Yokkaichi to Nanao

I told the family that I was going to Takasaki today. But when I queried my heart it told me something else. So I changed my mind. Several times.

Did I make the right choice?

The occupants of the Toyoko Inn like to have their breakfast early. The queues at 6.30AM were long and it was hard to relax and enjoy the buffet, which was inferior to yesterday’s. Afterwards, I returned to my room and didn’t make it out until 8 AM, a bit later than I hoped.

I could catch the nearby Kintetsu Railway to my next stop, but then I couldn’t use the JR Pass. So I walk back to the JR Yokkaichi Station, the Sunday morning streets busier but still quiet.

I have to race to catch the local to Kuwana. It’s a rail hub and home to another 762mm railway, the Sangi Hokusei Line.

At first glance the trains have less character than the Yokkaichi Asunaro line and the benches face inwards. But of the two, this is by far the more interesting route.

We begin by rattling along a narrow path through urban Kuwana, but soon we are heading out into a semi-rural landscape where houses, factories and shrines alternate with fields of rice and other crops.

My train terminates at Sohara and I am left alone to wait for the subsequent one to the line’s terminus at Ageki. I can’t go out without losing my ticket, but at least the bathroom is very clean (and with a bidet toilet).

Onwards I go and the landscape turns even more spectacular as we rise into the hills through jungle. The train scares some monkeys off the tracks. The distant mountain ranges appear to be getting closer and closer from behind the farmlands.

Eventually we reach Ageki, a quiet little town seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Unfortunately, the Narrow Gauge Museum adjacent to the station is only open every second Sunday. There’s an old wooden car, a turntable and a curious dog bone track used by pedal cars.

Across from the station is a convenience store and on the other side a cute little bakery selling delicious little sandwiches and lemonade. I have to try!

I’m glad I did, because it’s my last food for hours.

I sit at the back of the train on the ride back to Kuwana and watch the track disappear behind us. It is almost inconceivable that a line like this would be considered economic to run elsewhere, but there’s something wonderful about this slow journey through the local landscape. It seems pretty well patronised on a Sunday as well.

Back at Kuwana, I note how run down the station area appears, but I want to get going. I jump on an express to Nagoya, the largest city of the region and a major rail hub.

When I reach Nagoya I stand in the passageway between platforms unable to make up my mind. I should catch a couple of Shinkansen to Tokyo and then Takasaki. But it doesn’t feel right. I’m not sure I want to go there anymore. I don’t want to fight other tourists for a seat on the bullet train.

Maybe Itoigawa? I want to see the Geopark and model railway layout at the station.

Consulting Google Maps gives me the option to catch the Tokaido Line to Ogaki and then Maibara before taking an express to Kanazawa and, only then, the Shinkansen to Itoigawa. That’s a bit different.

The windows of the Tokaido Line train are dusty. While it runs I think harder and admire the backdrop of the Japanese Alps. When we reach Ogaki I kick myself. I could have caught the private Yoro Line all the way from Kuwana. I wanted to ride on it.

Too late now.

The scenery gets more rural as we leave Ogaki and we pass into the foothills through forest. At Maibara I quickly run to the ticket machine to get the seat reservation I made while on the last train.

Once in the Ltd Express Shirasagi to Kanazawa I can relax. I’ve done this route before, but it is still impressive. We start along Lake Biwa, its flat waters reflecting the silver sky. Then up into the mountains, through forests, until we reach the coastal plains of rice paddies and towns.

Alongside us is the new Shinkansen extension, a huge concrete structure that must be ready for opening soon.

Looking at the times I decide that I no longer want to go to Itoigawa today. But I can’t make up my mind. Do I stop at Kanazawa, one of my favourite cities, stay in a Dormy Inn with an Olsen bath and catch a local Hokutetsu Line train in the evening? Or do I head up the Noto Peninsula. I decide to make up my mind at Kanazawa.

The station is crowded with travellers. I think many are about to head back after a Sunday in this historic city. But it means that the restaurants and souvenir stalls are crowded and I’m hungry. I head outside for a little and, no, I’m not feeling it today. I decide to go onwards.

Just in case, I buy a local bento box from a quieter stall, a trio of local delicacies.

Fortunately, I snag a seat in the Ishikawa Line local train, a newer electric set that is crowded with commuters heading back for the day. There are no tray tables so it looks like I’m out of luck addressing the needs of my stomach.

Although the scenery isn’t particularly spectacular it is a pleasant local ride and, as the sun sets, I enjoy the transition into lives at night.

Eventually the carriage empties and there are only a few of us left by the time we reach our final destination of Nanao.

I like the idea of a little nowhere place away from the bustle of a big city. As soon as I step off the train I knew I had made the right decision.

The vending machine on the platform is selling grapefruit Gokuri.

Since that very first trip twenty years ago grapefruit Gokuri has become my “thing”, an item quest. And now I had found it.

Opposite the station is Hotel Alivio, a typical business hotel, but with welcoming staff and, apparently, a really good breakfast. Perfect for my needs.

And facing the hotel is a Nitori, the furniture shop where we bought own doonas (we need another!), a Don Quixote off all things, and a Mister Donut.

Now I have a strange fantasy about Mister Donut. I imagine it as part of the station complex outside Matsue or Kanazawa Stations and heading there at night for a doughnut. I seem to remember doing it before. But there are no Mister Donuts at Matsue or Kanazawa Stations. Yet here is one in Nanao in the middle of nowhere!

What I don’t find is somewhere to eat dinner. Aside from a few bars and a Chinese restaurant everything seems to be closing for the night. I walk down to the seaside along a canal. The big complex is just about to shut. As I stand by the ocean I hear fish jumping, see flashes of silver in the darkness. Then I head back.

I would go to the convenience store, but I still have my bento and a couple of mikan, so I’m fine.

Tomorrow I want to take the private Noto Line further up the peninsula. And then head back to Kanazawa. There are so many trains to catch in the region. Maybe a tram in Fukui? That’s for tomorrow.

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