Road Trip on Yagan Railway Line (Part 2)

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Road Trip on Yagan Railway Line

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Japan Hour (Synopsis Only):

Road Trip on Yagan Railway Line (Part 2)

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We continue our two-day trip along Yagan Railway's Aizu Kinugawa Line, which links Tochigi and Fukushima prefectures. At the end of the first day, we check into a hotel at Kawaji Onsen called Ju-An. Established in 1956, this traditional inn was renovated about three years ago and has modern-style Japanese rooms. During the Boshin War, former Vice-Commander of the Shinsengumi, Toshizo Hijikata, reportedly visited the hot springs here to heal his wounds. We relax in an outdoor hot spring before dinner. Our meal includes Nikko tofu skin, scallops, rainbow trout sashimi, Kirifuri Kogen beef and mixed rice with propagule prepared in an earthenware pot.

The next morning, after a breakfast of locally produced river fish and mountain produce, we take the 8.30am bus to Yunishigawa-Onsen Station. From here, we travel on the 9.15am train to Kawaji-Yumoto Station. The longest tunnel on the Aizu Kinugawa Line runs between Yunishigawa-Onsen and Kawaji-Yumoto stations. The Katsurozan tunnel spans 4.25km. We reach Kawaji-Yumoto Station after less than five minutes. We ask a local for recommendations and he tells us to try the croquettes at the Sakabun Butcher Shop.

We have to walk for half an hour before finding the shop, which has been in business for 60 years. About 1,000 croquettes are made each day and the most popular item is the cabbage and minced pork one. After this, we walk back to Kawaji-Yumoto Station and catch the 11.20am train to Ryuokyo Station. The train runs through the beautiful mountains before arriving at the station.

At the station, we meet a resident whose father owns a soba restaurant. She takes us to Marumi, which opened around 11 years ago. She recommends the vegetable soba and zaru soba. The former uses handmade buckwheat noodles and features locally sourced fresh vegetables. The buckwheat flour is from Aizu and the noodles are made using natural spring water.

We then head to another recommended spot, Ryuokyo Gorge. It is named after a dragon because of its snake-like formations. From the entrance to the Ryuokyo Gorge Sightseeing Course, we have to walk down a steep staircase for about 10 minutes before reaching the best viewing spot. From here, we can see Nijimi-no-Taki, also known as the “rainbow falls”. It is approximately 20m high and visitors can sometimes see a rainbow within the waterfall on a sunny day. Another beautiful waterfall at Ryuokyo Gorge is Tategoto-no-Taki. The falling water resembles the strings of a harp and is divided into multiple streams. Thus, it's been dubbed the "harp falls".

We make our way back to Ryuokyo Station and hop on the 2.10pm train to the last stop on the Aizu Kinugawa Line, Shin-Fujiwara. However, we have no luck finding any interesting spots near the station. In fact, many locals here recommend Ryuokyo Gorge which we’ve just visited. We then drop by an eatery called Ebisuya and meet someone who is a chef at Hachiya, which is famous for its Baumkuchen cakes. The bakery is located in front of Kinugawa-Onsen Station. It is more than 40 minutes away by foot so we decide to take a 10-minute bus ride to the station.

Situated in a vast and colourful valley, Kinugawa Onsen is one of the few hot spring resort towns in eastern Japan. It was discovered in the Edo period and during that time, only monks and feudal lords were allowed to access it on their return from a pilgrimage to Nikko.

We manage to find the Hachiya bakery, which opened four years ago. The store was originally founded in 1967 and used to be a souvenir shop. The owners later decided to start baking Baumkuchen cakes. The most popular item is the Hachiya Baumkuchen, made from local ingredients such as eggs from Nikko and flour from the north Kanto region. The bakery has also created a new item called the Rock Baumkuchen, modelled after the rocks found along the Kinu River.

After this, we head to our final stop of this two-day trip along Yagan Railway's Aizu Kinugawa Line. Nioson Plaza has outdoor hot spring baths and a highlight here is a Japanese-style wooden boat which has been repurposed as a bathtub. It was used for boat tours along the Kinu River until the late 1970s. 

Tips:
1) A must-try item at the Sakabun Butcher Shop is its cabbage and minced pork croquette
2) Check out the “rainbow falls” and “harp falls” at Ryuokyo Gorge

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