Road Trip on Hokusei Line (Part 2)

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Road Trip on Hokusei Line (Part 2)

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Road Trip on Hokusei Line (Part 2)

Our local train trip on Sangi Railway’s Hokusei Line in Mie Prefecture continues. We will visit more popular spots and savour delicious cuisine recommended by the locals. At the end of Day One, we find out there are no rooms available at Nishi-Kuwana’s Station Hotel. So we return to the shop selling Yasunaga mochi and ask the owner to recommend another hotel. She mentions S-Value but when we call the place, they are fully booked too. 

The shop’s owner however does suggest that we try the food at Choujiya, which specialises in grilled clams. Kuwana is known for its clams, which are meaty with a rich flavour. Recommended dishes at the 170-year-old Japanese restaurant include the grilled clam set meal, steamed egg custard with clams, rice porridge with clams and clams seeped in sake. After dinner, we check into a business hotel which has rooms available.

The following morning, we take the 9.10am train from Nishi-Kuwana and head to Toin, one stop after Anoh Station. We have an hour before our next train departs Toin at 10.35am. We ask a local to recommend an interesting spot and are told about a planetarium, which is about five minutes away from the station. But when we reach there, we find out it stopped operating about four years ago. The planetarium was built in 1989 together with the Toin-cho General Cultural Centre. It used to show programmes mostly catered to children. Now the space is used for art exhibitions. The observatory however is still up and running; stargazing parties are often held there a few times a year.

After this, we meet a gentleman who mentions the birthplace of famous kabuki actor Koushirou Matsumoto VII. Koushirou is also the grandfather of Hakuou Matsumoto II, another kabuki actor. The gentleman kindly volunteers to drop us to the Kabuki Park, which was established in 1997 to honour Koushirou. He tells us that children’s kabuki has gained popularity in the area and performances are held here every year. In one corner of the park, there is a statue of Benkei, one of Koushiro's most famous roles.   

We are dropped back to Toin Station and catch the 11.35am train to Oizumi. On the train, a passenger suggests we check out Uribou, a rest stop next to the station. We arrive at Oizumi and see a lady carrying groceries such as eggplant, green onions and green shiso. She has in fact just come from Uribou, which is actually a farm produce direct sales depot where fresh vegetables and flowers are sold at reasonable prices. The store used to be located next to the town hall, but it relocated here in 2004.  

We next ask a couple we meet to suggest a place for lunch. They offer to drive us to Japanese restaurant Soranodaidokoro, located in the next town of Daian. It is situated on the banks of the Ryouga-ike reservoir, created during the Edo period for irrigation purposes. The restaurant, which reopened four years ago after renovations, serves seasonal cuisine. Its set meals are very popular so we order the Daian and Ryouga-ike set meals. The Daian meal includes sashimi, tempura and steamed egg custard, while the Ryouga-ike one has tendon, udon and sushi. 

After our meal, we get a ride back to Oizumi Station and hop on the 2.05pm train. During the journey to Sohara Station, we enjoy the beautiful view of the Suzuka mountain range. A local we ask at Sohara recommends we go to the "megane" (spectacles) and “nejiri” (torsion) bridges. The latter is a 15-minute walk from the station and what makes it special is that it is “twisted” like the number 8. This bridge was completed in 1916. To make use of the water that flows diagonally underneath it, the bridge girder was curled on purpose. The bricks are thus arranged in an unusual twisted manner. About 200m away from the "nejiri" bridge is the "megane" bridge. Its official name is the Akechigawa Bridge and it has three arches consecutively. Both bridges were recognised as Civil Engineering Heritages in 2014. 

We return to Sohara Station and travel by the 4.20pm train to the final stop, Ageki. It is the westernmost station on the narrow-gauge railway. We drop by a karaoke bar nearby to ask about recommended spots. One of the regular customers, Mr Sakamoto, tells us to visit the old streets of Ageki which date back to the Edo period. Ageki was a station town linked to the southern parts of Gifu Prefecture. Old fire stations and inn buildings have been preserved till this day. We visit a 100-year-old house where miso and tamari soy sauce used to be manufactured. Items such as a hibachi (a traditional heating device), an old abacus and a stovepipe can still be seen in the house. 

During this two-day journey on the Hokusei Line, we have visited 10 amazing places introduced by the locals.  


Tips:
1) Clams are a local speciality of Kuwana
2) Check out the “megane” and “nejiri” bridges near Sohara Station which have been lauded for their unique design


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