Road Trip to Shizuoka (Part 1)
A "centipede" temple linked to Japan's oldest copper coins; a 600m-long rock which is a national natural treasure of Nagatoro; and statues representing Buddha's disciples are this week's highlights.
Join us as we embark on a unique two-day local line trip this week. We will travel on the Chichibu Railway, Tobu Railway and Watarase Keikoku Railway, from Chichibu Station all the way to Akagi Station. We will make detours along the way and “earn” money at each stop, with the aim of amassing a total of 113,400 yen by the end of our trip. If we succeed, we will be rewarded with a stay at a luxurious hot spring hotel with sumptuous meals featuring local beef and Gunma's specialities.
The “price” of each station is set according to the number of people who visit the station. So popular stations - such as terminals with more than 10,000 visitors per day - come with lower prices of about 1,000 yen, as it would be easy to find famous places or local specialities in the area. For stations where not many people alight, such as unexplored stations, the price will be as high as 100,000 yen as it would be hard to find famous spots around it.
We board a train at Chichibu Main Line’s Chichibu Station in Saitama Prefecture and head towards Hanyu Station. We alight at Wadokuroya Station, which attracts about 420 passengers each day and is priced at 20,000 yen. We have an hour till our next train departs at around 10am.
We find out that the first coins of Japan, called Wado Kaichin, were made with copper in this area during the Asuka period. The copper came from a mine here. A local gives us directions to the old copper mine, located behind a mountain. He also tells us about the Hijiri Shrine, where “centipedes” are worshipped.
We first visit the ruins of the old Wado mine, after which we head to the shrine. Built more than 1,300 years ago, it is known to have a deity of money which brings good fortune. People from all over Japan come to the shrine, which attracts huge crowds on long weekends and during holidays. We learn that the two copper centipedes found here were a gift from Empress Genmei. At that time, there was a ceremony at the shrine and the Empress sent the pair of male and female copper centipedes; their various legs represented the various high-ranking government officials from Nara. A large replica of a Wado Kaichin coin can be found beside the two copper centipedes.
We next head from Wadokuroya Station to Nagatoro Station, which is worth 10,000 yen. Nagatoro is a famous tourist spot which is visited by 27 million people every year. We stroll along the shopping strip here and try some sweet beans from Osawaya. Staff from a noodle shop suggest we go rafting and check out a slab of rock called Iwadatami. During the boat ride along the upper Arakawa River, we manage to see Nagatoro’s famous 600-metre-long rock. It was formed during crustal movements a long time ago and has been registered as a national natural treasure.
We return to the noodle shop we visited earlier and enjoy a meal of buckwheat noodles - Nagatoro’s speciality - and udon noodles. We then take the train from Nagatoro Station to Hagure Station. About 240 people visit the station each day, so it is priced at 20,000 yen. The local residents here tell us about the Mannenzan Shorinji Temple, where there are the well-known Gohyakurakan statues. The Shorinji Temple is one of the famous temples in Kanto that have these statues, with the others being the Kitain Temple in Kawagoe and Gohyaku Rakanji Temple in Meguro. The stone statues come in different shapes and represent the disciples of Buddha who have reached enlightenment.
From Hagure Station, we take the 1.55pm train and travel east through the Kanto Plain. We alight at Oaso Station and have half an hour until our next train leaves. A local tells us the only thing worth seeing here are the ancient tombs, but they are quite far away from the station. So, we shelve our idea of finding a famous spot here and take the 2.50pm train to Kumagaya Station, where we change trains. We alight at Mochida Station, which commands 20,000 yen. A local recommends we visit Oshijo Castle, which is a 20-minute walk from the station. It has no tower and has quite a mysterious structure. It used to be surrounded by several swamps which attracted many water birds and hawks. In fact, it was one of Tokugawa Ieyasu's favourite sites for hawking.
We return to the station and catch the 4.30pm train to Bushu-Araki. It sees about 370 daily users and it is priced at 20,000 yen. A lady recommends a tower from where we can see lotus flowers. We walk to the tower but much to our dismay, it closes at 4pm. Another resident tells us about another scenic spot, Minuma Park, where there are cherry trees. However, the cherry blossoms have not fully bloomed yet. So, we head back to Bushu-Araki and take the 6.20pm train heading towards Tatebayashi. We get off at Hanyu Station and transfer to Tobu Railway’s Tobu Isesaki Line. The train crosses the Tone River and enters Gunma Prefecture.
We alight at Tatebayashi Station and start looking for lodging. A resident recommends Miyako Hotel Tatebayashi but it is fully booked. We find out that no hotel rooms are available in this area due to the spring break season. After making some calls, we manage to find a hotel which has available rooms. However, it is located near Ashikagashi Station in Tochigi Prefecture.
1) Nagatoro’s famous Iwadatami rock is a national natural treasure worth seeing
2) Mannenzan Shorinji Temple is known for its Gohyakurakan statues representing Buddha’s disciples