Since I'm a big travel enthusiast I searched for various places to go before I came to Akita. As a person who loves Japanese rail and appreciates natural landscapes, I decided that I should definitely ride Akita Nairiku Jukan Railway right after I found out about it and saw amazing pictures and videos taken from its trains. My dream was to see autumn landscapes, so I chose to go there in early November. However, if you visit the official website, you can see that it promises you to get spectacular views at any time of the year.
About the Line
Basically, Akita Nairiku Jukan Railway has only one line – Akita Nairiku Line, which literally means Akita Inland line, and has a nickname of Akita Bijin (Beauty) Line. The rail is paved through the mountainous area in the middle of Akita Prefecture between Kakunodate and Takanosu. Even though the train does several stops, most of those stations didn't seem to be localities, therefore, the line can be considered a touristic attraction rather than a means of transportation. From my personal observation, I can say that the line is popular among all age groups of both local people and tourists from overseas.
My ride started at Kakunodate station. It is important to note that Akita Nairiku Jukan Railway is not a part of JR (Japan Railway), so if you came to Kakunodate by one of the JR lines (as I did), then you should go out of the JR station and turn right, and then you'll see Akita Nairiku Jukan Railway station. Speaking of tickets, the price will depend on the destination (click here for the price list), which ranges from 170 yen (just for 1 stop) to 1670 yen (from the first to the last station). I would personally suggest you buy a round trip from Kakunodate to Aniai, which covers around a half of the line, but takes more than an hour for one-way and provides more then enough spectacular views. However, if you have more time and you are curious to see the rest, then of course go for the full way. By the way, since I came there on a bank holiday, I was lucky to buy a day-trip ticket which cost only 1000 yen and could be used for a round trip (excluding express trains). Such tickets can be also bought on the weekends.
Akita Nairiku Line impresses you as soon as you go to the ticket gate and see small, cute, and colorful trains–red, blue, green, they even paint sakura patterns on them.
The “interior” of the train is even better – you'll see adorable pictures of Akita dogs that are so beloved in this prefecture. Other features of the train include free wi-fi and various souvenirs offered for sale during the journey.
As I already mentioned before, the trains are quite small and seats are very limited, so I didn't get an opportunity to take a seat on my return way. However, I wasn't disappointed at all – I found it more interesting to move around to see the views and take pictures from all the sides.
During the whole journey, as the train swishes through Akita Prefecture, you can see endless forests, mountains, and rivers. In late autumn, the mountains are colored into all the shades of orange and red, and have such interesting patterns, which makes the scenery even more gorgeous. I was lucky to be there on a sunny day as the sunlight brought even more orange shades to that palette. However, I'm pretty sure that if you go there on a gloomy day, you'll get mysterious and no less impressive views.
The best and most anticipated part of the journey happened about 1 hour after the start when the train went through a huge bridge over a spectacular gorge. The driver even slowed down a bit so everyone could take their time to fully enjoy the scenery and take enough pictures. And even if you still worry that you didn't have enough time to take good pictures or to see all the details – don't worry, you'll have time to do it on the return way.
At Aniai Station
When we finally reached Aniai stop, I had around half an hour before the return trip.
Therefore, I decided to walk around for a bit to see if there is anything interesting there. Right after I came out of the station, I wandered into a tiny museum with a bunch of historical photos of the railway and a bearskin which many people were excited to take a picture with.
After that, I walked a bit further and turned left, and then had to walk up for a few minutes until I reach a field where I got really pretty views on the river, forests and the railway.
Although sitting in the train for more than an hour and just looking at the landscapes might sound pretty boring, I didn't get tired of those views at all. On the contrary, such a journey helped me to relieve stress and feel refreshed. It also made me think once again about how wonderful nature is. And even though it took some money and time to reach there and to ride Akita Nairiku Line, I didn't regret any of it. I should say that this was one of the most scenic rail journeys I ever had, and I would definitely recommend anyone to try this.
So if you are ever around Akita and get a chance to experience this journey, just sit comfortably and enjoy breathtaking scenery throughout the whole journey. And try to ride Akita Nairiku Line during different seasons – maybe you'll get an even more fascinating experience!
How to get there:
The best way to start your Akita Nairiku Line journey is from Kakunodate that can be easily reached by Akita Shinkansen or JR Tazawako Line. If you are traveling from Northern prefectures, let's say from Aomori, then you'd better start your journey from Takanosu station, which can be reached by JR Ou Line or JR Ou Line Limited Express.