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A trip to the end of the line – On trains

Mon 22 Jul – day 72 I had a very good night’s sleep when not even the ship’s vibrations disturbed me.  Up at 06:30hrs, toilet, hot shower and shave, then dressed.  I then spent a little while sorting out ‘stuff’ to send home by post, another lightening of the load.

As I was feeling rather dry I drank a litre of water straight down before going up on deck to watch our arrival.  It was yet another hot and sunny day, while across the bay the Sakurajima volcano was still steaming away; the jetfoil shot passed on its way to the inner islands.

We arrived in Kagoshima right on schedule and even before the passengers started to disembark the fork lift trucks were whizzing on and off unloading all the many containers onboard.  There was obviously a system of what went where, as some containers were stacked against the terminal, while others went straight on to the back of lorries which left and some were opened and the contents put on to small trucks which rushed off, so probably more fresh produce for the shelves and fish by the smell.

The amount of coaches of all sizes was (like for like) the same as when a P&O cruise ship arrives in harbour.  It was all very well organised even though I could not understand a word of the announcements; for all I know they could be calling for me to disembark, but that was unlikely as none of the broadcasts was in English.

Groups left the ship and at the bottom of the gangway were met by a man wearing a hard hat and a high-viz jacket, with a clipboard in his hand; having checked the group’s name he escorted them to their bus pointing the way with his direction stick, his badge of office.  The dockside boss men were dressed the same, but had a whistle and definitely a Thunderer by the sounds of the blasts.

Once virtually every one had left I went back to my cabin and collected my bags, then handed in my room key and got my ticket back.  The ticket was collected at the top of the escalator as I disembarked and having carried my bags down the gangway I made my way into the terminal; this was very shabby compared to all the others that I had seen on the journey, but a new building was being constructed a little further along.  The toilets stank, which was most unusual for Japan where the levels of hygiene were normally immaculate.

The shuttle bus was waiting and I was the last to board; it made no stops on what was a pretty quick journey to the station considering that this was rush hour.  I then went directly to the Post Office to send some cards plus the package with all my unwanted bits and pieces, before getting some more cash from the ATM.

It was a short walk back to the station and having placed my suitcase and rucksack in a coin locker checked the times of the trains to Makurazaki; there was one at 10:01hrs, so not long to wait.

The 2 coach local train from Kagoshima-Chuo would travel along the JR Ibusuki-Makurazaki line all the way to the end at Makurazaki and I was doing this trip just so that I could take pictures of the southernmost station in the country.

The train was a bit of a rattler and very full to start with, but it emptied fairly quickly as we reached the suburbs.  At one station was a very large bike park with probably well over 500 bikes and scooters chained up.

All the local trains were one person operated, with the driver also acting as the conductor.  When you entered the train at an unmanned station you got a ticket from the machine just behind the drivers position, this had a number on it and when you exited you look at the indicator board by the drivers position and it would give the fare to be paid, you then just drop the correct amount in the collection box.  No change was given, but by the collection box was a machine that dispensed change and would take anything up to a 1000 Yen note.  The system was simple and easy to use and unless it was a flat rate journey was the same on the buses and trams where you entered by the rear doors and exit at the front.

The line initially went south to Ibusuki a well frequented onsen resort and JR Kyushu ran a special train 3 times a day in each direction.  This train exploited a local fairy story in which a character called Taro Urashima opened a treasure box from which a white mist emerged and turned his hair from black to white.  The trains name, Ibusuki-no-Tamatebako, which meant Ibusuki Treasure Box, was painted white on the seaward side and black on the landward side and as you entered the train white mist curled down from above the doors.

The train stopped at every station and halt whether anyone wanted to get on or off.  For most of the time it was just a single track with passing loops at the bigger stations.

As the train went down the western side of Kagoshima Bay there was plenty of industry to be seen including lots of ship building and repair yards, but as soon as the line turned and headed west the scenery became much more agricultural.





As all the maps I had were of a very large scale I had worked out that the southernmost station must be one of the two stations indicated, but what I did not know was whether there were any smaller halts between these two stations.  However when we arrived at Nishi-Ōyama there was a sign that indicated the stations at the extremities of the JR system, plus the latitude or longitude of each location and we were currently at 34° 11” north.  I noted that the most westerly station was north of Nagasaki so would go there on Thursday, while the most northern and eastern were in Hokkaido where I will be going later on my trip.

The train remained in the station for a few minutes as I and two Japanese rail enthusiasts took various photos and I presume that this a normal occurrence as the driver waited until everyone had finished before we set off again.

We carried on to the end of the line at Makurazaki where the station was just a well kept small unmanned building.  When we arrived a lady was stood on the platform counting the number of passengers that alighted; she bowed and then handed me a leaflet in English that detailed a walking tour around the town.  Not that I was able to do it as I would only be here for 29 minutes before catching the same train back again.

A small statute of two ladies and a young girl was in the station grounds and nearby was a sign that gave the distance between here and the station furthest away, Wakkanai in Hokkaido which I was scheduled to visit in a couple of weeks time.

At the entrance to the station were two maps, one showing the location of the town and other the town itself; it was easy to see that this was not a particularly big place.  During my short walk around the town it was easy to see the covers over the fire hydrants.




It was just off shore from Makurazaki that the Imperial Japanese Navy suffered one of its last major defeats in WW2 when a strike force of ten Japanese surface vessels, led by the super battleship Yamato, on the way to support the defenders of Okinawa were spotted by US submarines.  Intercepted and attacked by more than 300 US carrier-borne aircraft, the one-sided battle resulted in the sinking of the world’s largest battleship and five other warships on 7 April 1945.  In all some 3700 sailors were lost at the relatively low cost of just 10 US aircraft and 12 airmen.

Back at the station the lady was there again counting the number of people boarding the train and these included children going home from school and a lady in a kimono.  This line probably lost money, but was the archetypal local train and main means of transport for lots of people travelling across a sparsely populated area.  Very few people used it for anything that a short trip and most of the passengers and all the schoolchildren had passes which they would show to the driver as they left the train.

It was now a 2 hour 42 minute trip back the way we had come earlier in the day and we passed a geo-thermal plant on the way; it was a pleasant ride just sitting watching the world go by and just myself and the two Japanese rail enthusiasts made the whole journey.

Back at Kagoshima-Chou station I collected my luggage and went into the ticket office and reserved a seat on the next train to Kumamoto that I could travel on using my JR Railpass, as this does not allow people to use the fastest Shinkansen.  There was a poster outside the ticket office advertising the train and it had the volcano in the background.

The train was one of the semi-fast Shinkansen going to Shin-Ōsaka which was the furthest stop on the line for the JR Kyushu trains.  As Kagoshima-Chou station is at the end of the Shinkansen line, the train was already at the platform and I boarded as soon as the doors opened, 10 minutes before departure.  The seating in Ordinary (2nd) class was better than 1st class on many UK trains.

The Shinkansen line north from Kagoshima-Chou was the latest addition to the network and it was 171km from here to Kumamoto, but well over half of that was either in tunnels, cuttings or behind noise walls.  When this line was opened the old route became the privately operated Hisatsu Orange Railway and if I ever had to travel between these two cities in the future I would pay for the journey (JR Passes are not valid for private railways) as the track runs up the coast so the views would be much better than from the Shinkansen.

I had an ice-cream during the journey – lovely.

As I planned to follow the suggestion from Inside Japan and go to Mount Aso tomorrow I went into the ticket office and reserved seats for the outbound and return trains.

My hotel for the next few nights was some distance from the station and so I showed my booklet to the dispatcher at the taxi rank who rattled off the name of the hotel to the driver and I was soon on my way.  It was a short trip towards the centre of the city where I would be staying in the Toyoko Inn chain again.  My room was identical to the one that I had occupied in Hiroshima, so economies of scale I suppose.  The first thing I did was to switch on the air-con and then sort out my belonging; dirty laundry into a bag by the door.  I tried to update the blog, but my computer had gone dead as there was not enough power in the Japanese system, so a full overnight charge was required.

After a shower I went out for to get something to eat and ended up having a larger burger with a side order of onion rings with a beer – great.  On my way back to the hotel I went into a convenience store and bought a large bottle of coke and a small tub of the delicious ice-cream as a dessert.

Having reset the air-con sleep came quickly.