Road Trip on Moka Railway Line (Part 2)
More interesting sights and delicious cuisines await us as we continue our two-day journey on the Mooka railway line, which connects Tochigi Prefecture and Ibaraki Prefecture.
More interesting sights and delicious cuisines await us as we continue our two-day journey on the Mooka railway line, which connects Tochigi Prefecture and Ibaraki Prefecture. We spend the first night at the Mashikokan Satoyama Resort Hotel. The next morning, we are served a hearty breakfast, comprising dishes with locally produced ingredients like tofu skin from Nikko and Tochigi's Prefecture’s Yashio steamed trout.
As we still have time until our train from Mashiko Station leaves at 10.35am, we ask some residents for recommended spots. One of them suggests we check out the Festival Cart Exhibition Hall. It displays Yatai, traditional hand-carved festival carts from the late Edo period. They are used during the annual Mashiko Gion Festival in July to make offerings to the gods. There is also the Kashima Shrine, dedicated to the deity of competition. People involved in sports come here to pray for victory.
After this, we head by train from Mashiko to Nishidai Station. We decide to catch the 11.25am train next. A resident we meet recommends we visit a restaurant which used to be a traditional Japanese-style house. Another local offers to give us a ride there. Tetto Grande, which opened around six years ago, was a farmer's house during the late Meiji period. It serves southern European dishes. The owner, who renovated the place, was a store designer previously. He tells us this area has many agricultural products, with several direct sales outlets. Thus, he is able to get fresh ingredients, such as vegetables and fruits, daily.
We are driven back to Nishidai Station and head to Mooka Station, two stops ahead. The ride lasts less than 10 minutes and we plan to catch the train departing at 1.30pm from here. Mooka’s station building is designed to resemble the line’s popular steam locomotive. An SL Museum is located in front of the station; it houses the 9600 Type Steam Locomotive and the D51 Type Steam Locomotive. The station is thus a popular spot among railway fans.
Next, we check out another recommended spot, Bonnard, which opened 30 years ago. Previously a shed for storing coal, it is now a local coffee shop which also displays various antiques and unique musical instruments. We try the shop’s popular omelette rice. We then return to Mooka Station and head to Higuchi in Ibaraki Prefecture, which is 15 minutes away. We decide to take the 3.10pm train from here later. We speak to a local who tells us about a roadside station called Ninomiya, known for its strawberries.
Tochigi Prefecture is Japan’s top producer of strawberries, while Mooka City produces the largest amount of strawberries in the prefecture. At the roadside station, one can buy fresh and juicy strawberries which come directly from farms. Ninomiya sells a variety of desserts made from strawberries and tea is provided at no charge. We buy some Tochiotome strawberries and go to a resting area nearby to enjoy them with some tea.
After this, we take the train to the last station on the Mooka railway line, Shimodate. A local tells us that Shimodate ramen is a popular dish in this area. The soy sauce-based ramen is made with pure chicken stock and topped with tender barbecued chicken. The resident suggests we go to Seishoken, which has been around since 1957. However, we later find out that the restaurant closes at 3pm. So we have to look for another eatery.
We manage to get information about a well-known Japanese dessert shop called Otomeya. Its monakas, which are wafers filled with bean jam, are famous. The store first opened in 1918 and has clinched several awards. The monakas come in citron and red bean flavours and are shaped like jars, in honour of local legend Itaya Hazan. Born in Shimodate in 1872, he is believed to be Japan’s first potter and was even awarded the Order of Cultural Merit. After he became famous, he contributed generously to his hometown and donated money to the local primary schools. So the Itaya Hazan Memorial Hall was built to recognise the celebrated potter’s achievements. Among other things, it displays the kiln he used and some of his works.
1) Railway fans will enjoy visiting Mooka Station, which resembles a steam locomotive
2) Pottery lovers should check out the Itaya Hazan Memorial Hall in Shimodate, which is dedicated to Japan’s celebrated potter