Road Trip on Joso Line (Part 1)

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Road Trip on Joso Line

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Japan Hour (Synopsis Only):

Road Trip on Joso Line (Part 1)

This week, we will travel on the Joso Line in Ibaraki Prefecture. It opened in 1913 and has been operated by Kanto Railway since 1965. The railway line links Toride and Shimodate and is fondly referred to as "Kantetsu". It consists of 25 stations and covers a total distance of 51.1km. The Joso Line begins at Toride Station and runs south through Ibaraki Prefecture, nearly parallel to the Kinugawa River, offering stunning views of the famous Mount Tsukuba.
 
We begin our two-day trip by travelling from Toride to Shin-Toride Station, three stops ahead. We decide to take the 12.05pm train from here, which gives us two hours to roam around. This area used to be an isolated mountainside. It was later developed into a suburban area and a new town was built 45 years ago.
 
We speak to a resident who suggests we try the deep fried manju at Japanese confectionery Sagara. It opened in 1976 and sells over 50 varieties of desserts. Its most popular item, karinto-manju, features brown sugar manju stuffed with bean paste, which is then fried in rice bran oil. This makes the dough around the bean paste very crunchy. Ibaraki Prefecture is one of the leading tomato producers in all of Japan. So many of the shop’s desserts feature tomatoes. An example is mizu-manju which is made from Toride’s tomatoes. It is only available in September and the filling is a mixture of cream cheese and white bean paste.

The confectionery’s owner recommends two spots worth visiting - a Jizo guardian deity at an old shrine and a farm-to-table shop for the Koike Vineyard. We walk to shrine where the Togenuki Jizo statue is located. No one is sure when the shrine was built but it is said that the statue heals many ailments and rids people of their suffering and misfortune. The shrine now draws worshippers from all over Japan.

We then walk for five minutes to the vineyard, which boasts a wide selection of grapes harvested in Toride. It opened in 1973 and about 10 varieties are cultivated here. These include the Kyoho and Pione grapes. Visitors can buy fresh grapes directly from the farm. For example, 1kg of Sunny Rouge or Pione grapes costs 1,200 yen. The vineyard spans 14,800sqm and the grapes are grown at an elevation, so that they can be watered gradually.

We head back to Shin-Toride Station and take the train to the neighbouring station, Yumemino. Here, we have over two hours before our next train departs at 2.40pm. We are hungry so ask some locals to recommend an eatery. One of them mentions a Hawaiian restaurant along the highway which serves dishes such as Loco Moco. Mahalo, housed in a building with a traditional Japanese tiled roof, has surfboards and pineapple plants outside the restaurant. Even the interior boasts several Hawaiian touches.
 
The owner, who used to be a chef in Tokyo, visits Hawaii with his wife each year. They would always stop by a drive-in on Oahu and were impressed by authentic Hawaiian cooking. So the owner taught himself how to make Hawaiian cuisine and then opened this restaurant along national route 246 in Ibaraki. Mahalo’s most popular dish is garlic shrimp. The shrimp is deveined then fried with the shells on and it is prepared in an original garlic sauce. We also order another recommended dish, Loco Moco, featuring rice topped with a hamburger patty and sauce.

We want to go to Shin-Moriya Station next but end up taking a train which stops at Moriya Station and then makes a U-turn to Toride. So at Moriya, we change trains and head to Shin-Moriya by the 2.55pm train. Our next train from Shin-Moriya will leave about an hour later at 4.05pm. There is not a single soul in sight near the station so we walk to the residential area, where a local recommends we check out Tatsuzawa Park. It was built in 1983 on reclaimed land in Joso New Town. With a wide open field and tennis courts, the park offers losts of fun for children and adults alike.
 
After this, we head to Mitsukaido Station, two stops ahead. The town is located along Kinugawa River, home to a port along the river's waters. We ask a local near the station to recommend an inn for the night. We’re told to go to Nomuraya, but later find out it is fully booked. We meet an elderly man who offers to escort us to Kojiya. It is actually a soba restaurant which also has lodging facilities. It has been around for over 220 years and is said to be the oldest inn in Mitsukaido. For dinner, we have handmade soba noodles and eel. The noodles are made with Ibaraki’s famous Hitachiaki buckwheat. The eel, meanwhile, is from Aichi Prefecture. In the past, eels used to populate the river flowing through Mitsukaido. The eel receives two coats of sauce and the recipe is a closely guarded secret.
 

Tips:
 
1)     To buy grapes harvested in Toride, visit the Koike Vineyard which has a farm-to-table shop
2)     If you’re craving for Hawaiian cuisine, check out the Mahalo restaurant in Ibaraki

 

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