasaki Prefecture’s Sasebo Station and Saga Prefecture’s Arita Station.

The local line is known for its picturesque views of the coastline along the railway. Matsuura Railway opened in 1988 and was named after the JR Matsuura Line. It is affectionately called “MR” by the locals. There are 57 stations along the line, covering a total distance of 93.8km.

We start our journey from Sasebo City. Before boarding the train at Sasebo Station, we purchase a one-day travel pass for 2,000 yen. It is actually a “scratch-off” ticket, which is designed to look like a Bingo card. We then ride on the 9.55am train to Yamanota, four stops away. We arrive after 10 minutes and decide to spend 1.5 hours in the area before catching the 11.35am train.

A local resident we speak to tells us about a cake shop, Saikaido, which is known for its animation-themed cakes. However, the shop’s owner will only come at 11am so we decide to search for other interesting spots in the meantime. Another resident we come across suggests we go to Meganeiwa Park to check out a rock shaped like a pair of spectacles. It is 20m wide and 10m high. According to a folktale, a long time ago, a demon was taking a nap. He woke up because of the noise around him and stretched his arms and legs. Both his feet struck a rock and made holes in it. But the two holes were actually formed due to erosion by waves when the area was by the ocean in the ancient past.

After this, we head to the Saikaido cake shop and by this time, the owner is already there. It has been in business for more than 100 years. It was originally a Japanese confectionery, but the current owner decided to focus on Western-style cakes. The cakes are made using milk from Hokkaido. We try a seasonal recommendation, a fruit tart filled with mascarpone cheese; it includes a whole La France pear.

Next, we take a 20-minute train ride to Daigaku Station, during which we can see the magnificent Mount Atago. We have two hours to spare till the next train departs at 1.55pm. We come across a young lady, who recommends we go to the Nagasaki Prefectural University. There, we speak to a student and he tells us to try the shellfish soup lunch set at a restaurant called Ryoga. However, we are unable to find an eatery by that name in the area. A group of ladies we stop to chat with tell us that the restaurant which serves shellfish soup is actually Matsuozushi. Unfortunately, it is closed on this particular day, so we have no choice but to head back to Daigaku Station.  

We then travel to Koda Station, 20 minutes away from Daigaku. We choose to take the 3.45pm train from here, which gives us 1.5 hours to explore the place. A resident tells us about a buckwheat noodle restaurant called Sazanotoki. Its recommended dishes include hot duck soup, dipping-sauce noodles and spicy radish chilled noodles. The restaurant’s proprietress travelled all over the country to eat different types of noodles, underwent training at a noodle restaurant and finally opened this restaurant.  

After trying the chilled noodles garnished with grated spicy radish, we return to the station and head by train to Tabira-Hiradoguchi. It is Japan's westernmost train station. We drop by a store to ask about inns nearby. We find out that Samson Hotel is famous in this area. However, when we call the hotel to make reservations, we are told they only have one room available, whereas we need two.

So we need to look for another inn. We pass by a “cram school” and ask one of its teachers for suggestions. He tells us about Saigetsuan. We call the hot spring travel lodge and are relieved that two rooms are available. We also ask the teacher about places with scenic views. He agrees to take us to the best spot to see the 665-metre-long Hirado Ohashi Bridge - it links Tabira City and Hirado City. We can also see Hirado Shima and Hirado Castle from here.

We return to the school and head to the hotel by a courtesy car sent by Saigetsuan. The lodge’s rooms have two levels and boast beautiful views of Hirado and even the sunrise, depending on the weather. Each room also comes with its own luxurious rock bath, with water from a natural hot spring.

1) Visit Meganeiwa Park to see a unique rock shaped like a pair of spectacles
2) Try the spicy radish chilled buckwheat noodles at Sazanotoki near Koda Station


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