Road Trip on JR Kishin Line (Part 1)

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Road Trip on JR Kishin Line (Part 1)

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Japan Hour (Synopsis Only):

Road Trip on JR Kishin Line (Part 1)

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This week, we embark on a summer trip along the JR Kishin Line, which starts from Niimi Station in Okayama and ends at Himeji Station in Hyogo. It used to be the Sakubi Line that began operating in the Taisho era, running between Tsuyama and Mimasaka Oiwake. It changed its name to Kishin Line in 1936 and now runs through the Chugoku Mountains, offering scenic views of the countryside. There are 36 stations along the 158km-long local line. We will make various stopovers and ask the locals to recommend tourist spots, hot springs and restaurants worth visiting. 

We begin our journey from Niimi city in northwest Okayama. We check the train schedule and decide to first take the train to Chugoku Katsuyama Station, which is six stations away. We are hoping there will be nice tourist sites along the river in that area. After nearly an hour, we arrive at Chugoku Katsuyama Station and have about 3.5 hours to spare before our next train. Katsuyama is a castle town of the Miura domain and flourished as a post town of a highway called Izumo Kaido. It still retains an atmosphere of the Edo era. We check out the “Town Preservation District". What makes this street special is that each store here has its own original shop curtain. Even the church and post office have their own distinctive curtains. Each shop orders curtains of different designs and there are around 100 unique shop curtains in this traditional town.

From the “town of shop curtains”, we head to the river. In the past, people took boats to cross the river. Flat boats were said to be used since the Muromachi era. It would take a day to travel down from Katsuyama to the Seto Inland Sea, for example. We remove our shoes and dip our feet in the clear water of the river.

After cooling ourselves by the river, we ask the locals to recommend a nice place to have lunch. We are told that there is a restaurant called Nishikura in a sake brewery. The brewery was built 200 years. Its sake was once offered to the lord of Katsuyama Castle and is still popular today. The brewery renovated its sake storage facility and opened a restaurant in 1989 to offer dishes that go well with sake. The eatery also has several items using sake lees and its signature dish is sablefish pickled in sake lees. Sake lees of ginjyo sake and jyunmai sake is used with local miso to pickle the sablefish for three days.

We speak to some locals who tell us to go to the shopping avenue called Hinoki Butai. There is a Japanese cake shop here called Kikutani. Opened about 80 years ago, it sells a local speciality, known as the “23,000 goku cake”. It is in the shape of the Miura family crest and is handmade every day, using ingredients from Okayama. The family crest is also printed on the store’s shop curtain.

We then return to Chugoku Katsuyama Station and take the train to Mimasaka Oiwake Station, four stations away. The train ride takes about half an hour. We arrive at around 3pm and the next train leaves at 4.30pm. We check our map and decide to visit the Oiwake pond, which is a five-minute walk from the station. The local residents recommend that we visit a Kumano shrine, where there is a huge Japanese cedar tree called Gohonsugi. It is one of five cedar trees in the city which are over 1,000 years old and designated as natural treasures. The Kumano shrine was split off from Kumano Taisha in Kishu. It was built more than 1,032 years ago and enshrines Izanagino Mikoto.

We return to the station and take a 20-minute train ride to Tsuyama Station. We must now look for a hotel with a hot spring. The locals tell us that the nearest hot spring is in Okutsu in the mountains. So we take the 5.50pm bus bound for Okutsu and arrive after an hour. The hotel we’re spending the night at is called Okutsu-so. It was established in 1927 and has been loved by many well-known personalities such as Munakata Shiko, a Japanese woodblock artist. Its hot spring is famous, with the bathtub built right above the water source. For dinner, we feast on pike conger with pickled plum, salt-grilled sweetfish and its signature dish - sticky rice and seasonal vegetables which have been steamed in the hot spring.


Tips:

1) Check out the “town of shop curtains” when visiting Katsuyama
2) Besides speaking to the locals, maps also come in handy when deciding which tourist spots and restaurants to go to
 


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