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Writer:Yuichi Kitamura

Hi, I’m Yuichi.
I was raised in Yokohama and now living in Tokyo.
I like traveling by train and have ridden many kinds of trains in Japan.
I would like to introduce the attraction of railway travelling in Japan based on my experience.

The Gono Train line and Resort Shirakami

January 8, 2016

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A view from the Resort Shirakami

Outline

The Gono train line is a 147 kilometer train track that runs along the coast between Higashinoshiro station of Akita prefecture and Kawabe station of Aomori prefecture. It is operated by the East Japan Railway Company (JR East). Looking at the numbers it is just another regular local line, but it is actually receiving a lot of attention and is consistently ranked high in the "top local train lines" category.
The reason is because of the spectacular views that roll by as the train slowly travels down the coastline.
In this article, I would like to introduce the Gono Train line and some recommended places along the line.

The “Resort Shirakami” Sightseeing Train

The rapid "Resort Shirakami” is available for people who want to enjoy the Gono Line to the fullest. Though the local train the locals use is recommendable, my suggestion is to board the Resort Shirakami.

The Resort Shirakami runs between Akita (the terminal of the Akita Shinkansen line) and Aomori in about five hours (the train sometimes runs between Akita and Hirosaki). It makes 2 or 3 round trips almost everyday and is easy to use. There are 3 kinds of vehicles used; Aoike (a blue train named after the sea and lakes along the line), Kumagera (an orange train drawing inspiration from the black woodpecker and sunset views) and Buna (a green train inspired by the Shirakami Mountains). Aoike is a relatively new addition, manufactured in 2010.


Aoike (latest electric diesel vehicle)


Buna and Kumagera

The Amazing Scenery

When you ride the Resort Shirakami from Akita (bound for Aomori), the train enters the Gono line from Higashinoshiro station and heads towards the sea. You can catch the Shirakami Mountains, a World Heritage Site, on the right hand side of the train! When you're near Akita-Shirakami station (about 1 hour and a half from Akita station) you will at last be able catch your first amazing view of the sea!
When the train passes through a steep rocky section, you won't be able to take your eyes away the train window! Even better, when the train is in a scenic area it runs at reduced speeds so that you can enjoy the scenery! There are some sections where the train passes by a sandy beach and you can enjoy the feeling of the train running alongside the sea.


A view from the train window between Fukaura station and Senjojiki station


The trains run through a steep section along the sea

Some Resort Shirakami trains stop for 15 minutes at Senjojiki station, and although it is a short time, you can exit the train and take a stroll along the shore!


When I you arrive at Senjojiki station, the sea will be just in front of you

Furthermore, in some trains a Tsugaru shamisen* musical performance is performed when the train runs between Ajigasawa station and Goshogawara station. It is a delightful experience to see the wonderful views from the train window while listening to the tunes of Tsugaru shamisen. You'll be able to hear the performance from anywhere on the train because it is broadcasted through the train. If you want to see the actual live music, simply move to the train car where the performance is being held!
* Shamisen is a long three stringed Japanese guitar played with a plectrum.
* Tsugaru is a western region of Aomori prefecture.

You may be able to see Mt. Iwaki on your right if you are lucky. The long time local favorite is also known as "Tsugaru Fuji" because of its resemblance to Mt. Fuji.


Mt. Iwaki (Tsugaru Fuji)


Tsugaru shamisen musical performance

The interior of the Resort Shirakami

The Resort Shirakami has large windows and wide seats so that you're able to enjoy a superb view from any seat.
In addition, the train has an observation seat where you can catch the views from the front or the rear, so you can enjoy the scenery from many angles.
When you travel with 3 people I recommend a compartment for 4 people.


You can see various scenery nearby from the large windows


The observation seat at the front or the rear

Sightseeing spots along the route

The Resort Shirakami runs three times (sometimes twice) a day, so you can get off at any station, see the sights, and hop on the train again a few hours later.
Juniko station is one of the most popular spots along the route. It's a great place for hiking and one of the trails leads to a mysterious lake.


There are 33 lakes and marshes of all sizes in a forest of Juniko area

The hot springs near Ajigasawa station and WeSPa Tsubakiyama station are highly recommended as well. There are great places to stay around the hot springs so if you'd like to enjoy your time leisurely, I recommend staying the night.
In addition, decorations for Neputa (Nebuta) are displayed on the platform of Goshogawara station. Neputa is a summer festival held in various areas of the Tohoku region. Participants pull large Dashi (floats) depicting Samurai and other traditional Japanese images. In Goshogawara, a large Dashi over 20 meters tall is pulled around the town and it gets very lively every August.
If you ever want to see the real Dashi of Neputa outside of the festival season, "Tachineputa No Yakata (Tachineputa Museum)” is a few minutes walk from Goshogawara station. It is a great piece of art to look at up close.


Decorations for Neputa (Nebuta) displayed on the platform of Goshogawara station


The real Dashi of Neputa of over 20 meters displayed in "Tachineputa No Yakata (Tachineputa Museum)”

Tips

You will need reservations for the Resort Shirakami. When you make the booking, please buy a reserved-seat ticket in addition to your train ticket. You can buy the tickets at any JR Ticket Office (Midori-no-madoguchi) in the major JR train stations. The reserved-seat ticket costs 520 yen (as of December, 2015).
If you have the JAPAN RAIL PASS there are no fees to pay, but you must still make a reservation in advance.
When you reserve the seat I highly recommend a seaside seat. Resort Shirakami has four-row seats and seat “A” is seaside. Don't worry if you can’t reserve a seaside seat because there are large windows onboard and you can see the wonderful scenery just fine from any other seats or observation seats.

Access

From Tokyo station to Akita station it takes roughly 4 hours via the Akita Shinkansen line “Komachi”. Board the Resort Shirakami from Akita station.
From Tokyo station to Shin-Aomori station it takes 3 to 3 and a half hours via the Tohoku Shinkansen line “Hayabusa”. Another good option is to ride Resort Shirakami from Shin-Aomori station and go to Akita.



Link

http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/routemaps/resortshirakami.html

In the Aomori and Akita area there are a lot of delicious food such as seafood, rice, fruits, and plenty more! If you're ever in the area, check out the amazing views from the Gono line, but be sure to take some time to enjoy the hot springs and the delicious local food too!

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