Local lines

Once again I go the slow way. Tottori to Okayama can be done in less than two hours on an express. Or you can take almost ten, like me.

In some ways I didn’t mind riding a local train late into the night. It feels a bit adventurous and the world outside is different at night. But I was hungry and exhausted by the time I reached Tottori. After checking into the hotel most of the restaurants were closing and even the convenience stores had emptied their hot food. I could have bought and heated up one of their ready made meals, but even that seemed too much.

I’m sorry to say that in the end it was a McDonald’s that was my salvation. At least I picked a “Samurai Mac”. Felt a bit rotten after eating it. Too much food.

Then it was time to wash some clothes…

Breakfast at the Washington was probably the most substantial yet. There were too many choices, from spaghetti to curry, local fish cakes, fish, salad and fruits.

I could have rested after that, but I see a train to catch on Google Maps and hurry to the station, whereupon that option does not appear to exist.

I spend the next hour buying Niseki pear treats and some other souvenirs.

On the platform adjacent to ours stands the Twilight Express Mitsukaze, a “luxury cruise” train running between Shimonoseki and Kyoto.

The train that arrives at our platform is a lot smaller, but still very special. The single car “Sakura 3” train to Wakasa has a wooden interior, colourfully patterned upholstery and art works on the walls. It is a very pleasant surprise!

The train runs down the Imbi Line until Koge, then heads off on the Wakasa Line. As a “third sector” service I have to buy a separate ticket.

It’s Yet Another Lovely Line, running through farmland between the mountains, along the river, through green tunnels and past historic stations. At Hayabusa there is an old locomotive and carriage and I wonder if it was used as a movie set.

The terminus at Wakasa is a pretty place. Unfortunately the interesting looking Wakasa Folk Art Museum is closed today and there’s not much point hanging around so I take the train back to Koge.

There’s another Japan train fan in the carriage with me. He’s flicking through his scrapbook of station stamps. There were plenty at Wakasa.

From Koge I ride a blue, white and red single car diesel train down to Chizu. Japanese train fan does the same. There’s more pretty scenery and even a castle on a hill against a mountain backdrop.

I have about an hour in Chizu, a quiet town between three rivers, enough time to actually get lunch. There’s a noodle bar opposite the station. Everyone seems to be ordering yakisoba so I do too. “Hormone” yakisoba, whatever that is.

Oh, it’s entrails.

As the young person fries the meal in front of me I see they look more like meat offcuts. I don’t think they’re entrails.

It’s not the best yakisoba I’ve had.

The train fan is eating the same dish besides me. I wonder if I should say hi. Not feeling confident with my Japanese skills right now. Still tired.

I spend the remaining time taking a walk through the town. It’s so run down. I love it.

The train to Tsuyama arrives. I am so excited! It’s a single KiHa 120 diesel rail car. My favourite!

I spend the next couple of hours snapping away at the landscapes outside as we wind our way through the mountains.

Train fan is also aboard.

Tsuyama is a major junction with a working roundhouse that is celebrated on posters around the station. I need to make a decision. Which way do I go and where do I stop for the night. I could go straight to Okayama and maybe beyond. Or I could ride the Kishin Line through the middle to Niimi, completing another piece of my Chugoku puzzle. Do I go to Okayama after that?

I can’t find good accommodation in either Tsuyama or Niimi. Even Okayama seems tight, though I eventually book a room at their Washington.

Okay, that’s wasted almost an hour of me sitting in the hot sun. Rail fan has gone into the tourist office. Not sure where he went to after that.

I go for a walk into town. Most of it seems to be closed, but look, there’s a castle! I check Google Maps and indeed it is a castle. I have enough time to visit if I hurry. Damn me for wasting time earlier.

The castle sits atop a hill. It costs a few dollars to visit and it looks like I’m alone climbing the stone steps through the massive stone walls. It must be beautiful in Spring with all the cherry trees. It’s very impressive now, especially in this light.

There’s a small reconstruction of part of the castle in oner corner. The young attendant laughs at my Studio Ghibli Bento Box t-shirt.

I wish I had time to properly explore the ruins as they really are impressive and there are great views of the area. But I’m running late and I walk very fast back down the hill and through the centre of Tsuyama until I reach the train station.

It’s another KiHa 120! Now, I thought this local line might be a bit quiet, the kind of line at imminent risk of closure. But it’s busy with school students returning home and a variety of other passengers.

It never really empties the entire trip until near the very end.

Once again, another wonderful journey through the mountains l, criss-crossing rivers, up and down hills through green tunnels of vegetation, stopping by interesting little towns.

As dusk falls the few commercial activities in these villages and towns become more noticeable. A petrol station, convenience store, restaurant or pachinko parlour. I imagine being stuck in the town, wonder what there is to do, where to eat.

We arrive at Niimi with only a brief break before the final train of the day. It is an older yellow electric train. It’s very busy, there are many school students on board as we head off to Okayama.

I rode this stretch twice in January and a few times before. It’s dark outside and there’s not much to see, so I can sit back and relax for the ride.

Okayama Station is a major transfer point for a number lines, including the Shinkansen. I treat myself to a beef dinner in one of the station restaurants, but as I walk out I see there are many other options nearer to the hotel.

It’s another Washington Plaza and I am not impressed. The room has a smell and it’s too warm.

I’m exhausted and missing my family. At the same time I feel like there is too little time left.

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