Thu 25 Jul – day 75 After a good night’s sleep I was up early as I had reserved seats on the Shinkansen leaving at 08:27hrs. So shower, pack, check out and take taxi to the station. If I had arrived 10 minutes sooner I could have caught an even earlier train, but not worried as it is a day to sit back, relax and watch the world go by. Having brought some sandwiches and a bottle of coke, I made my way up to the Shinkansen platform to await the arrival of the Sakura 548 heading to Osaka. Right on schedule the train pulled in and I settled in my window seat for the 89km journey which took just 37 minutes and this included two stops on the way to Shin-Tosu. The Sakura was one of the semi-fast trains that you are allowed to use with your JR Railpass.
The Shinkansen line was elevated for the majority of the journey, but the views were mainly across a built up landscape as the northern end of Kyushu is where most of the industrial sites were located.
At Shin-Tosu the station had been completed rebuilt when the Shinkansen line was constructed, but it was an easy change down the escalators to the local tracks, but then up in the lift and over to the westbound platform. The trains were very well coordinated and so I only had to wait a few minutes before the Limited Express Kamone 15 bound for Nagasaki pulled in. This was one of JR Kyushu’s newer trains, but was not very passenger friendly if you had a large suitcase as I did. There was no luggage storage area at the ends of the carriages and the train had overhead airline style bins rather than luggage racks and these were too small for either my suitcase or rucksack, so I had to stack them by the adjacent seat. Goodness knows what would have happened if the train was full. Apart from the lack of luggage space this was yet another swish train running on a fully electrified line, with excellent on-board staff and a trolley service that would put anything in the UK to shame.
The sky was overcast but the sun was trying to break through. We were travelling through a mainly flat agricultural area that was traversed by lots of drainage ditches and wide waterways, so a lot like the Fens in England. The train raced alongside the Ariake Kai (Sea) which was flat calm and there were very few boats to be seen.
JR drew up a blueprint for a Shinkansen line from Hakata to Nagasaki in 1973 and the first bit of construction happened before being halted, but since then the plans have become moribund and it was not known when or if the line would ever be finished. Although most visitors to Japan only travel by Shinkansen there was still an extensive network of original 3′ 6″ narrow-gauge lines which cover the whole of the country taking you to almost every city and town of any size.
The last few miles before you arrive in Nagasaki were all downhill and at one point we spent 5 minutes rushing through a tunnel at top speed. The original line into the city which wound its way around the mountain was still in existence and carried local commuter traffic.
As I only had a short time to catch my connection, I was off at the rush as soon as we arrived in Nagasaki, through the ticket barriers and dumped my suitcase and ruck sack in a coin locker and then back through the barrier to board the local train that was heading along the JR Omura Line to Sasebo, the most western station on the JR network.
The 2 coach local train made its way out of the city and back up the incline passing through the long tunnels again. At Isahaya the tracks turned to the north as the line made its way around Ōmura Wan, a tidal inlet on which Nagasaki airport has been built. On the way the line passes Huis Ten Bosch a Dutch theme park which was very popular with Japanese holiday makers. The idea for this bizarre attraction of windmills, canals, tulip fields and shops that sell clogs and all staffed by real Dutch people in traditional costume came when a Japanese man visited the Netherlands and decided to build a city in Japan that combined Dutch city planning with Japanese technology. A named train runs from Hakata to Huis Ten Bosch and then on to Sasebo.
At Sasebo which is the most western station (129° 44’ east) on the JR network, a JR conductor helped me to transfer to the Nishi-Kyushu Line a private line operated by the Matsuura Railway company whose largest investor was the Nagasaki Prefecture. I was heading to Tabira-Hiradoguchi which was actually the westernmost station in Japan although this was not acknowledged by JR because of its private ownership.
This was a community railway in every sense of the word and although it took the one coach local train 1 hour 21 minutes to go the 46km through the very green countryside, there were frequent stops at stations as we had to wait until the train going in the opposite direction passed and so cleared the single track ahead. Each station was maintained by the local community and had paintings by the local school children on the walls.
This line was just the sort of thing that was needed in Britain, basically a railway run for and by the local people.
At one stop a very young lad in the train going in the opposite direction saw me and with a huge grin on his face nudged his Mum and then waved like mad. I waved back and he turned and obviously said something to his mother who smiled and waved; as the trains parted there was more waving. There were lots of school children travelling home, with some going quite a distance and they all had rail passes that they showed to the driver / conductor when they left the train.
Outside of the small towns all the countryside was very green and it was obvious that it rained a lot by the number of concrete drainage channels running through the fields. We passed a cemetery where the ashes of the deceased were under small stone columns.
There was just enough time at the station for a trip to the toilet and take a photo of the buoy in the stations main hall. It was then on to the local train and head back to Nagasaki. As it was the evening rush hour the train got quite crowded as it made its way around the bay and then amazingly an attractive lady in her mid 20’s came and sat by me – so may be Gajins are not all monsters. When she stood up to depart she smiled and gave me a short bow; the seat was immediately filled by an old lady who promptly fell asleep.
Back at Nagasaki station I retrieved my luggage after what had been an interesting day onboard six different trains.