Road Trip on Joso Line (Part 2)

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Road Trip on Joso Line

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Japan Hour (Synopsis Only):

Road Trip on Joso Line (Part 2)

Join us as we continue our two-day trip to explore Ibaraki Prefecture on Kanto Railway’s Joso Line. At the end of the first day, we check into Kojiya. For dinner, we try its famous handmade soba and grilled eel topped with Japanese pepper powder. Our meal also includes eel liver soup. 

The next day, after a classic Japanese breakfast, we head to Mitsukaido Station and take the 9.20am train to Nakatsuma Station. Our next train from here leaves at 10.45am so we have slightly more than an hour to explore the town. We walk to the residential area where we meet a friendly elderly lady. She suggests we visit a place called Mt. Fukiage. It is actually a grove located at a large bend in the Kinugawa River. This place is prone to sand accumulation and strong winter gales blowing the sand have created a small hill. The area has thus earned the moniker, Mt. Fukiage. It is now a verdant grove where one can enjoy a relaxing stroll. 

After this, we take the train to the next stop on Joso Line, Mitsuma Station. We have an hour till the next train departs at 11.55am. We speak to a local who tells us an interesting fact about the station’s name, which means "Three Wives". There is a town called Misaka and its neighbouring town is Nakatsuma. So Mitsuma is actually a combination of both names. He also mentions a fishing park which is 30 minutes away by foot. He offers to give us a ride to Yoshino Park. On busy days, the fishing pond draws 150 fishermen. It is home to two species of carp as well as catfish and eel. 

The kind local volunteers to drive us back to the station. We then head by train to Shimotsuma Station, five stops down the line. We decide to take the 3pm train next, which gives us nearly three hours to roam around. We have lunch at a restaurant called Okazakiya; it has been around since 1916. Its recommended items are the lunch set and the pork cutlet with rice. The lunch set comes with four fried dishes, such as fried chicken, and includes an omelette. The pork cutlet is cut extra thick, then fried and seasoned in a sweet and sour sauce made from a bonito flake base. 

The restaurant staff suggests we check out the Shimotsuma Beers Park. It is a 25-minute walk from the restaurant but we are told we can rent some bicycles from the train station for free. The multi-purpose facility is 20 minutes from the station by bicycle. It has the only natural hot spring in Shimotsuma, with a main large bath, a private bath for families and even a therapeutic outdoor bath. The facility opened in 1999 and offers overnight guest accommodation and farm-to-table vegetables.  

Our next destination is Daiho Station, one stop away from Shimotsuma. Here, we have 1.5 hours before we catch the 4.45pm train. A local mentions a shrine named Daiho Hachimangu. Once we arrive, we speak to its chief priest. He tells us the shrine was built in 701, the first year of the Daiho era. Believed to be the oldest Hachimangu shrine in the Kanto region, it is said to bring prosperity because of its name. The shrine hosts one of Japan's rare fire festivals every September. Legend has it that when Daiho Hachimangu caught fire in ancient times, the fire was put out with tatami mats and pot lids. The Tabanka festival has rituals that represent this anecdote. The flames are said to ward off disease and even children leap over the flames. The chief priest also shows us a very tall pine tree, which was planted to commemorate the coronation of Emperor Taisho. The longleaf pine tree’s needles typically grow in sets of three. It is believed that if you find a set of four pine needles, you will have good luck. 

After this, we head by train to the final stop on the Joso Line, Shimodate Station. We come across some ladies who tell us about a Japanese confectionery called Kogetsuan. Opened in 1946, it sells wagashi sweets which are made from the finest ingredients. For example, its red beans come from Hokkaido while the eggs are from Okukuji in Ibaraki Prefecture. The shop’s most popular item is Yakatamonaka, an original dessert unique to Kogetsuan. A light and delicious delicacy with a soft crust, it is also known as Datemonaka. We conclude our two-day journey on Kanto Railway’s Joso Line by savouring this sweet treat.

Tips:

1) Train passengers can borrow bicycles for free at Joso Line’s Shimotsuma and Mitsukaido stations
2) Check out the longleaf pine tree at Daiho Hachimangu shrine and look for a four-needled pine which is said to bring good luck 


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