Road Trip on Iwate Galaxy Railway (Part 1)

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Road Trip on Iwate Galaxy Railway (Part 1)

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Road Trip on Iwate Galaxy Railway (Part 1)

Our next train journey takes place along the Iwate Galaxy Railway Line, which runs through the Iwate and Aomori prefectures in the Tohoku region. We begin our two-day trip in Iwate Prefecture’s Morioka City, where the local line starts from Morioka Station. The railway line ends at Kintaichi-Onsen Station, spanning 17 stations over a distance of 78.4km. The Iwate-Numakunai and Ninohe stations, the transit stops of the Tohoku Shinkansen bullet train, are located along this line. 

The Iwate Galaxy Railway Line was previously part of the JR Railway’s Tohoku Line. In 2002, the Tohoku Shinkansen route was extended to Hachinohe which resulted in the railway's rebirth as a third-sector railway. The name of the railway comes from "Night on the Galactic Railroad", the most famous novel of author Kenji Miyazawa, who was born and raised in Iwate Prefecture.

From Morioka Station, we take the train to the next station, Aoyama. On the train, a passenger suggests we check out a place which used to be the military's equestrian training ground built in the 19th century. Once we reach Aoyama Station, we walk for about 10 minutes to the Morioka Fureai Oibaba Plaza, a stylish, historical-looking brick building. It was formerly an indoor equestrian riding ground used by the Third Brigade Cavalry for training when the weather was bad. The Morioka Fureai Oibaba Plaza was converted into a multi-purpose facility used for sports training and social events about five years ago.

What also makes the building unique is that instead of vertical poles, trusses are used to support the ceiling. They were installed over 100 years ago. The truss structure supporting the ceiling was a new engineering technique back then and the method was acquired from Europe in the late 19th century.

We return to Aoyama Station and travel to the next stop, Kuriyagawa. A resident near the station recommends we have lunch at a restaurant called Yamato. It is walking distance from the station. We order the grilled ribs, skirt steak and noodles featuring a beef-bone broth.  

After lunch, we catch the 1.20pm train to Shibutami Station, 10 minutes away. The Old Shibutami Village which surrounds Shibutami Station is known as the birthplace of the 19th-century poet, Takuboku Ishikawa. The area has several places connected to him, such as Jokoji Temple, where he was born, as well as Mount Iwate and the Kitakamigawa River, which were the themes of his poetry. There is also the Takuboku Memorial Hall, where his original works are archived. For example, on display are the original pages of his most famous "A Handful of Sand", along with many other precious pieces.

We however decide to skip the above places and instead go to a cafe known for its coffee and pizzas. Villa Tamayama has been around for 20 years and is popular among the locals. We order the cappuccino made from handpicked coffee and its authentic oven-baked Milano cheese pizza topped with honey.  

We ask the staff at the cafe to recommend another spot and are told about Takuboku Park, also known as Shibutami Park. It is a 25-minute walk away. There is a poetry monument here, the first of its kind which is engraved with a beautiful poem of Takuboku. His other memorial poetry monuments can be found in Tokyo and Hokkaido.

We make our way back to Shibutami Station and catch the 4.25pm train to Iwate-Numakunai Station. We drop by a meat shop called Fugane near the station. Opened in 1965, it sells two well-known brands of Iwate Prefecture, Iwate-gyu beef and Iwate Tankaku-wagyu beef. Iwate-gyu beef comes from Japanese Black cows and is characterised by its fine marbling. The Iwate Tankaku-wagyu beef is Iwate's exclusive brand name beef with a history of over a half century. 

We ask the proprietor of Fugane to recommend a hotel for the night. As luck would have it, he is on his way to a hot spring inn called Yutoland Himekami to deliver some meat so offers to give us a lift. The hotel opened in 1998 and its rooms command a nice view of Mount Iwate. For dinner, we are served items such as rainbow trout sashimi, ostrich-fern tempura and steamed Iwate Tankaku-wagyu beef. 

Tips:
1) Cold noodles are among the specialities of Morioka
2) Poetry fans should visit Shibutami, the birthplace of famous poet Takuboku Ishikawa


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