Traversing Tohoku by Train

Japan is a country head over heels in love with railways and travelling by train. Trains are a vital component of life especially in the urban behemoths of Osaka and Tokyo. Railways and trains are ingrained into cultural consciousness seen by the multitude of books and manga about trains, animation, tv drama and films such as the super-popular Densha Otoko. Don't be surprised at the number of trainspotters in Japan, too, as it unites two of Japan's biggest passions - cameras and trains. Tohoku offers both visitors and residents of Japan an experience which is a bit more out of the ordinary and miles away from the pedestrian big city commute. From rugged coastlines and bays to spectacular inland routes, Tokhoku has it all. These experiences are unique to Japan and the services provided are, essentially, a look into the spiritual and cultural soul of the nation.

Tadami Line, Fukushima to Niigata

Running from Fukushima Prefecture to Niigata Prefecture the JR Tadami Line is one of the most famous train lines in Japan. Voted top three best local lines in the country, with award-winning views it really doesn't require much of an introduction. Crossing between mountain ranges and running alongside picturesque local towns the Tadami Line is a treat any time of year but really comes into its own in winter when the snowfall turns this area of Japan into a wintry utopia. It's particularly well known due to the fact that it crosses the famous No. 1 Tadami River Bridge which is one of the most photographed bridges in Japan. The views from the bridge are quite simply stunning and many travellers take the Tadami Line in order to cross this famous and iconic bridge which affords some breathtaking scenery and photo opportunities.

Gono Line, Akita to Aomori

Running adjacent to the wild coastlines of the Sea of Japan the Gono Line, part of the JR East network, has been thrilling railway enthusiasts since opening in 1908. With remarkable views of the sea and local villages the Gono Line has become one of the nation's most loved railways. It passes through fishing villages, onsen towns and, most significantly, Shirakami Sanchi which is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The complete journey takes approximately 5 hours, with a few stops to take in the scenery, and comes complete with on-board entertainment such as concerts and performances. Some passengers break the journey into parts and alight at some of the more enticing stations along the route. Wild, rugged and staggering in its beauty the Gono Line makes for an unforgettable day trip.

Ominato Line, Aomori

On the tip of Aomori Prefecture, before you hit the sea that separates Aomori and Japan's most northern island of Hokkaido is the Shimokita Peninsula. It's an extraordinary area of Japan made famous for its wealth of top-quality tuna and other fresh seafood. The Ominato Line connects Noheji Station with Ominato Station and the line is marked along the coast of local and beautifully tranquil Mutsu Bay. This is northern Japan at its most isolated and rugged. Visitors, however, will be rewarded with some extraordinary views and the goodwill of the very generous and hospitable locals.  

Stove Train Tsugaru Railway, Aomori

The stove train, operated by Tsugaru Railways in Aomori Prefecture, is an absolute gem of an experience. There aren't many railway trips in the world where people can ride through remarkable wintry scenes, eat freshly caught squid, drink sake and meet new friends. The stove train is only operational during winter months and focuses on the coal stove which is attended to by the conductor. Passengers are able to purchase freshly caught surume (local squid) and drink some sake in order to warm up. This is a fairly remote part of Japan and famous for being the birthplace of novelist Osamu Dazai. There's something nostalgic and magical about Tsugaru and elsewhere in this part of Aomori and travelling by train adds to the mystery and magic.

Akita Nairiku Line, Akita

Created in the 1930s and delighting passengers ever since the Akita Nairiku Line is truly cherished in this part of Japan. Spanning 94.2 kilometers and passing through some beautiful scenery and local villages where life has, in the most part, not changed for centuries it is a must-try railway experience. With spectacular views and scenery all year round, passengers can relax and witness the abundance of forests, rivers and mountains that represent this region. Nairiku means "inland'' in Japanese and this railway line, operated by Akita Nairiku Jūkan Railway, is ostensibly a moving window into the local landscape and culture which is both endearing and enchanting.