Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Slow Train to Tokawa

After our local train rolled in to Choshi on time and after a brief stop at the restrooms at the JR station, we went down to the end of the platform on which we'd arrived, where stands the tiny station and single car of the Choshi Dentetsu [Electric Railway]. It seemed like a significant number of the people off of our eight-car commuter train were trying to fit into the single car of the little electric line. We bought a couple of day passes (JPY620 each) to give us the flexibility to get on and off as we chose, and squeezed aboard the little electric car.

This railroad is in chronic financial trouble. Lisa observed that if the line ran this full every day, rather than just on Sundays, they wouldn't have to worry about money. We bounced and jostled our way down the 6.4 km, ten-station, mostly single-track railway to the end of the line at Tokawa, where stood one of the most dilapidated train stations I've ever seen. Yet the station reproduced in miniature many of the things we've seen at mainline stations throughout Japan. There was a ticket gate, food service (a couple of vending machines), station information, and even coin lockers (only the little ones).

We could see the sea in the near distance, and at Lisa's suggestion, we walked down to the harbor and looked at the fishing boats and the queue of our fellow passengers at what at the time looked to be the only restaurant in the village (this was not the case, we later found). Fortunately, we were not hungry thanks to having eaten on the train down from Chiba. Having exhausted our interest in the waterfront, we walked back up the hill, passing a man patiently slicing up squid by the side of the street.

Lisa was thirsty, so the first shop we passed that had cold soda in it, she bought one. It looked like the proprietor was running a konbini out of the front room of his house. At the top of the hill, we found a grocery store, which was good because Lisa needed to buy more batteries for the cameras. Our cameras are good, but they go through batteries the way fans go through chocolate. Our timing was good, as the next inbound train to Tokawa was arriving as we got back to the station, giving Lisa a good shot at recording it. After a short layover (trains run three times an hour or so), it headed back, with us aboard.

We rode only one stop this time, to the line's main station at Inoboh, where they have their gift shop, restaurant, and other things to occupy your time. (See this link for someone else's video of one of the line's cars -- not in service the day we rode -- arriving at a much-less crowded Inoboh station.) Had we enough time, we could have gone out to the lighthouse that is one of the area's attractions; however, we did not have that time, and contented ourselves with exploring the gift shop and buying souvenirs. Our day passes included one free rice cake. Apparently sales of the rice cakes and other confections are (barely) propping up this railway line's finances. The crackers have an interesting taste, but not one Lisa cared for that much.

After exhausting our interest (and wallets) here, we caught the next train heading back toward Choshi. Due to the large numbers of people on the line today, they were now double-heading one of their trains, and we hopped aboard the trailing car, which was being towed by the car we'd came out on originally. (Actually, it's unclear whether the car was being towed or if the two were simply coupled together and being operated individually, a la steam train double-headers.)

This time, we rode to first stop out from the line's origin at Choshi, that being Nakanocho, the line's shops. We spent a few minutes exploring the line's yard and shops -- they let people wander around and take photos, giving it the air of the Oregon Electric Railway Museum to us. I wanted to buy the commemorative pin set, but they were sold out, so I settled for yet another key ring. The double-headed train came back through, and we got to see them cut out the second car and take it out of service, passenger loads having subsided sufficiently to do so.

Finally, we boarded yet another car -- we managed to ride all four cars that were in service on the line today -- for the 500 meter ride back to Choshi. Here we had roughly an hour to explore the area near Choshi station before the Limited Express Shioshi #14 was scheduled to leave for Chiba. (A couple of local trains came and went while we were around.) We walked a few blocks out and back from the station and picked up some take-out food for the return trip. Unlike the morning express out to Choshi on which we were unable to get a seat, this train seemed mostly empty, and only a handful of people were in the Green car.

The relatively luxurious limited, with transverse seats, fold-down (albeit unstable and tippy) tray tables, was a great contrast to the local commuter train on which we'd come to Choshi. Of course it doesn't run as often, and it makes fewer stops, and covers the distance back to Choshi much more quickly.

We had a great time at the Choshi Dentetsu. While it imitates mainline railways in miniature, what it really evoked to me was the classic interurban railway (except for the lack of street running), with its bumpy track, slow speeds, un-airconditioned cars, and tiny stations. It also got us out into the Japanese countryside, away from the big cities, which people have been insisting that we should do at least once on this trip. In the end, we missed some of the "big name" attractions in Japan, but have seen other things that we thought were at least as interesting, if not more so.
Tags: chiba, choshi, choshi dentetsu, japan, trains, travel

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