Road Trip on Moka Railway Line (Part 1)

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Road Trip on Moka Railway Line (Part 1)

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Road Trip on Moka Railway Line (Part 1)

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Join us for a two-day trip on the Mooka railway line, which connects Motegi Station in Tochigi Prefecture and Shimodate Station in Ibaraki Prefecture. The route comprises 17 stations, covering a total distance of 41.9km. We start our journey from Motegi-machi in Haga district, travelling on the 10.05am train from Motegi Station to Ichihana. The train cars of Mooka Line are usually green but the one-car train we travel on is decorated to promote Tochigi’s local product, strawberries. The line has a steam locomotive, SL Mooka. However, it only runs on weekends and holidays. It is a popular attraction among families and railroad fans. It costs an additional 500 yen to ride on the steam locomotive.

We arrive at the unattended Ichihana Station in about 15 minutes and plan to take the next train at 11.55am. We speak to a construction worker near the station and he tells us about the Ume-no-Sato Plum Garden at Kannonyama. The four-hectare area boasts 3,000 plum trees of various varieties. Early spring is the best time to see the plum blossoms and a Plum Festival is held here every March.

The Eitokuji Temple and the Senju Kannon Hall are located next to the Plum Garden. The wooden Senju Kannon statue on display here has been designated as a cultural asset of Tochigi Prefecture. Some locals we bump into at the garden recommend we try the strawberry roll cake at a cafe called Keyaki. It is located near Mashiko, three stations ahead.    

We walk back to Ichihana Station and decide to head to Tatara Station first. It is less than five minutes away and we have until 1.40pm to explore the area. We are hungry but can’t find a restaurant. However, a resident tells us about the famous Tataranuma Lake. Built as a reservoir for irrigation more than 100 years ago, it is currently managed by the residents’ association. It has several wild birds and protected plants, which include fringed orchids and purple bladderworts. Beautiful water lilies also bloom here in June. The huge wetland is considered a cultural asset and has been designated as Tochigi’s Prefectural Nature Conservation Area.   

After this, we take the train to Nanai Station. We plan to take the 3.50pm train from here later. A local resident tells us about a ramen shop called Teppenya. Its most popular dish is Teppen miso ramen. A chicken broth-based soup and three kinds of homemade miso are used in the ramen. We also order some handmade dumplings, which are famous in Tochigi. They are loaded with lots of locally grown vegetables. The ramen is served in dishes made using the Mashiko-yaki style of pottery. Created by Keizaburo Otsuka, Mashiko-yaki pottery is traditionally produced in Mashiko, which is our next destination.

We ask the restaurant staff to recommend a hotel in Mashiko and the name Mashikokan comes up. We then take a five-minute train ride to Mashiko Station. We meet two taxi drivers near the station who suggest we check out a street lined with Mashiko-yaki pottery stores. There are nearly 400 shops which make Mashiko-yaki products in this town. The taxi drivers also give us directions to Keyaki, which was recommended to us at the Ume-no-Sato Plum Garden. We head to the cafe, which also runs a Mashiko-yaki speciality store. Customers can enjoy desserts which are served in stylish handmade Mashiko-yaki wares. We order the cafe’s famous strawberry roll cake. Rice flour gives the cake dough a moist texture. The fluffy cake complements the sweet and sour Tochiotome strawberries well.  

After this delicious sweet treat, we shop for souvenirs at the Mashiko-yaki shop next to the cafe. It sells a variety of Mashiko-yaki pottery carefully selected from local sources. The shop’s staff offers to give us a ride to the Mashikokan Satoyama Resort Hotel as it is a 20-minute walk away. A night’s stay with two meals costs nearly 22,000 yen

After we are shown to our Japanese-Western style rooms, we relax in the hotel’s alkaline hot spring. Dinner is a feast of countryside cuisine. We are served sake made from Tochiotome strawberries, simmered red snapper with a cherry blossom motif, shabu shabu with bamboo and local mountain vegetables, Nasu beef and Tochigi's Koshihikari rice. 


Tips:

1)    Mooka Railway’s steam locomotive only operates on weekends and holidays 
2)    Tochiotome strawberries are a must-try speciality of Tochigi Prefecture 


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