Road Trip on Sanriku Railway Hamanako Line (Part 1)
A memorial park dedicated to victims of the 2011 quake and tsunami, a station linked to Hisashi Inoue's Kirikirijin novel, and a hotel where the ex-Emperor and Empress stayed are visited this week.
Join us on a two-day journey on the Sanriku Railway Rias Line in Iwate Prefecture. It runs along the coastline and offers breathtaking views of Sanriku. It opened in March 2019, after the Kita-Rias and Minami-Rias lines were connected. Both the former lines’ railway tracks, their stations and the coastline were badly damaged by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. The Sanriku Railway Rias Line now links Sakari Station in Ofunato and Kuji Station in Kuji. However, for our trip, we will only travel from Kamaishi Station to Miyako Station, covering 15 stations spanning a total distance of 55.4km.
We start by catching the 9am train from Kamaishi Station to Unosumai Station. A passenger suggests we visit the Kamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium, one of the venues of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. We arrive at Unosumai Station and have until 11.15am to look for tourist spots. This area was badly affected by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. The city and its residents are slowly getting back on their feet. For example, several new buildings can be seen here. In fact, the Kamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium was built on the site of former elementary and middle schools which were destroyed by the tsunami. The new schools have been built on higher ground at another spot. We go to the stadium, which boasts spectacular views of the mountains, sea and the countryside. It is one of the few stadiums around the world which are surrounded by such scenic views.
Our next stop is another recommended place, Unosumai Tomosu, which is located in front of the station. Besides tourist facilities, it also has exhibition halls and memorial monuments related to the earthquake and tsunami. At the memorial park here, the names of about 900 victims have been engraved on a monument.
After the memorial park, we drop by a store at Tomosu’s visitor centre. The owner suggests we eat at Kamaishi Ramen. At the restaurant, we order the Kamaishi soy sauce ramen. It is served with a clear, amber-coloured soup and extra-thin curly noodles.
We then take the train to Otsuchi Station, which is about five minutes away from Unosumai. We arrive at 11.20am and decide to catch the 12.30pm train later. A resident we speak to tells us about a fish shop called Nakasato, which is known for its beautiful garden. The garden was built after the twin disasters of 2011. The owner tells us his original house was destroyed by the tsunami, barely a year after being built. He used to grow bonsai trees but they were swept away too. He rebuilt the house and decided to create a garden as a peaceful and relaxing space for the locals. He thus got new bonsai trees and a gardener even gave him lots of stones - which were no longer usable after the tsunami - for his garden.
Our next stop is Kirikiri Station, a five-minute ride from Otsuchi Station. Fans of Hisashi Inoue visit this unmanned station as it is mentioned in his novel Kirikirijin. Some students we meet recommend two places, the Ririshiya restaurant and the Kissyoji Temple.
We first go to Kissyoji, where we speak to the chief priest. This temple has a history of 400 years. It hosts the Mitama Festival every August, where traditional performing arts such as the daikagura, tiger dance and deer dance are performed. Ririshiya is our next stop. It is owned by a fisherman and serves seafood such as oysters from the neighbouring town of Yamada and seared donko, a local fish which is often eaten in Sanriku. The latter has a light taste but its liver is very flavourful, so it is minced into small pieces and mixed with the fish meat.
We next take the train to Namiita-Kaigan Station. A lady on the train tells us about Hamagiku Hotel, where we could spend the night. The train arrives at Namiita-Kaigan at 2.50pm and we make our way to Hamagiku, where we are welcomed by the hotel’s president. He shows us something called the Bridge of Heisei, which is dedicated to the former Emperor and Empress who stayed at this hotel twice. Our Japanese-Western rooms come with a great ocean view. For dinner, we are served a luxurious meal of sea urchin, seaweed shabu shabu and grilled abalone.
1) Visit the Kamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium for its breathtaking views of the mountains, sea and countryside
2) A speciality of the Sanriku coast is seared donko fish