Road Trip on Johana and Himi Line (Part 1)

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Road Trip on Johana and Himi Line

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Japan Hour (Synopsis Only):

Road Trip on Johana and Himi Line (Part 1)

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More local train trips await us and this week, we embark on a two-day journey on the JR Johana Line and JR Himi Line in Toyama Prefecture. These railway lines traverse an idyllic landscape and are popular among train lovers and photographers. They offer stunning views of the countryside, the Sea of Japan and the Tateyama Mountain Range.

The JR Johana Line and JR Himi Line were previously owned by the Chuetsu Railway which operated in the Meiji era. The lines were nationalised in 1920 and now consist of 21 stations covering a total distance of 46.4km. The JR Johana Line begins at Johana Station and changes to the JR Himi Line at Takaoka Station. Himi Station is the final stop on the JR Himi Line.

Our adventure begins in Nanto, a city in southwestern Toyama Prefecture. This region is serviced by the JR Johana Line and we start by taking the 10am train from Johana Station to Fukuno Station. We enjoy the beautiful and peaceful scenery as the red, three-car train travels for 15 minutes before reaching Fukuno. Our next train from here leaves at noon, which gives us over 1.5 hours to explore the area.

We meet a lady who suggests we visit the Nanto Floral Park, which boasts more than 200 varieties of seasonal flowers. The flowers are also available for purchase. We speak to a gardener at the park who tells us it opened in 1997. The park has cultivated 65 original varieties of chrysanthemum and holds the annual chrysanthemum festival every November.

We return to Fukuno Station and head to Aburaden Station, which is four stops ahead. During the 15-minute train ride, we notice something known as “dispersed settlements”. The Tonami plains have been used for rice cultivation since the Edo period. The homes are built in the centre of each family's plot of farmland. Thus, the houses are dispersed across the vast plain. A passenger on the train recommends we visit the Wakatsuru Distillery. At Aburaden, we decide to take the 3pm train next, so we have nearly three hours to spend here.

We make our way to Wakatsuru where the manager agrees to give us a tour of the place. The Wakatsuru Distillery opened in 1862 and it uses water and rice from the Tonami plains. It adopts traditional manufacturing techniques and is one of the most famous distilleries in Toyama Prefecture. The company’s Daiginjo Soshin sake, for example, uses polished high-quality rice. We get to taste Wakatsuru’s Nokaya brand of sake, made from Oyama Nishiki rice developed in Toyama Prefecture. The distillery also produces whisky, one of which is infused with locally produced plums and is thus called "Umesky".

The distillery’s manager suggests we go to Farmer’s Restaurant Okado for a meal and offers to drive us there. Opened in 2015, the eatery is located in a refurbished 120-year-old home that once belonged to a wealthy farmer. It specialises in Toyama cuisine, featuring dishes using local ingredients. We order tempura and colourful treats such as kuzukiri noodles. Kuzukiri is typically eaten with dark molasses but in this region, the delicacy is served as a side dish. It is eaten with a special sauce made by boiling down sake and soy sauce with a dash of wasabi.

We make our way back to Aburaden Station and take the train to Hayashi Station, which is two stops away. From the train, we can see Astellas, a famous pharmaceutical company. Toyama Prefecture has been a major medicine producer since the Edo period. Even now, the prefecture is home to more than 50 pharmaceutical companies. The train pulls into Hayashi Station 10 minutes later and our next train will depart at 5pm. A local tells us to visit the Hakusan Shrine, where the chief priest takes us around. The shrine has a history of over 1,800 years. It is one of many shrines dedicated to Ishikawa Prefecture's sacred Mt. Hakusan.

After praying for a safe journey at the shrine, we head back to Hayashi Station. We take the train to Takaoka, three stops ahead. It is the last stop on the JR Johana Line. The train we ride on is called Ninja Hattori-kun; it is decorated with a popular manga character created by Fujiko Fujio A, a native of Himi City.

After 10 minutes, we reach Takaoka Station. We want to spend the night at Takaoka and start looking for inns with hot springs. A resident recommends Onoya, but upon reaching the place, we find out it is no longer an inn and only functions as a restaurant now. We spend 1.5 hours walking around the town in search of a hotel. We are hungry by this time and return to Onoya to grab a bite. However, it is full so the person at the restaurant advises us to try our luck at either Izakaya Hachigoro or Izakaya Takamasa. Hachigoro is also packed so we go to Takamasa, which was founded in 1959. It specialises in Toyama Bay’s delicacies so we order glass shrimp, homemade fried minced fish and grilled Himi yellowtail collar.


Tips:

1) Some trains have fewer runs over the weekend so do check the schedule and plan your time accordingly
2) Glass shrimp and yellowtail are some delicacies worth trying when you visit Toyama Prefecture


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