Road Trip on Nagai Line (Part 2)
A school building which is a tangible cultural property, a scenic spot overlooking majestic mountains and vast fields, and a rabbit station manager and his turtle assistant are featured this week.
We continue our two-day journey of enquiry and discovery along Yamagata Railway’s Flower Nagai Line in southern Yamagata Prefecture. On the second day, our first stop is a registered tangible cultural property which was previously the Nagai Elementary School. It was built in 1933 and in April 2019, it was revamped into a facility for learning and interaction. Students come here to study and working adults use it as a venue for their business meetings.
We then take the 10.45am train from Nagai Station to Imaizumi. This time, the mascot characters of Flower Nagai Line, such as Ringo Ayukai and Usa, are painted on the train cars. We arrive at Imaizumi Station at 10.55am and speak to a taxi driver, who suggests we try the ramen at Kameya Shokudo. We also drop by a hotel near the station to ask for more recommendations and the owner mentions Hachigamori Nature Park. It used to be a battlefield during the Heian period. We decide to head there first. There is an observation point here, which was established in 1988. It overlooks the town, the majestic mountains and the vast fields.
After this, we go to the Kameya noodle shop, which opened in 1953. We order its speciality ramen noodles for lunch and then walk back to the train station. We catch the 1.55pm train and pass by Nishi-Otsuka Station. Built in 1914, the wooden building is now an unmanned station. It is also a registered tangible cultural property. The train continues its journey through the rural scenery and we reach Ringo Station at 2.05pm. We have until 3.10pm to explore the area.
We go to a tofu shop near the station to get more suggestions. The owner tells us about ND Software’s track and field club. The company develops and sells software related to medicine and nursing. Its track and field club has 14 members and they are preparing to participate in the New Year relay race, a competition for business organisations. We head to the company and find out that a few of the club’s main athletes are in Hokkaido for training. However, four of them are staying in a dormitory behind Miyauchi Station.
Before returning to Ringo Station, we speak to another resident. She tells us Miyauchi’s station manager is actually a rabbit. We then finally take the train to Miyauchi. We make our way to the station building first and are thrilled to meet Mocchi, the rabbit station manager. He is nine years old and assumed his role in August 2010. Mocchi even has an assistant, a turtle named Kamekichi who lives at the noodle shop in front of the station.
After meeting these two station “officials”, we go to the athletes’ dormitory near the station. The team first took part in the New Year race in 2017, two years after the club was established. We watch them practising and realise that each team member trains individually, as everyone runs a different distance during the race. After they have finished their training, we ask them to recommend a famous spot. They suggest we visit an inn called Masugataya in Akayu’s hot spring town.
We then take the train from Miyauchi Station to the terminal station Akayu, two stops away. We arrive after a five-minute ride and go to the hot spring town, which has a history of 900 years.
We drop by the tourist office and the staff tells us that many visitors come here just for the footbath, which is free for everyone to use. There is also a place, Akko Poppoyu, where we can drink the hot spring water. It is believed to be good for the digestive system, gout and diabetes. We first try the water, which has a strong smell of sulphur, before going to the footbath. According to legend, there was a time when injured soldiers would soak in the water here. The water turned red and cured their injuries instantly.
We then head to the last stop of our two-day trip, the Masugataya hot spring hotel. It was established in 1899 and its water comes directly from the hot spring. Its day-use plans are popular and people can even stay at the hotel with their pets.
1) Ramen is a must-try item of Yamagata Prefecture
2) Visit Miyauchi Station to meet its rabbit station manager and his assistant, a turtle