Springtime Travels in Japan vol.1
Riding the Moomin Train in Chiba Prefecture
Covering the entirety of the Bōsō Peninsula, Chiba Prefecture is home to flower parks covered with bright yellow na no hana, valleys filled with sakura, and... Moomins? That’s right. Chiba is home to a special train that is decorated with images of Moomins, the characters from a series of books and a comic strip by Tove Jansson. This train runs on the local Isumi Railway Line. The area around the tracks is said to look Moonminvalley, which bursts into flower in the spring. Farng and Iki from the DiGJAPAN! editorial staff took a visit to show you what to look forward to and tell you all the information that you need to know to enjoy.
The journey begins: buying tickets and bento boxes at Ōhara Station.
From Tokyo Station, it takes approximately an hour and fifteen minutes via the Limited Express Wakashio on the Keiyo / Sotobō Line to reach Ōhara Station, the starting place of our adventure. It won’t be long before you spot your first Moomin once you get off the train!
Just like Moominvalley from the stories, the area in which Ōhara Station is located lies between the mountains and the sea. The climate on the Bōsō Peninsula is mild in spring, and the air is fresh and clear.
The entrance for the Moomin train is right in front of you after exiting the turnstiles for the JR Sotobō Line.
The first thing you'll need to do is buy your one-day free pass for the Moomin train. With this ticket, you’ll be able to get on and off the train as many times as you want for the whole day. You can choose from one of five ticket designs, each with an image of one of the Isumi Railway trains. The one with the na no hana flowers is said to only be sold during the spring. There’s also a ticket that combines the free pass with a stamp rally. Each of the stations on the line has a Moomin themed stamp. If you choose to participate in the rally, you'll get a special sheet on which you can stamp to keep track of which stations you've visited and to collect cute Moomins.
After some careful consideration, Farng and Iki choose to go with the stamp rally one-day free pass combo ticket.
Don't forget to stamp your sheet when you get off at a station!
One of the best parts of traveling by train in Japan is getting eki-ben, a special boxed lunch sold at train stations. There are six different types here, including the Showa Maku No Uchi Bento and the Ise Ebi Bento. You'll need to place an order for the eki-ben in advance over the phone. Be sure to specify which kind and how many you want and at what time you'll be picking up the bento.
Our staff chose the Izumi Hōsekibako Bento, which has a picture of a train on the box. This bento costs 1,300 yen.
Inside are twelve types of dishes including tempura and an omelette made with Bōsō hijiki. Everything is prepared with local ingredients. With all the different dishes prepared so elegantly, it's no wonder that this bento is named after a jewelry box (hōsekibako).
There are approximately fifteen round trips per day on the Isumi Line. There is usually one train per hour.
Ordering Your Bento
Bento are on sale at Ōhara Station Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.
Reservations are necessary to purchase a bento.
Orders for weekends must be placed by 1:00pm on Wednesday.
Orders for holidays which fall on Mondays must be placed by 1:00pm Friday.
Orders for holidays that fall on or between Tuesday thru Friday must be placed two days prior to the holiday by 1:00pm.
Telephone: 0470-82-2161 (Japanese only)
Reservation hours: 9am~5pm
So many Moomin!
From the doors to the walls, you’ll be surrounded by Moomins the moment you board the train. The landscape outside resembles the scenery in the Moomin books, making it seem like the Moomin stickers on the windows are part of a moving Moomin story.
A whole bunch of Moomins and their friends greet you as you board the train.
You can admire the beautiful scenery from the windows.
There are stickers of the Moomins on the windows, making it easy to image you were inside a Moomin picture book.
A ride on the Moomin train is particularly lovely from mid-March to mid-April when the ground along the tracks is carpeted with bright yellow na no hana flowers. If you go between late-March and early-April, you'll also be able to see Sakura in bloom at the same time.
※ Photo courtesy of the Chiba Prefectural Tourism & Local Products Association
Meet more Moomin at Kuniyoshi Station
Travel four stops down the line to Kuniyoshi Station for your first stop of the day: Valley Winds. Valley Winds is a store that sells Moomin goods of all shapes and sizes. This is a perfect opportunity to pick up some souvenirs or a Moomin or two for yourself!
Here’s the Moomin shop.
The sign at the station is a popular place for taking pictures.
The shop is nearly overflowing with Moomins. Choosing what to buy is a challenge!
Farng and Iki buy a plushie of their favorite character.
Valley Winds (located inside Kuniyoshi Station)
Open year round
Next: a park where you can see all sorts of vintage trains
Got a thing for trains? Pay a visit to Poppo No Oka Railway Park. Lined up quietly in the na no hana that fills the inside of the park are old trains from the Isumi Railway, the Marunouchi Line, and even old sleeper cars. These now retired cars enjoy second lives as the homes of galleries and restaurants. It’s a great chance to get up close and personal with many of Japan’s retro trains. Bonus: admission to the park is free!
Poppo No Oka Railway Park is located about a thirty minute walk from Kuniyoshi Station, which gives you a chance to stretch your legs. If you’d rather, you can take a taxi from the station and arrive at the park in about five minutes.
Looking at these impressive old trains from up close, you can appreciate how far Japan’s train technology has come. You can enjoy exhibitions inside the train cars.
All board! You can sit in the conductor’s seat in this train.
If you start getting hungry, head over to Cafe TKG which is located in one of the train cars. The most popular item on the menu is a type of rice bowl called tamago kake gohan, or TKG as the cafe likes to call it. Tamago kake gohan is raw egg on rice. Some people may be a little nervous to try raw egg, but it’s delicious! Furthermore, the eggs come from chickens that are raised locally by the manager of the park! These will definitely be some of the freshest eggs you’ve ever tried.
Enjoy your lunch inside the old train turned cafe.
The TKG set menu comes with tamago kake gohan, soup, and stewed iwashi sardines. 562 yen.
Save some room for dessert! Cafe TKG also has rich milk-flavored soft serve ice cream. 292 yen.
Poppo No Oka
1298 Sakuda, Isumi-shi, Chiba-ken
Hours: 10am~4pm Mon., Fri., Sat., Sun., and holidays
Explore buildings from the Edo Period on a walk through Ōtaki
After you’ve finished lunch at Poppo No Oka, travel three stops down the line from Kuniyoshi Station to Ōtaki Station. You might feel like you’ve gone back in time once you get off the train! The scenery here is exactly as it was back when the city was a thriving castle town in the Edo Period. If you’re interested in learning about the history of the area, stop by the tourist information center.
Farng and Iki discuss where to go first.
This watch tower is one of the famous symbols of the area.
Sakura blooming around a white-walled castle makes for some of the most beautiful springtime scenery in Japan. Stopping by Ōtaki Castle is highly recommended if you want to take some great pictures.
The open air hot springs at Goryaku No Yu.
Stop at Kazusa-Nakano Station for some onsen R&R
After their walk through Ōtaki, Farng and Iki take the train to Kazusa-Nakano Station, the last stop on the line. They’ve been told there’s a perfect place for enjoying the springtime scenery nearby.
Our duo arrives at the station and are eager to get to their next destination.
In addition to the Moomin train, you’ll also see the red and beige Kiha 20 1303 rolling up and down the tracks.
If you have some time to spend in Chiba in the evening, then enjoy a soothing dip in Goryaku No Yu Onsen before heading home. Here you can gaze at sakura in the spring and colorful foliage in the autumn as you soak in a natural open-air hot spring. It’s the perfect ending to a day spent traveling by train.
Goraku No Yu
Address: 176 Awamata, Ōtaki-machi, Isumi-gun, Chiba-ken
Hours: 10am~8pm (Last entry 7pm) ※ Winter Season Hours (Early-January ~ mid-March)
Weekdays ~7:00pm (Last entry 6:00pm)
Adults: 1,050 yen
Elementary school students: 650 yen
Children ages three and older: 500 yen
Take the Kominato Bus bound for Awayama from Kazusa-Nakano Station until Awamata, the last stop (approx. 20 min). The onsen is a 3 minute walk from the bus stop.
※ There are only five buses per day on Monday thru Saturday, and one bus per day on Sundays and holidays. Please be sure to plan your travel schedule accordingly.
Map of areas visited in this trip
Access from Tokyo to Isumi Railway Ōhara Station
※ The number of trains running between Tokyo and Ohara is limited, so please be sure to verify the time of your departing train from Chiba in advance.
The Limited Express Wakashio runs once every hour. The last train bound for Tokyo from Ohara Station departs at 8:20pm
If using the JR Sotobō Line (two trains per hour) and the Sobu Line Express (5~7 trains per hour), the last train bound for Tokyo departs at 10:02pm.
But wait! There’s still more to explore in Chiba!
Farng and Iki have enjoyed a wonderful day traveling on the Isumi Railway, but we’ve only just begun to explore all the ways to enjoy springtime in Chiba. In volume two of Springtime Travels in Japan, we’ll introduce one of the best places in Chiba to pick one of Japan’s most beloved fruits: strawberries!
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THIS ARTICLE IS BASED ON INFORMATION FROM 03 22,2016
Author：DiGJAPAN! Editorial Team