Friday 29th July 2005

A day spent largely on trains. I have an embarassing secret that I am in fact a closet train geek, and I particularly love old steam trains. So when Chie suggested we go on the special SL (Steam Locomotive) service from Yamaguchi to Tsuwano, I jumped at the chance. I hadn't quite realised it was a three hour trip from Hiroshima to Yamaguchi, which meant, including the run on the steam train, we spent over nine hours on trains today! Still, I like trains, so that is OK.

See also some video clips of today's outing!

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08:19:33 We had an early start - we were on the first train of the morning before 8! Here's Chie a little way into the first leg of the journey, drinking some coffee.

08:28:15 A view out of the window as we passed Miyajima.

08:52:47 In order to pass the time, I got Chie to teach me how to make those origami swans (or cranes) that you see a lot of in Japan. Here is the result - and I have to say I'm rather proud of it.

10:35:13 This is Chie just after getting on the steam train. As we had to make a rather quick connection at Shin-Yamaguchi, we didn't really get a chance to take a picture of the outside of the train first, but not to worry, the opportunity would present itself later.

10:35:35 We were sat in the carriage right at the back. All the carriages had a different theme, mostly recording different historical periods of train travel. Can't remember which one this was - maybe the Showa era?

10:40:38 Our carriage was right at the back, which gave us easy access to this viewing platform. I'm not sure I've ever been on a train with this kind of viewing platform before, although have seen them a lot on films etc... So anyway I thought this was just great.

10:41:10 Me on the viewing platform. As I am somewhat bigger than Chie I've blocked out all the light, and all you get is this rather disappointing silhouette.

10:44:35 Again, me in silhouette.

11:03:29 Chie looking out the window.

11:13:03 We decided to take a wander through the train, having a look at each of the different carriages - as I said each one represented a different era of train travel in Japan. Although I can't remember which was which!

11:14:04 Me in a doorway.

11:15:52 Unfortunately the lighting wasn't all that great, and I didn't want to annoy our fellow passengers with the flash, so a lot of these pictures didn't come out that well.

11:16:23 This is the Orient Express style carriage.

11:18:28 Yet another style of carriage.

11:21:09 This is towards the front of the train the so called "first class" compartment - although in fact it was unreserved seating that anyone could use.

11:21:49 The front of the frontmost carriage. Couldn't really see that much of the actual engine from here, as the windows were a bit steamed up, and this bloke was absolutely fixed in place filming everything... There were a lot of people like this on this train.

11:23:18 Me enjoying the nice swivel chairs in the "first class" viewing carriage.

11:24:04 The train began to get quite misty - or was it smokey. There was an announcement about closing the windows when we went through tunnels, which I presume somebody ignored!

11:25:26 A self timer shot, which I rather like.

11:35:12 A view down the side of the train, taken by hanging dangerously out of the window!

11:36:14 Chie hanging out the window. Perhaps we weren't actually moving at this point.

11:41:28 Another view down the side of the train, whilst parked at a station. You can almost see the engine in the distance here!

11:45:05 Chie enjoying the ride! It was really nice with the window open...

11:57:01 There was a 6 minute (!) stop at one point, where we had the opportunity to get off and take pictures of the outside of the train. I have never seen Japanese people go so crazy - they were practically knocking each other over to be the first to get to the front and take their pictures.

11:57:36 It was starting to rain a bit, and thus I put on my hat.

11:58:16 There we go - you can't argue with that, a proper bona fide steam engine.

11:59:09 Me getting rather caught up in all the Japanese people's excitement.

11:59:15 I don't think I intended Chie to take this picture! See also the a video clips page for a better look at the steam engine, if you're into that sort of thing!

12:04:50 Back on the train now. It's a good job that stop was confined to six minutes, as many of our fellow passengers would probably have fainted had it gone on any longer. Here's a view from the viewing platform at the back. Also took a a video clip at this point.

12:05:21 Chie on the viewing platform.

12:11:36 I really like this picture of me - good work Chie! It again reminds me of a picture of me as a boy in a similar pose on a train. Sometimes it is very reassuring to know your childhood fascincations have not died out as you get older!

12:28:33 Taken as we were pulling into Tsuwano, a small town in Shimane prefecture, which is at the end of the steam train's run. Up on the hill there you can see the Inari Shrine - which we took a closer look at later on.

12:34:16 Getting off the train provided a few more opportunities for pictures of the actual locomotive. Look there's the driver!

12:34:43 A bit more of the locomotive.

12:35:31 My stealing somebody else's family photo!

12:36:22 There it is again, taken from the steps. Also took a video clip shortly after this.

12:42:29 So, we had a couple of hours to spend in Tsuwano. Chie popped into the tourist information centre while I studied this map. Like a number of places Tsuwano is sometimes referred to as "little Kyoto". There seems to be a simple formula for applying this moniker - basiucally wherever the place is small and has temples.

13:05:12 So we decided to walk up to inari jinja - literally "fox shrine". I think this has to be the world record holder for number of tori - these shrine gates. Here's the first one.

13:05:36 Oh, and here's an old tree, reminiscent of the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest.

13:05:58 Another tori - well that's at least two then!

13:07:18 There are about four tori in short succession here.

13:07:45 Up until now though, the tori count had just been in the amateur league. From here on they really got serious - making whole cloistered passageways out of toris.

13:08:02 ...with extra more prominent ones on the front just so you didn't forget.

13:09:53 A view along the side of the cloistered passageway which wound its way up the hill.

13:11:07 Chie and a gaggle of schoolgirls climbing up the steps. I was pleasantly surprised to find I wasn't as unfit as I thought I was - I was bounding up the side of this hill, whilst the schoolgirls, who presumably do some form of PE on a regular basis, kept on complaining about the number of steps.

13:12:55 At the top now, and whilst this is a nice shrine and everything, I think the steps leading up to it are probably more fun!

13:13:23 A view out over Tsuwano and the hills beyond, taken from the little plateau on which the inari jinja stands.

13:13:40 We decided the benches hear would be a good spot to have lunch on.

13:17:02 Me drinking some oolong tea - note - NOT beer!!!!

13:17:17 More view of lanterns, hills, etc.

13:27:25 ...and again.

13:29:23 One of the buildings in the shrine complex.

13:31:49 Presumably this is the main building of the shrine. Here people make offerings of inari - the sort of deep fried tofu casings as used in inari sushi. Chie had once explained why the name inari - meaning fox, is given to this type of tofu, but I have since forgot. It is hard to attribute characteristics of cunning to a bit of seasoned bean curd.

13:33:45 Here's an inari - fox - then, just to let you know you're in the right place.

13:35:14 This is actually in the car park of the shrine, I rather liked these banners.

13:35:39 Chie and the banners.

13:40:32 Even the toilets were exciting in the inari jinja - the fox theme carried on throughout...

13:40:43 ...these have to be the most unusual "male" and "female" signs I have ever seen!

13:41:40 Across the valley from the shine, another large tori nestles on the hillside.

13:43:51 Yet another tori, a really big one this time, marking the spiritual entrance to the, err, car park. As a weird coincidence, this was donated by the people of Egota / Ekoda - an obscure area in Tokyo we had stayed in for a week earlier in the year.

13:46:02 The map had a "ropeway" marked on, which, following a recent argument, Chie had translated as "cable car" in order to appease me. This lulled us into a false sense of security - it was in fact a ski lift! Although bizarrely there were no ski slopes round here.

13:46:25 Thankfully Chie put a stop to the idea of going on this, as she found it quite unnerving - to be honest I didn't fancy it much either!

13:54:18 We walked back through the inari jinja again, and on the way out Chie decided to wash her hands.

13:59:04 Those tori cloisters again.

13:59:45 Another view up the side of the hill.

14:00:15 It looks like I'm dancing here!

14:00:25 A rediculously fake "casual" pose.

14:04:29 Back in the town again now, which is also famous for carp - there are bloody hundreds of them.

14:04:38 Here's some more fish for you - enjoy!

14:11:56 The famous tonomachi dori in Tsuwano. Chie pointed out I had got a sign saying "public toilets" in shot, which rather spoiled the ambience.

14:14:07 Some more fish for you here.

14:14:19 Me on tonomachi dori.

14:14:25 Me looking slightly mean on tonomachi dori.

14:31:20 Some way along tonomachi dori we found a sake shop - which as you can imagine pleased me no end. After trying a few different ones we went for, err, the one in the blue bottle.

14:31:27 Me and the sake again.

14:55:21 Back at Tsuwano station, one of these cut-out things. My big fat gaijin face barely fit in the hole. Naturally I had to go in the wrong one...

14:55:43 ...presumably with a bit of photoshopping we could get us both in shot. Not sure I can be bothered though!

14:58:41 Back on the train now, and here's Chie trying on my hat.

15:25:06 A view from the train of nice green fields, some way down the line.

16:18:22 Another quick peek out of the viewing platform at the back. This time the carriages were the other way round, so this was actually a different viewing platform to the one on the way out.

16:19:10 Chie relaxing in the first class bit.

16:19:37 Me in the first class bit.

16:19:49 A view out of the window.

16:26:17 A quick peek at the engine from the front of the frontmost carriage.

16:28:28 Chie getting in the way!

17:09:58 We decided to get out at Shin-Yamaguchi and have an early dinner and a drink to break up the journey a bit. We found this rather nice little izakaya just a short walk from the station.

17:10:12 Yes that's right I went for the LARGE beer!

17:18:44 Chie and some assorted izakaya food. Those funny little things in the middle are mochi - sticky balls made from rice flour, covered in tomato and cheese. Very nice!

19:56:48 We made a friend on the way back - Kenichi, who had also been on the steam train earlier. Despite some reservations from Chie, I found a six pack of happoshu (beer, for sake of argument) made the journey go a lot quicker!