April 12, 2010
by Yukari Maruoka; Miku Nogami
Have you ever been to Arashiyama? Arashiyama is one of the most famous sightseeing places in western Kyoto. One of the highlights for visitors to the Arashiyama/Sagano area is the torokko train. Torokko is a Japanese word derived from the English word “truck,” and it is a mining car that was originally used to haul earth, sand, and ore. Although designed to carry ore, torokko trains have recently been used as sightseeing trains.
The Sagano Scenic Railway (Sagano Kankō Tetsudō) is located in the Arashiyama/Sagano area of western Kyoto. Sagano is an historical area with much beautiful natural scenery.
The Sagano Scenic Railway runs along the Hozu River from Arashiyama to Kameoka and serves four stations – Torokko Saga, Torokko Arashiyama, Torokko Hozukyō, and Torokko Kameoka.
The distance is 7.3 kilometers, and the trip takes about 25 minutes at a speed of 25 kilometers per hour. Passengers can enjoy the beautiful views because of the train’s slow speed. Also the torokko train has no glass over its windows, so you can feel close to nature.
Tourists love riding the torokko train because they can touch the four seasons. Cherry blossoms bloom along the line in spring, and cool breezes from the river can be felt in summer; passengers can enjoy the changing leaves in fall, and can enjoy the snow in winter.
At Sagano station there’s a small museum of 19th century artifacts, including four trains from that century, a grand piano, and an Arlen organ called “Quantum.” There are various other amusements at the station as well.
All seats are reserved, and the price of tickets is 600 yen for adults and 300 yen for children. During the popular seasons you should buy tickets in the morning because they often sell out before afternoon. Sagano Scenic Railway usually runs nine trains a day, and extra trains are added during the busiest seasons.
The line was originally a part of the main line of Kyoto Railway when it opened in 1899, and it connected Kyoto city to the northern part of Kyoto Prefecture. The company originally built the tracks through the gorge.
But the Japanese National Railways built a new, straighter, electrified double-tracked route between Saga and Umahori, which opened in 1989, so the old one was no longer used. But many people felt regret when the old line was abandoned, so it was revived for sightseeing and began operation in 1991. Now about 900,000 people ride it a year.
We interviewed a spokesperson for the Sagano Scenic Railway about the torokko train. Here are his answers.
Q: When do most people ride the train?
A: Our busiest season is in autumn. It’s especially busy during the holidays of November 22nd, 23rd, and 24th. People love to see the autumn leaves.
Q: What’s the average age of your passengers?
A: People of various ages ride the train, including students and people over 60.
Q: What are the best points about riding the torokko train?
A: Our passengers can feel the beauty of nature in each of the four seasons. About 20 years ago we planted cherry trees, and now they’ve grown. Passengers can ride through a tunnel of cherry blossoms in spring. In summer our passengers can enjoy the fresh green leaves along the river. In fall they can see the leaves changing, and in winter they can often see a snowy landscape. And there are many people who take pictures of the beautiful views from the train. Sometimes, depending on the conductor, the passengers and conductor will sing together while riding the train. So, everybody can enjoy riding the train.
Q: What’s your favorite season for riding the train?
A: My favorite season is summer, because I like to see the green trees during, the ride on the train. Also because summer is long in Kyoto, I can enjoy the feeling for a long time. On the other hand, the cherry blossom season is very short, usually only a week long.
We think it was a great idea that they used an abandoned train line for the Sagano Scenic Railway. Even though there are some dangerous places, such as areas prone to landslides, there still are many beautiful views we can enjoy while riding the train, so it would’ve been wasteful not to use the old line. It is one of the best sightseeing spots in Kyoto for visitors from all over the world and Japan. So, we hope it will become more popular among people who don’t know about it yet. Please have fun on the torokko train with your family and friends during all four seasons.