Road Trip on Echigo Tokimeki Railway (Part 2)

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Road Trip on Echigo Tokimeki Railway


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Road Trip on Echigo Tokimeki Railway (Part 2)

We continue our two-day trip to explore Niigata Prefecture on Echigo Tokimeki Railway's Myoko Haneuma Line and Nihonkai Hisui Line. At the end of the first day, Sankei hotel’s shuttle bus picks us up from Naoetsu Station. We reach the inn after half an hour. It is located on top of a hill in the Unohama Hot Spring district overlooking the Sea of Japan. We are first taken to our spacious room which even has a sunken kotatsu. We then soak in the hot spring which was discovered in 1956; the water is salty and slightly alkaline. After our bath, we tuck into dishes such as grilled Japanese sea perch from the Sea of Japan and beef.

On the second day, the hotel’s van drops us to Naoetsu Station after breakfast. We have 45 minutes before our train leaves at 9.45am. We ask a taxi driver for recommendations. He suggests we check out a lion statue at the premises of the former Naoetsu Bank. The bank had opened in 1895 and a local coal baron bought and relocated the building in 1916. The building was used as an office until a few years ago. The entrance faced northeast and was considered unlucky, so the lion statue was erected to ward off evil spirits. Ever since then, it has been known as the "Lion House" among locals. We take a peek inside the building and see a wooden counter which was originally used in the bank and a large metal safe. The building is open to the public on weekends and holidays.

We return to Naoetsu Station and buy a pass for 1,000 yen. It allows passengers to take unlimited train rides on weekends and holidays. On the first day, we rode on the Myoko Haneuma Line and today, we'll be travelling along the coast on the Nihonkai Hisui Line.

Our first destination on the second day is Arimagawa Station, two stops ahead. We arrive at the station after a 10-minute ride which offers scenic views of the Sea of Japan. We decide to take the 11.05am train from Arimagawa. We meet a couple who tells us about a spot on top of a hill which boasts panoramic views of the entire town, the ocean and the mountains. It is quite far away so they offer to drive us there. We are delighted to see the Sea of Japan, the 2,462m-high Mt. Hiuchi and the 2,400m-tall Mt. Yake from here.

The kind couple drives us back to Arimagawa Station. Our next stop is Tsutsuishi Station. This leg of the journey features a series of tunnels. First is the Nadachi Tunnel, spanning 3,601m. Next is the Kubiki Tunnel. At over 10,000m long, it's the longest tunnel of all the Japanese private railways. Furthermore, Tsutsuishi Station is one of the few Japanese stations inside a tunnel. Actually, there didn’t use to be a tunnel in the past, with the trains running along the coast. Later, Tsutsuishi Station was built inside a mountain to shelter the station from landslides and tsunamis. The platform is located 40m underground. It is enclosed by two iron doors that control wind pressure when trains pass through. The staircase to the surface is as tall as an office building and has 290 steps.

We reach Tsutsuishi Station at 11.40am and our next train will depart at 1.25pm. From the station, we walk downhill for 10 minutes before meeting a resident. The person tells us a unique feature of the area is its several three-storey houses. Tsutsuishi is a small fishing village. A bountiful catch in the mid-1950s led to a building boom with more new houses and extensions. Due to limited space and shortage of land, many homes were built with three storeys and basements. Three-storey houses account for 30 per cent of the homes here, with a total of nearly 100 homes. We manage to take a tour of one of these three-storey houses, thanks to a local whose aunt stays in such a house. From the window on the third floor, we are able to see the Sea of Japan.

We head back to the station and take the train to No Station. We plan to catch the 2.50pm train from here. The little hamlet of No is a fishing port that boasts some of the top seafood in Niigata Prefecture. It is famous for red snow crab. We ask some locals to recommend a good restaurant and they suggest the roadside rest stop Marine Dream. However, it is quite a distance away and it may be too late to have lunch there. So they mention Hama Sushi as an alternative. It opened in 1956 and is currently run by a husband-and-wife team. Its chirashi sushi is very popular, featuring seasonal seafood fished locally. Its ramen is also a local favourite, with a broth that is made from chicken and pork stock.

We return to No Station and take the train to Ichiburi Station, which is six stops ahead. It is the final station on the Nihonkai Hisui Line. After an hour-long scenic ride along the Sea of Japan, we reach the quiet town. We visit a shop, where the owner tells us to walk along the seashore near the station. It is a popular spot among jade hunters and hobbyist fishermen. The Ichiburi coastline also boasts stunning views of the sunset. It is a fitting end to our two-day trip on Echigo Tokimeki Railway's Myoko Haneuma Line and Nihonkai Hisui Line.


1) A unique feature of Tsutsuishi is its three-storey houses
2) Try the seafood at roadside rest stop Marine Dream in the fishing port of Nou