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Japan Hour

Road Trip on Watarase Keikoku Railway (Part 1)

This week, we embark on a two-day trip on the Watarase Keikoku Line, which connects the prefectures of Tochigi and Gunma. It was originally built as the Ashio Line to carry copper from the Ashio Copper Mine.

This week, we embark on a two-day trip on the Watarase Keikoku Line, which connects the prefectures of Tochigi and Gunma. It was originally built as the Ashio Line to carry copper from the Ashio Copper Mine. In 1989, it became a passenger railway line. Its total length is 44.1km, with a total of 17 stations. The line runs along the Watarase River and the sightseeing train showcases gorgeous seasonal views, especially in autumn. Every year, from late October till November, the track is surrounded by beautiful fall colours.

Our adventure begins in Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture. From Mato Station, we head to Haramuko, which is 10 minutes away. Our next train from here leaves almost two hours later at 11.10am. We ask a local to recommend a spot and we are told to visit Shozogama. Founded in 1977 this shop specialises in ashioyaki pottery, a local style that arose from using clay left over from copper mining. Items made here are mainly things for the kitchen such as plates.

After this, we take the train from Haramuko to Godo in Gunma Prefecture. The train pulls into Godo Station after about 20 minutes at 11.40am. We come across a train car diner located inside the station. The train car used to run along the Asakusa Tobu Line, but was retired and remodelled into this restaurant, Seiryu. It has a retro atmosphere and is popular with train enthusiasts.

We decide to catch the 2.05pm train from here. A local resident recommends we take the bus to Tomohiro Art Museum near Lake Kusaki, It displays the works of local painter Hoshino Tomihiro. He was a junior high gym teacher who lost the use of his arms and legs in an accident. He began to paint using his mouth and became a celebrated artist in the country. During the 10-minute bus ride, we pass by the Kusaki Dam, which was built in 1977. Made to block the Watarase River, its power is used all along the Kanto region.

After checking out the museum, we have lunch at Kusaki Drive-In. It opened in 2005 alongside the Tomohiro Art Museum. We order the udon set with local maitake mushrooms, and a pork fillet lightly fried in oil and topped with a sweet sauce.

We ride the bus back to Godo Station and travel by train to Nakano Station. We arrive at Nakano in less than 10 minutes. A resident suggests we visit the house of Ishihara Wasaburo. An author in the Meiji and Taisho periods who wrote "Kintaro" and "The Tortoise and the Hare", he is known as the “father of children's songs”. However, we are unable to get into the house.

So we continue walking around. We drop by a shop to and the owner mentions Toyosato Shrine. He offers to drive us there as it is quite a distance away. The shrine is said to have been built in the Muromachi Period. There is a statue here, referred to as Konsei-sama, which is a local symbol of fertility.

We are then driven back to the station, from where we head by train to Kami-Kambai. The station is a wooden building constructed in 1912. It was registered as a cultural site in 2008. We ask around for a hotel and a local suggests Kambai-kan, which was built in 1922. In order to provide the best service to its guests, it only allows three reservations each night. It has nostalgic Japanese-style rooms and a bath called Kakujizoson, named after a Jizo statue located near the hotel. It is said that more than 100 years ago, a guardian appeared in the dreams of a stranded traveller. It led him to the hot spring where he recovered. Kambai-kan was built over that same hot spring.

After soaking in the bath, it’s dinner time. We are served sweetfish and other dishes such as Okkirikomi, a local noodle recipe which features mountain vegetables and mushrooms in a soy sauce broth.



1)     One of the best seasons to ride on the Watarase Keikoku Line is autumn

2)     Seiryu restaurant at Godo Station is popular among train lovers


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