“Enjoying the Ride” in Yamaguchi
In Japan riding a train is not viewed as much of a novelty, rather as a necessary fact of life with a pre-determined destination—work. Riding the trains in Japan first and foremost brings to mind the image of a hundred smothered Japanese businessmen in the center of a throbbing metropolis, dutifully packing themselves (or being packed into) train cars with seemingly unlimited capacities. Luckily, Yamaguchi has been saved from such a scene, with plenty of space and natural beauty to avoid such a dreadful commute. Instead； Yamaguchi offers two unique opportunities to enjoy the journey in and of itself.
The “Misuzu Shiosai” (みすず潮彩) train, dedicated to the famous poet and children’s author from Senzaki, is a quaintly decorated two car train which runs along the coast from Shin-Shimonoseki station to Sensaki station, the author’s place of birth. With a cream- colored base, a red top and adorned with colorful art-deco designs --popular in the early twentieth century when she lived--the “Misuzu Shiosai” stands out amidst the greenery of the countryside as it makes its way along the coastline.
The first car consists of free seating, while the second car is for reserved seating and sports comfortable “sofa-style” seating which faces the ocean. As you journey from Shimonoseki northwards to Senzaki, these seats give you a first class view out the broad windows of the Sea of Japan without ever having to turn your head. Along the way, the train makes a three minute stop (one minute on weekdays) at three designated “beauty spots” where riders can take pictures of the scenery unhurried.
The train’s artwork carries a retro feel that is further heightened by the windows shaped into triangles, octagons, and even staircases. Created by the Nagato City art director, Mr. Shingo Ozaki, a charming name post decorated with a poem by Ms. Kaneko and an illustration is set up on each train station platform along the route. Thus, passengers are able to spend the two hour journey enjoying the spectacular view of the sea and mountains on board the Misuzu Shiosai while being reminded of the poetess’ talent which inspired its creation.
The line was opened in July of 2007 and runs roundtrip every day. The fee is 510 yen for adults and 250 yen for children each way. On weekends, passengers can also enjoy a traditional Japanese storytelling performance (kamishibai) about the life of Misuzu Kaneko onboard one of the cars.
A well known site in Yamaguchi, the SL (steam locomotive) Yamaguchi leaves Shin-Yamaguchi with an ear piercing whistle and chugs out toward the countryside engulfed in a billow of black smoke. The SL Yamaguchi service was restarted in August of 1979 and runs between Yamaguchi and Tsuwano in Shimane Prefecture, a distance of 62.9 km. Alternating service between two models, the C571 and the C56160, the approximately two hour ride has been a favourite of Yamaguchi residents for many years, especially among families.
The C571 model consists of five cars, each carrying a different historical period name with corresponding interior designs. The cars are divided into, “Meiji Style,” “Taisho Style,” “Showa Style,” “Western Style” and the viewing car. This year, service on the C571 model will start on March 22, running on weekends until July when service will be increased to include weekdays as well as service of the C56160 model. Between July and September, the SL Yamaguchi will continue to offer full service as part of Yamaguchi’s “Destination Campaign” and will continue until November 24.