To the north of Shizuoka City nestled in the deep valleys and foothills of the majestic Southern Japan Alps, lie a number of remote and rustic villages where the way of life have barely changed since the last century. The area is known as an important producer of green tea, and the handful of small and sleepy hot spring (onsen) resorts have long attracted visitors looking to get away from it all amongst the abundant nature. For those without their own transport, the region is only accessible by taking a ride on Oigawa Railway, one of Japan’s most scenic and unique railway lines.
First established in 1927, Oigawa Railway is a wonderful old-fashioned railway which still runs preserved steam locomotives along the narrow and winding line between Shin-Kanaya and Senzu stations. Most of the locomotives date from the 1940s and so attracts train aficionados from far and wide.
©2018 Gullane [Thomas] Limited.
In addition to the steam locomotives, a number of real-size Thomas the Tank Engine trains run along the same route, and passengers also have the chance to get up close and meet the drivers, so train fans of all ages can find plenty to enjoy.
Most of the stations along the line are wooden buildings reminiscent of the Showa-era, and so a ride on the railways really does feel like stepping back in time. The line is regarded as one of the most scenic routes in Japan, as it passes rural tea fields, quaint backwater villages, forested valleys and winding rivers. Bento boxes with fresh local ingredients are available for purchase before getting on board, with special Thomas themed ones for sale at Shin-Kanaya and Senzu stations.
A number of ‘regular’ trains ply the lines and service the other stations, but even these have an old-school style and charm not seen in many other places. For lots of passengers a ride on Oigawa Railway is reason enough to come in itself, but there are many interesting things to see and to do in the area too, such as the impressive Nagashima Dam, the suspension bridges of the Sumatakyo Gorge (accessed by bus from Senzu Station) and numerous onsen and wonderful hiking courses.
Oigawa Railway also owns and runs the Ikawa Line from Senzu to Ikawa. This is the only rack-and-pinion railway currently running in Japan, and it takes passengers even deeper into the mountains passing through countless tunnels and crossing over 50 bridges over its 25km length. It was originally built as access for workers building the dam, but now mostly serves tourists and hikers heading into the Southern Alps.
From Shizuoka, take a train to Kanaya on the JR Tokaido Line (30 minutes) and then change for Shin-Kanaya Station. It is possible to check the train schedule and make advance reservations for the steam locomotives online in English.