Among the several steam locomotives still running in Japan, Oigawa Railway ones are really special for at least two reasons! First they are the only ones available on a daily basis, all year long. And secondly, the locos are running through the vast tea fields of Shizuoka prefecture – the main production area of the country, offering a sight nowhere else to be found. This unusual landscape, quite unexpected in Japan, is one of the 100 landscapes of Heisei Era.
At first we did not really know that steam locomotives were often running in Japan. But then we crossed the rails of one in Nagatoro – the Paleo SL running on weekends only – and heard that at least three others were still used, in Okayama prefecture, in Kyushu and in northern Hokkaido.
But among these several old-fashioned railroads, Oigawa Railway is definitely the favorite of densha otaku, the Japanese train lovers. The main reason is the following: the locomotives are not only running for entertainment during the weekends and holidays, but are instead running on a daily basis. And Shizuoka’s railroad owns four different SL – the short and Japanese term for Steam Locomotives – dating back from the 1930s.
The private railway, whose rails are connecting Kanaya to Senzu, where the SL are to be found, and Senzu to Ikawa, in the mountainous heart of Shizuoka prefecture, is also using several electrical trains from the 1950s. This time journey is carrying on in the small stations where all the trains stop. These are wooden structures dating back from the beginning of Showa Era (1926-1989), or even from Taisho Era (1912-1926).
The steam locomotives itinerary runs following the banks of Oi river (which gave its name to the company, Oigawa meaning “river Oi”). From Shin-Kanaya to Senzu, the 40 kilometers journey is taking exactly 79 minutes. Beyond the blue waters of the river, the passengers are able to catch sight of the snowy summits of the Southern Alps.
And the main sight of the trip, explaining why the whole railway became one of the 100 Heisei landscapes – these places we are tracking down this year – are the many tea fields. These vast areas of perfectly maintained green tea bushes, with SL running through, became a famous landscape of Shizuoka prefecture.
At least two SL are running daily, from Shin-Kanaya to Senzu in the morning, at 10:38 and 11:53, and from Senzu to Shin-Kanaya in the afternoon, at 14:19 and 14:53. Additional trains are running during heavy affluence days. Be sure to check the details on Oigawa Railway official website, in English.
How to get there?
The first thing to do before coming to Shin-Kanaya is to check the SL schedules, on the official website, and if available to book a ticket in advance (between 125 and 2 days before the departure).
Steam locomotives are running from Shin-Kanaya, in Shimada city, but Oigawa Railway’s network is available from Kanaya station, where the connection with JR is available. Trains are then running from Kanaya to Shin-Kanaya, in time for the connection with the SL departures and arrivals. The whole journey from Kanaya to Senzu is a 1810 yen one with an ordinary train, and riding the old-fashioned one will cost an additional 800 yen.
Kanaya station itself is on the JR Tokkaido line. Getting there from Tokyo is convenient using the shinkansen to Shizuoka or Kakegawa and then catch the local line. About 6700 yen.