Ride the Moka Line Steam Locomotive in Tochigi
The Moka line (真岡線) is an independent rail line running between Chikusei, on the edge of Ibaraki, to Motegi in Tochigi. The only line run by the Moka company, its major claim to fame is as the provider of rides on the SL Moka, a set of steam trains that attract crowds from far and wide. A visit to the SL Moka makes a great day out, whether you choose to ride the full 40km route or simply watch and photograph it as it goes past then visit the associated museum at Moka station.
Indeed, Moka station is the main section of the line when it comes to the steam trains, with a museum that features several locomotives for you to climb through and detailed information on the carriages and engines themselves. Most of the information is in Japanese, however, as the line is still clearly geared towards domestic tourism rather than international tourism. This does, of course, give the experience a special atmosphere all of its own.
The Moka line is a functioning local route, with modern trains carrying the majority of passengers, and the steam locomotives themselves generally only run on Saturdays and Sundays. There are also the occasional months when they do not run at all, so it is important to check the schedules provided at Mokarailway.com (page in Japanese).
Tickets go on sale one month in advance, and are snapped up rather quickly, so you want to make sure you plan in advance. Purchasing of tickets themselves is an easy task, provided you know or know someone with conversational Japanese, as they can be bought at any ‘JR Higashi Nihon’ station’s green window (JR東日本のみどりの窓口), or at View Plazas (びゅうプラザ) in the same stations.
It is also possible to purchase your tickets at several stations along the Moka line on the day, at the ticket windows of Shimodate station (下館駅), Moka station (真岡駅), Mashiko station (益子駅), and Motegi station (茂木駅), though lines can be rather long on busy days.
Tickets cost 500 yen for junior high school ages or above, and 250 yen for elementary age or younger, plus the fare for the number of stations travelled.
How to Get There
The easiest way to access the Moka line from Tokyo is via Oyama station to Shimodate, where the line begins. You can take a Shinkansen to Oyama and then the Mito line for just over ¥4000, taking about 95 minutes, or a cheaper route is available taking the Joban line to Toride and changing to the Joso line for just over ¥2300 taking 2 hours. Use Hyperdia.com for detailed time and fare information for your dates.