The Japan Rail Pass is a real freedom card, particularly when the idea of looking out a train window for hours gets you excited. Each JR Rail company advertises their most scenic routes, and tourism agencies do the same. But the Japan Sea side of Honshu boasts the JR San-in Line which in my view is the most picturesque line on Honshu.
Leaving the highly urbanised city of Hiroshima and primary visitor hotspots like the Atomic Bomb Memorial Museum and Miyajima island can be a refresher for any traveler.
From Hiroshima on the Inland Sea it is less than 3 hours to Masuda on the Japan Sea. Take a Shinkansen Sakura. Change at Shin-Yamaguchi for the Oki Limited Express across Honshu to Masuda on the JR Yamaguchi Line. Now don’t think Limited Express means big train, the Oki is a 2 carriage job!
With 3 hours to fill in at Masuda before the San-in Line train to Nagotoshi, I hired a bicycle from the nearby Tourist Information Centre. Off to see the Japan Sea. What I did not appreciate until I got lost the second time was that the map the nice folks at the tourist office gave me was schematic at best, and not to scale by a long shot. I think I rode 10 kilometres in circles and arcs to cover the 2 kilometres to the sea where the Masuda River pours into the Japan Sea.
I really enjoy the one carriage trains on some of JR’s local lines. From Masuda the little carriage that can runs on the San-in Line to Nagotoshi. The line then continues around further to reach Shimonoseki.
2 hours adjacent to the Sea of Japan, rocking and rolling along, slowing to a crawl where work needs to be done on the track – just like at home in Sydney. With barely a dozen passengers, making a brief stop at isolated villages with only dozens of houses.
The landscape is superb. At times, the vegetation on both sides of the single track brushes hard up against the carriage. Some minutes skirting rocky cliffs and sandy beaches. Others breaking through tunnels to emerge in small valleys where traditional small-holding farmers toil. Rice planting season is in full swing, and many of these small lot farmers have little mechanical aids, so the back-breaking work of manual planting continues.
This south western coastline of Honshu is very isolated, made so by long stretches where the mountains literally hit the sea – like at Kiso. Kiso also sports a sandy beach as a National Park. This area is in total contrast to the Inland Sea side. It’s hard to tell you are in the same country.
For those train spotters out there, from Nagotoshi the Mine Line runs back across the island to Asa on the Shinkansen Line.