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Japan Hour

Road Trip on Ohmi Railway (Part 1)

A historical site in a castle town, an elementary school which has appeared in many TV series and films, and a museum dedicated to the local traditional craft of bintemari are featured this week. 

Hop on board as we embark on a two-day journey of enquiry and discovery on the Ohmi Railway Main Line in Shiga Prefecture. We will travel from Maibara Station in Maibara City to Kibukawa Station in Koka City. Ohmi Railway was established in 1898. There are 25 stations along the line, spanning a total distance of 47.7km. 

We first buy two one-day passes for nearly 1,800 yen before catching the 10.20am train from Maibara Station to Hikone, three stops away. The train ride takes 10 minutes and we ask some residents of Hikone about places to visit in the castle town. A local mentions a historical area called Ashigaru Yashiki. It is near Yumekyobashi Castle Road, which is a tourist spot. The area has a narrow alley with mansions where Ashigaru foot soldiers of the Hikone Clan used to live. In the Edo period, the soldiers were split into different groups and protected Hikone Castle and the town. Ashigaru Yashiki is the area where the Seri Group resided. Their descendants still live in the mansions here, such as the Hattori residence and the Yoshii residence. The area has been designated as a cultural property of Hikone.

We then take the 12.35pm train to Amago Station. A high school student on the train suggests we check out a Western-style cafe near the station, called Rosemary. Fifteen minutes after leaving Hikone, we arrive at Amago Station. We have an hour until the next train at 1.50pm. We go to the Rosemary restaurant, which opened in 1987. It offers nearly 30 different dishes on the menu. We enjoy a meal of spicy curry udon noodles and ginger grilled pork. Ten different kinds of spices are used to make the authentic curry, which is simmered for an entire day. Soup stock, mirin, fried tofu, green onion and pork are added to the curry. As for the pork, it is grilled until the surface is crispy, after which ginger, soy sauce, vinegar and mirin are added. 

We ask the eatery’s owner and his son to recommend a place near our next stop, Toyosato Station. They tell us about the Toyosato Elementary School, which has appeared in several TV series and films, including an anime one. It attracts visitors from all over Japan. We take the train to Toyosato Station and head to the school. It was built by Tetsujiro Furukawa, a businessman from Toyosato who was a former executive of Marubeni. He used his own funds to build the school in 1937. Back then, it was considered the best school in the East. The school is now a facility owned by the city.

We first visit a building that used to be the Shutoku Memorial Library. This memorial building was turned into a library for one of the films the school appeared in. Next, we go to the old main school building where the classrooms used to be. The building with a stylish structure has been registered as a tangible cultural property. We notice rabbit and turtle sculptures here. When he was a child, Tetsujiro Furukawa was bullied by other kids for not being very smart. His teacher used the Aesop's fable of the Tortoise and the Hare to encourage him. So these sculptures serve to inspire the students not to give up, no matter how long it takes to achieve success. We then walk along a wooden hallway with a high ceiling to the school’s old auditorium, which has since been renovated. 

Our next stop is Echigawa, one station away from Toyosato. On the train, a passenger highly recommends we visit Bintemari no Yakata, a museum which exhibits colourful thread balls (temari) in glass bottles. Bintemari is a speciality of Echigawa and one of Shiga's local traditional crafts. People in this area have been creating colourful bintemari since the Edo period. They are valued as housewarming gifts which bring happiness to a home. Back in the Edo period, bottles were extremely rare and by adding something mysterious in the bottles, the people wanted to create something even more unique. 

After visiting the bintemari facility, we hop on the 3.55pm train and advance three stops to Yokaichi Station. We start looking for places to stay and a resident suggests we try our luck at a famous restaurant, Shofukuro, which offers rooms as well. However, when we reach the place, we are told that though it used to be a hotel as well, it is now only a restaurant. The person at Shofukuro tells us that if we want to stay at a hotel with a hot spring, we should go to Eigenji Onsen Happu no Yu. 

We call the inn but it is fully booked for the night. The staff, Mr Kitawaki, mentions a hotel called Crefeel Koto which may have rooms available. He suggests we call the hotel to make reservations first and he offers to drive us there as he is going to Crefeel for a meeting. After successfully booking our rooms, we call Mr Kitawaki and he picks us up from Yokaichi Station. We reach Crefeel at 5.40pm after a 15-minute drive. Our Western- and Japanese-style room boasts a great view of rice paddies, Koto Plain and Lake Biwa. The hotel has a large public bath, Shifuku no Yu. Natural groundwater is pumped from 100m deep in the ground and different medicinal herbs are added too. There is also an open-air rock bath here. 

After our bath, we feast on a scrumptious dinner comprising raw fish, tuna, squid, scallop and conger eel. The entree is roasted black Japanese beef served with red konnyaku, a speciality of Shiga.


1)    History buffs should visit Ashigaru Yashiki, where Ashigaru foot soldiers used to live
2)    Check out Bintemari no Yakata to find out about one of Shiga’s local traditional crafts 


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