The Aizu Railway—a joint public-private venture funded by Fukushima Prefecture, seventeen local municipalities in the Aizu region, and various corporate bodies and individuals—operates the 57.4-kilometer route between Nishi-Wakamatsu Station and Aizu-Kogen-Ozeguchi Station in Fukushima Prefecture. Thanks to a track-sharing arrangement with the Yagan Railway and Tobu Railway, you can also travel between Aizu and two famous sightseeing spots—Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture and Asakusa in Tokyo—without switching trains. Rising by five hundred meters during the run between Nishi-Wakamatsu and Aizu-Kogen-Ozeguchi, the ride delights passengers with stunning views that change with the seasons as the train traverses urban areas, countryside and mountains.
One notable characteristic of the Aizu Railway is the unusual nature of many of its stations. For example, the stationmaster at Ashinomaki-Onsen Station happens to be a cat called Love, whose duties include greeting arriving trains from a bench on the platform and making rounds outside the station. Love and his colleague Peach (the facility manager cat) have many fans.
Yunokami-Onsen Station is a rare example of a station with a traditional thatched roof. The station’s refined appearance makes it a worthy spot to begin a visit to historic Ouchi-juku, a former lodging town with rows of pretty thatched roof residences. There are many more sites worth a visit, such as nearby To-no-Hetsuri, a cliff formed through a process of erosion and weathering over a million years and dotted with oddly-shaped rocks.
To enjoy the Aizu Railway’s charms to the fullest, however, you should book a ride on the Oza Toro View train. Oza Toro is a combination of two Japanese words, ozashiki (a tatami room for entertaining guests) and torokko, or cargo train. This special two-car train has a car with observation and ozashiki seats, and another with torokko seats. The observation seats are higher up than usual train seats and recline, so you can appreciate the scenery in a totally relaxed state of body and mind. The ozashiki tatami seats have a recessed floor under a table, which in winter are turned into kotatsu—traditional heated tables with a cover on top and a heater underneath to keep you toasty warm and cozy.
The torokko carriage is open-air from spring to fall, allowing you to experience the full glory of Aizu’s clear air and beautiful nature up close. You can choose from these three seat types when booking.
As a tourist train, the Oza Toro View makes short stops to show off the views en route (except in winter, when it merely slows down). There are three iron bridges, two between Ashinomaki-Onsen-Minami Station and Yunokami-Onsen Station and another one between Yunokami-Onsen and To-no-Hetsuri Station. From the bridges you’ll have magnificent views of Wakasato Lake, Fukasawa Valley and the Aga River.
The “Tunnel Theater” is another fun and unusual service. Inside the three tunnels between Ashinomaki-Onsen Station and Yunokami-Onsen Station, a projector attached to the train displays animations on the tunnel walls, ensuring that small children can enjoy the ride without being scared of the darkness and rumbling sounds.
“We’re always thinking of new ways to entertain our passengers,” says Koji Watanabe, sales section manager of Aizu Railway’s General Affairs and Planning Department. “While the Aizu Railway offers easy access to and from Tokyo, the number of people living along the line was declining, so we introduced the tourist train to boost the number of passengers and introduce them to the region’s charms. We’re thrilled that it has become so popular.
“We also have tourist trains for different seasons such as the Tipsy Train, with all-you-can-drink sake service in winter, and the Beer Train, with all-you-can-drink beer in summer,” Watanabe adds. “The flower-viewing Ohanami Train in spring is also popular. We would love to have many people travel with us.”
The Aizu Railway clearly operates with a spirit of fun and hospitality as it connects the city, nature and history of Aizu.