What better way to enjoy Tohoku’s winter countryside than by taking a ride on Aomori’s Tsugaru Railway Stove Train?
The vintage train has been in operation since 1940 and runs twice a day (three times on weekends) between Tsugaru Goshogawara Station and Tsugaru Nakasato Station (45 minutes, 20.7 km in total). Between December and March, the ride offers passengers breathtaking views of snow-covered villages, rice-fields and mountains. But this is not your average train! The name ‘Stove Train’ refers to the vintage, coal-fueled pot-belly stove that is installed in each carriage to keep passengers toasty warm, whilst the train pushes on, full-steam ahead, through the blizzard outside.
Once on the train, the seating is non-reserved so you are free move around and sit wherever takes your fancy. For obvious reasons, the most popular seats are right by the stove in the middle of the carriage! The stoves are not huge, but they sure are powerful. Even the seats furthest to the back are still plenty warm.
However, there is an additional perk to sitting by the stove! You get to watch as the carriage attendants grill tasty squid-jerky called ‘surume’ on the stove-top. There are snack-carts that pass through the carriages periodically, from which you can buy all kinds of snacks, including Japanese sake and the specialty ‘surume’ (highly recommended!).
But if seafood isn’t your thing, not to worry! Grad yourself a seat next to the window and enjoy watching the wintery world go by, covered in white.
We visited in early December, but the winter service continues throughout the winter period (December 1st ~ March 31st), with the peak snow-fall occurring in late January ~ February.
We got off the train at ‘Kanagi’ station, about half-way along the Railway Line (around 25 mins from Goshogawara) to take a look around before getting the return train back. Whilst there is apparently a Tsugaru Shamisen museum where you might be able to catch a live performance, we chose to visit the ‘Shayokan’ next door, which was the family home of Osamu Dazai, a 20th century author.
We also would recommend visiting the amazing ‘Tachineputa’ museum, back in Goshogawara where we boarded the train. The Tachineputa Festival is one of Aomori’s biggest and most exciting summer festivals, where HUGE lantern floats (I’m talking 23 metres high, weighing 19 tons!) are paraded through the streets. Luckily, some of the floats are displayed in the museum all year around, so you can experience part of the festival, no matter what time of year you visit!
You can also hand-paint your own Nebuta Gold-fish lantern to take home with you!!
Aomori Prefecture is known for having the highest levels of snowfall in the whole of Japan…but don’t let that stop you! Winter is a fantastic time to visit with heaps of original winter innovations to keep you entertained whilst you marvel at the amazing natural scenery. There’s snow place like Aomori!!
Ride the Tsugaru Railway Stove Train from Tsugaru Railways Goshogawara Station, about a 1 minute walk from JR Goshogawara Station.
Be sure to buy two tickets: a regular passenger ticket + the special ‘Stove Train’ extra ticket (an old-fashioned style, think cardboard ticket which you will be able to keep as a souvenir of your journey!). We rode the train between Tsugaru Goshogawara and Kanagi Station (25 minutes): Adult ¥950, Child ¥680
Tsugaru Railways Telephone Inquiries: 0173-34-2148
Tachineputa Museum, Goshogawara
Open: 9:00~21:00 [Tachineputa Exhibition Hall/Art Gallery]; (April~September) 9:00~19:00, (October~March) 9:00~17:00: *Special Hours* August 4th ~ 8th 9:00~17:00, August 13th 9:00~19:00, December 31st 9:00~15:00
Entry: [Tachineputa Exhibition Hall] Adult ¥600; [Art Gallery] Adult ¥300; [Combined Ticket] Adult ¥800
Homepage (Japanese): http://www.tachineputa.jp/
More of JR’s ‘Special Trains’ in the Tohoku region: