Asia

Road Trip On Yamagata Tetsudo Flower-Nagai Line – Part 1


Join us on a winter journey of enquiry and discovery on the Echizen Railway in Fukui Prefecture. It was established in 2003 and the locals have nicknamed it “Echitetsu”. The railway has two lines connecting the northern parts of Fukui and we will be travelling on the Mikuni Awara Line. It starts from Fukui and heads northwards towards the Sea of Japan. This local line has 23 stations, spanning a total distance of 25.2km. The scenic route is surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

Our two-day trip begins from Fukui Station. The single-car train leaves at 9.10am and we first head to Nishibetsuin Station. We enjoy the beautiful snowy scenery outside and arrive at Nishibetsuin Station at 9.15am. We speak to a taxi driver here who tells us we must visit Nishibetsuin, the biggest temple in Fukui. Fukui has the third-largest number of temples after Kyoto and Nara. The official name of Nishibetsuin is Honganji Temple Fukui Betsuin. The temple is a branch of Nishi Honganji, the head temple of the Honganji sect of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. The temple was established in 1475 and it later became the centre of Jodo Shinshu in Echizen. The station is also named after the temple. 

We next take the train departing at 10.15am from Nishibetsuin and go to Nittazuka Station, five stops away. We reach after 10 minutes and drop by a store in front of the station which specialises in taiyaki. It is popular for its thin and crispy crust. We order one with a sweet potato paste filling and another with chestnut bean paste inside. The store staff tells us about Fureai Park, which is illuminated during winter. It is less than five minutes away by foot. A variety of seasonal events are held at the Nittazuka Fureai Park, making it a place where the locals meet and mingle. 

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After visiting the park, we head by the 11.25am train to Taromaru, three stops away. The landscape changes after the train leaves the station. The train crosses Kuzuryu River and heads to the countryside. We are thrilled by the sight of the beautiful winter landscape and mountains. The train pulls into Taromaru Station at 11.30am. A resident we speak to recommends we visit Heartpia Harue and Angel Land Fukui. The latter is a popular spot among kids for field trips.

We walk for about 15 minutes to Heartpia Harue, but it is closed. The huge facility, with a library attached, is a cultural hall in Harue Town, Sakai. The multi-purpose hall with 764 seats is used for concerts and lectures. We then go to Angel Land Fukui, a large prefectural children’s centre which opened in 1999. It is a popular attraction where visitors can learn about space, science and history in a fun way. We ask some children visiting the centre about recommended activities here. They mention the Moon Walker for adults and the Space and Science Mystery Zone, which has a zero gravity activity and a popular ride called Spaceship, where one can experience space travel.

It is already 2pm by now and we are hungry. We are told about a restaurant called Keyaki which serves set meals. However, it is rather far away. So we decide to go to another restaurant nearby which is recommended by another resident. This popular eatery is a branch of famous restaurant Yoroppaken which is known for its original signature dish, sauced pork cutlet bowl. The dish comes with three slices of cutlets dipped in Worcestershire sauce. We ask the restaurant staff for directions to the train station. We are advised to walk Nishi-Harue Station instead, which is closer to the restaurant than Taromaru Station. 

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After reaching Nishi-Harue Station, we take the 3.35pm train to Nishi-Nagata Station. The train passes Fukui Plain and continues to head north to a rural area surrounded by fields. It arrives at Nishi-Nagata after less than five minutes. We go to a hair salon near the station to enquire about accommodation. The owner suggests we stay at either Grandia Housen or Matsuya Sensen at Awara Onsen, adding that Matsuya has good crab dishes.

So we take the 4.05pm train to Awara-Yunomachi Station and reach after 15 minutes. We first go to a place with footbaths. They are believed to be effective for bruises, muscle aches and joint pain. There are three baths with different temperatures. We try Enman no Yu, which has interesting stones at the bottom. The green stones are from Mount Asuwa in Fukui. The white Shakudani stones, which are normally used for garden pavements, turn green when they get wet. Also known as Echizen Aoishi, they are rare stones that are unique to Fukui. After the footbath, we make our way to the recommended Matsuya Sensen inn. 

Tips:

1)    A must-try item of Fukui Prefecture is crab
2)    Two attractions near Taromaru Station are Heartpia Harue and Angel Land Fukui 
 



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