Train Adventure to Mie Prefecture (Part 1)
Highlights this week include a temple which has two valuable statues, a unique bento box which plays music and an old-fashioned red mailbox found on a mountain known for its spectacular views.
Join us as we embark on a two-day local train “detour” trip in Mie Prefecture. We will travel on Kintetsu Railway from Tsu Station to Kashikojima Station, covering a total of 38 stops. We will be given 5,000 yen at the start of our journey. The goal is to earn 100,000 yen and reach Kashikojima by 6pm the next day. We win money if we manage to find places to visit around stations. The stations’ prices are set according to the number of users the station sees daily. If the station attracts many people and there are several places to visit around it, it may only be worth 1,000 yen. Stations with fewer users are valued higher, such as 30,000 yen, but it may be difficult to find places to visit.
We also asked tourism associations, train companies and local magazines to list popular places and specialities in advance. If the place we visit happens to be on the list, we will win the money too. If we meet our goal of getting 100,000 yen in total, we will be treated to a luxurious stay in Ise-Shima.
We start by travelling on the Kintetsu Railway’s Kintetsu Nagoya Line. We catch the 9.05am train from Tsu Station and go to Momozono Station. It is used by around 340 people every day and is valued at 15,000 yen. The train heads south along Ise Plain, a place well known for rice farming. A local at Momozono suggests we visit a temple called Komyoji, which has a famous Jizo stone statue. It is the oldest statue in Mie Prefecture and has been designated as a tangible cultural property.
Parishioner families take care of the main temple, which is usually locked. So, we go to the home of the Hata family and request them to open the temple for us. They gladly oblige and we are able to enter the main temple, where we first notice a Buddha statue called Twenty-Five Bodhisattvas. It is said that when one passes away, these 25 Bodhisattvas, along with Amitabha Tathagata, will take the person to paradise. It is very rare for all 25 of them to be in one place so this structure is also one of the city’s designated cultural properties.
We finally get to see the famous Jizo stone statue, which was created more than 700 years ago. It was stored in a place that was protected from rain and wind, so it is in a very good condition. It has also been featured in Mie Prefecture’s official tourism site. As the Komyoji Temple is included in our list of famous places and specialities, we are rewarded with 15,000 yen. We now have a total of 20,000 yen, including the 5,000 yen we had received at the start of the trip.
We next head by train to Matsusaka City, located along Kintetsu Railway’s Yamada Line. The train passes Ise-Nakahara Station and we later alight at Matsusaka Station. We are eager to try the area’s famous Matsusaka beef for lunch, after which we plan to take the train back to Ise-Nakahara Station an hour later. We find a cafe which serves Matsusaka beef sukiyaki. Unfortunately, it is full so we decide to get the Motaro Bento with grilled beef and ginger. It is one of the specialities of the area, but not only because it has Matsusaka beef. It is the first lunch box in Japan that plays music when you open the lid. It was once ranked the best lunch box sold at stations and thus makes a good souvenir.
We then catch the train from Matsusaka and go to the unmanned Ise-Nakahara Station. It has about 390 users per day and is worth 15,000 yen. Residents we speak to suggest we try two of the town’s specialities - sweet buns and Ureshino tofu. We walk for 20 minutes to the tofu shop but it is closed. Lucky for us, the pastry shop, Matsuya, is nearby. We buy its famous Ibara manju, which is a traditional sweet from the Ise region. The shop’s owner tells us that in the past, each family would make it after they finish planting rice. The bun would be wrapped with two bramble leaves and steamed.
We start talking about Ureshino tofu and Matsuya’s owner informs us that several places in the area sell it. An example is Gonzu, a market which specialises in locally produced items such as rice, vegetables and tofu. It is a five-minute walk from the pastry shop. We go to Gonzu and manage to try the famous Ureshino tofu. Ureshino soybeans are a speciality of Ureshino Town in Mie Prefecture and have less fat compared to other types of soybeans. The tofu has been featured in many magazines and is used in school lunches as well. It is also included in our list so we manage to earn 15,000 yen.
After this, we head south on the Kintetsu Yamada Line. A passenger on board suggests we get off at Saiku and visit a history museum nearby. We take her advice and alight at Saiku Station, which has a value of 5,000 yen. We go to the Itsukinomiya Historical Museum, but it is closed for its regular holiday. But we do manage to see a model of the historical site, built in 1/10 scale.
The museum displays various materials about the area’s history. For example, “Saio”, a lady from the Imperial Family who served at Ise-Jingu (or the Ise Grand Shrine), used to live at a palace called Saiku. It is also believed that there used to be a Saio Shrine here. As we do not get to visit the museum which is on our list, we do not earn the 5,000 yen.
We catch the 4.40pm train and head to Asama Station, located along Kintetsu Railway’s Toba Line. This station sees nearly 130 users each day and is priced at 30,000 yen. We speak to some boys near the station and they recommend we visit Mount Asama, the highest mountain in Shima Peninsula. It takes about two hours to reach the mountain top by foot but we find out we can take a taxi to the peak also.
The taxi ride takes about 25 minutes and we first pass by the Isuzu River, before the car drives along a road called Ise-Shima Skyline. Mount Asama is 555m high and is famous for having one of the top 100 views in Japan. It offers a breathtaking panoramic view of Ise-Shima, the islands of Ise Bay, Atsumi Peninsula and the Pacific Ocean. We also notice a traditional round red mailbox and find out that the postman still comes to collect letters at 9.30am daily, including weekends. This red mailbox on the mountain top is popular, with some posting love letters and New Year cards from here. We manage to catch the beautiful sunset from the peak. As Mount Asama is included in our list, we win 30,000 yen and now have earned more than 58,000 yen in total.
1) Check out a famous Jizo stone sculpture and the Twenty-Five Bodhisattvas statue at Komyoji Temple
2) Matsusaka beef is a must-try item of Mie Prefecture