The sightseeing train began operations in June 1989, has four cars— three of which are reserved seating only—and runs from April to early October. The trip one way takes an hour, and the train makes one or two round trips a day. Sometimes slowing down to a leisurely speed of just ten kilometers an hour, the Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko lives up to its name (norokko in Japanese is a portmanteau word combining noroi, slow, and torokko, meaning an open-air rail car).
Much of this train’s appeal lies in its slow cruising speed, allowing passengers to fully take in all the scenic spots along the way. Traversing the vast Kushiro Marsh—a national park that makes up roughly six percent of all of Japan’s wetlands—the train offers sights and vistas that can only be glimpsed along this route, including the chance to see far northern wildlife such as Ezo red foxes, red-crowned cranes and Ezo deer.
The train’s retro design evokes a nostalgic feeling, and the second car has a refreshment space where they plan to sell boxed lunches packed with Hokkaido ingredients as well as the special Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko custard pudding. The side of the reserved seating cars that looks out onto the marsh is lined with tables that seat six people. After leaving Kushiro Station and running along the highway for a bit, densely packed Japanese marsh alders come into view, signaling the start of the Kushiro Marsh.
As you listen to the conductor’s announcements, you’ll catch sight of an entrancing panorama out the windows. The train will begin to slow down just before Kushiro Shitsugen Station. The first scenic spot, Iwabokki Suimon, will be visible on the left-hand side. The sight of the sluice gate blending into the horizon that divides marshlands from blue sky is nothing short of stunning, and as the ride continues you’ll see the Kushiro River flowing down. Shortly after passing through Kushiro Shingen Station and Hosooka Station, the train will slow once again.
The second scenic spot is where the rail line and the Kushiro River come closest together. The river, with its smooth curves and calm beauty, sometimes offers glimpses of people headed downriver in canoes. The passengers on the train and the canoeists typically wave to one another, a charming and peaceful sight.
At the last stop, Toro Station, you can get off and enjoy an easy hike to the shores of Lake Toro. One popular way to enjoy the lake environs is to canoe down the Kushiro River to Hosooka Station. Another recommendation is to get off at Kushiro Shingen Station and visit the Hosooka Observatory, which offers views of the marshlands’ splendor as well as Mount Meakan and Mount Oakan of the Akan Volcanic Complex soaring up in the distance.
In winter, a JNR Class C11 steam locomotive runs along the same track (check the JR Hokkaido Railway Company website for dates and details). Experiencing Hokkaido’s winter wonderland from a retro steam locomotive in a way only possible in Kushiro sounds like yet another fun thing to do.
Read the original article from Highlighting Japan via the link below.