Tottori: Railway track hiking gaining popularity with extraordinary photogenic appeal

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People walk along the rail track with bamboo groves on both sides in Kurayoshi, Tottori Prefecture.

KURAYOSHI, Tottori — A trekking course set up on the site of an abandoned railway line in Kurayoshi, Tottori Prefecture, is quietly gaining popularity, as visitors can enjoy different kinds of walks along the tracks, such as via a bamboo grove or a dark tunnel.

The former Japan National Railways Kurayoshi Line ran through the city of Kurayoshi until it was discontinued in 1985. Trains on this line used to be called the “slowest in Japan” because they were once found to be slower than a marathon runner in some sections.

The former Kurayoshi Line started operation in 1912 with a 4-kilometer section from what is now Kurayoshi Station. The line was later extended to Sekigane Station in 1941, a distance of about 11 kilometers, and to Yamamori Station in 1958, a distance of about 20 kilometers, with a total of nine stations.

The line came to a dead end at Yamamori Station, where it was not connected to any other lines. There was a plan to extend the line beyond the Hiruzen Kogen highlands to Maniwa, Okayama Prefecture, but the number of users gradually decreased due to the rise of passenger cars, and the line was closed in March 1985.

The rails were ripped out quickly that night after the last train run.

“I was in tears,” recalled Kenichi Kaichi, a former JNR engineer.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A platform remains at the former Taikyuji Station in Kurayoshi.

Just like Arashiyama

Since then, most of the abandoned line has been transformed into roads and bicycle paths.

A part of the railroad track has remained between the former Sekigane Station and Yamamori Station. In 2007, the Kurayoshi Tourism Mice Association and other organizations established the “Lostline Trekking Course” to make use of this as a tourism resource.

The course includes a bamboo grove along the railroad tracks, reminiscent of the one in Arashiyama in Kyoto, and the ruins of Taikyuji Station, where the train platform still remains. On weekends, tourists head to the area to take in the scenery and take Instagrammable photos.

“I was surprised at how beautiful it was. It’s outdoors, so it’s easy to come here even during the coronavirus pandemic,” said a 31-year-old man visiting from Tottori City.

The association holds walking events several times a year, in which visitors can take a stroll while listening to a guide explain the history of the abandoned railway.

“We want people to enjoy the nostalgic atmosphere as well as the extraordinary experience of walking on the railroad tracks,” said Osamu Shiokawa, an official of the association.

You can enter the Yamamori Tunnel, which is not normally open to visitors, and walk around in the dark with a flashlight, feeling a bit like an adventurer. The event is so popular that it is always filled to capacity.

In addition to the trekking course, there are many other things to see along the abandoned railway.

The bike path between Nishi-Kurayoshi Station and Kamiogamo Station is lined with full bloomed cherry trees in spring, and Mt. Daisen and Mt. Hiruzen can be seen from the area around Sekigane Station.

The Sekigane district has been designated as a “Starry Sky Conservation Area” by the Tottori prefectural government. Also, Sekigane Hot Spring is a good place to relax after a day of exploring. Why not take a dip in the radium-rich onsen and gaze up at the stars?

To get to the abandoned site of the former Japan National Railways Kurayoshi Line, it is best to use the free parking lot, with a capacity of about 100 cars, at the Sekigane branch of the Kurayoshi city office.

It takes a few minutes on foot from the parking lot to reach the remains of Sekigane Station, and about 40 minutes to an hour to reach the ruins of Taikyuji Station and the bamboo grove.

All the trekking courses are about 5.3 kilometers.

The abandoned railway track is free to enter, but the Yamamori Tunnel is usually closed off except during events.