Shizuoka City is a medium-size city on Japan’s Pacific coast, roughly halfway between Tokyo and Nagoya. It is well-known as a place for great views Mt. Fuji in closeup, and the region is one of Japan’s most important producers of green tea. The city itself has a number of interesting attractions for visitors, but it is also well worth getting out of the city and exploring some of the nearby areas.
One such trip is into the mountainous region which lies to the north of the city. One of Japan’s most interesting and old-style train lines, the Oigawa Tetsudo, provides access to the region, with wonderfully preserved steam locomotives running along the scenic route from Shin-Kanaya to Senzu. From Senzu passengers can change to the even more unique Ikawa Line, Japan’s only remaining rack-and-pinion railway which rattles along bridges and through tunnels all the way to the small village of Ikawa, deep in the mountains of the Southern Japan Alps.
Apart from the chance to ride on one some old-fashioned locomotives, many visitors come to enjoy some of the relaxing hot springs dotted around the area or to explore some of the wonderful hiking trails which criss-cross the valleys. One such walk is the Yappashi Komichi (Eight Bridges Walking Path), also sometimes intriguingly called the ‘Love Romance Road’, which starts from Sessokyo-Onsen Station on the Ikawa Line. This relatively gentle walk takes you through the mountains on a course which crosses eight very different bridges; some are small and traditional in style, others include large and newer suspension bridges the longest of which is 240m in length.
All of the bridges offer fantastic views of the river below, which in many places is an amazingly vivid turquoise blue that has to be seen to be believed. The whole course is mostly flat and should take no longer than 60 minutes to complete, and is suitable for all ages and abilities.
Another easy hiking course starts close to the Ikawa Line terminus at Ikawa Station. Known as the ‘Hai-sen Trekking’ course, this mostly flat route follows an old abandoned railway line along the southern shore of Ikawa Lake. A gentle walk offering plenty of nice views, it leads to a large suspension bridge in about 2km, and then a big buddah statue (Daibutsu) a little further on up the valley from there. The first part of the walk can easily be completed before returning to Ikawa to catch the train back to civilisation. Alternatively book a night in a nearby ryokan (traditional Japanese inn, often with hot spring) for a more relaxing trip.
Ikawa is at the end of the Ikawa Line which can be reached from Shizuoka by taking a train on the JR Tokaido Line to JR Kanaya, and then changing to the Oigawa Line for Senzu. At Senzu change to the Ikawa Line. Timetables and advance reservations for steam trains can be made online.