Saturday, June 5, 2010

Romance Trains, Plains and Tanuki-mobiles

21st October, 2006 - The Sagano Romance Train (also known as the Torokko Romantic Train Ride) is a wonderful little tourist railway that operates from Kameoka to Sagano along the valley through which the Hozugawa flows. To get to Torokko Kameoka Station, you catch the Sagano Line (JR山陰本線・園部行) from Kyōto Station which will take about 40 mins and cost 400 yen. Get off at JR Umahori station and walk about 400m back down to the Torokko Station (zoom in on B in the map below).

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Whilst you're waiting you can always talk to one (or many) of the locals. These strange fellows are found everywhere across Japan, and are called Tanuki. Tanuki (Racoon Dog) are a strange Japanese beast - real, yet just as much legend. They're often portrayed like this  -  mischievous and not altogether innocent. They also are almost always... well... sporting a very heavy package (if you know what I mean). In legend they are also known for their shape-shifting abilities (much like foxes).

The romance train ticket can be purchased from Torokko Kameoka Station, and costs about 600yen. The train departs pretty well every hour, and takes about 23 minutes to make the entire journey down to Sagano. It's definitely a tourist train, with open-walled carriages (when the weather's good), and lots of opportunities to get a great view of the valley and the river. Actually - take the time to enjoy Kameoka first - as it's a semi-rural experience that you may not often get when visiting a large Japanese city.

The train starts off - and if you're lucky or unlucky you can miss out on a chair (it's always busy). In my case it was intentional as I liked to move from side to side to get good views of the river.

It's not uncommon to catch the JR line to Sagano, then take the Romance Train up to Kameoka so that you can come down the river by boat on the Hozu Boat Ride. This takes a while (about two hours to transit the 16 km river) and costs 3,900 yen - so only do this if you really have an entire afternoon to spend. If you do have the time, I think that this would make an excellent trip. There are apparently some rapids along the way, just to spice things up.

The air is nice and refreshing here.... and the mountains make for a scenic locale... I can't imagine the commute though. It's certainly nice to get off the Kyōto plains and into the mountains that surround the city. 

There's a haze that makes for very scenic feel... back in Australia it's said that the Eucalyptus gum trees emit a faint oil aerosol that gives the Australia mountains their bluish tinge. I'm not sure about that, but it seemed to me that the light here had the same sort of quality.

The afternoon light is beautiful - at one moment in shadow, the next in sunshine. The tall valley walls, the river snaking this way and that, bridges and tunnels all making for quite a bit of variety along the way.

Apparently there's a Tanuki Holiday Club somewhere around here... hats mandatory. Omoshiroii!

The romance train trip is well worth it, and whilst we took the trip at the beginning of our stay in Kyōto, it'd make a good break if you were planning to spend a longer period in Kyōto and are getting templed-out. Of course - leave plenty of time for walking around Sagano/Arashiyama...  these are must do things if you're in the area. Posted by Picasa


  1. So pretty! Are there only couples on the Romance train? Or can you opt to sit beside a tanuki? =P

  2. Tanuki are more than accomodating under the right circumstances (have you seen Pompoko from Ghibli Studios... not the best of their movies, but good Tanuki reference).

    As for "romance trains"... it's a strange term... and no, it's not a free-lovin' kinda train. And as far as I tell, they didn't ask any inappropriate questions, or cast suggestive glances when we purchased the tickets. So why "romance"... well.. my research (thankyou Google-sensei) indicates that this is due to the fact that these carriages have two person seats without an armrest. Very you don't know what might happen between strangers without the safey of an intervening arm-rest.

    So - whilst it evokes a certain impression, the reality is very much a cosy tourist train. There's a lot of these romance trains spotted around Japan.