Blizzard conditions had cut short the visit to Lake Tazawako, restricting my time there to an enjoyable loop around the lake on a scheduled local bus from Tazawako.
Returning to Kakunodate JR station, I spied a forlorn a single carriage of the Akita Inland Longitudinal Railroad – otherwise known as Akita Nairuki Railway Line being pelted by snow as it sat at the empty terminus. With my boots loudly crunching the iced path outside the JR station, a faint and plaintive cry floated from the direction of the Nairuki terminus. “I am warm inside. Please ride in me”. Casting a glance at the carriage I was certain the left headlight winked at me.
So this is how I came to spend 3 hours going out from Kakunodate to Aniai and back again on another little train that could.
I have a bit of a thing for trains, and can spend hours gazing out of windows, going to places only because the rail line goes there. Read about a few other ‘little trains that could’ on these posts: The Namboku Line Sardine Can to Saitama (not really a small train); Boy with the 1,000 Yen Note; Tapping an Alien on the Arm; Watarase Railroad … The little train that can; Sights for train eyes in South Western Honshu;
But back to the Akita Nairuki Line. Third tier private railway lines in Japan connect typically remote rural communities with a regional or town centre. Many such lines have closed in recent years, and I do wonder how a line such as Akita Nairuki can secure a sustainable future as populations decrease and access to road transport becomes easier.
Running 94km from Kakunodate to Takanosu, the full trip takes about 2 hours each way. Leaving Kakunodate, most of our group of 10 passengers were already asleep, cocooned in puffy jackets and hoods – even though the carriage itself has its heaters running full blast. These small trains offer the visual benefit of being able to look ahead and behind as well as out the side windows.And, for the real nerds, you can stand up next to the driver, just like you are in control!
As we slid out of Kakunodate into the rural farmlands, the steel ribbons of rail narrowing into the distance boldly contrasted with the adjacent rice fields blanketed in pure white snow. Not even the concrete and wood sleepers could be seen, the impression being the train was itself skiing to Aniai.
The Akita Nairuki Line continues to run though lightly populated villages, farmlands as well as incredible mountains, and across some remote gorges. Nearing Aniai, the train runs through a straight 5,697m tunnel. For about 10 seconds you can see both ends of the tunnel! When going over some of the more spectacular gorge bridges, the train will slow down, ideal for that snap. For example, at the beautiful Hitachinai River Kyoyo, the Hitachinai River and Utto River.
My change at Aniai was to timed so I could just jump over the platform to catch the waiting service heading back to Kakunodate. Even third tier lines are punctual. Never looked liked missing the connection!
On the return leg to Kakunodate many seats were taken by a group of school children returning from who-knows-where. In fact, apart from the school kids and 2 teachers, I was the only other passenger. So the train’s conductor had some time to chat with me about the railroad, the countryside, and the long straight tunnel we were then trundling through at the time.
So if you are up Akita way, make sure you add this line to your sight-seeing. A round trip from Akita, via Kakunodate to Takanosu, back to Akita can be done in little over 4 hours. But add time for short stops along the way. Enjoy!