At this time of the year, there are many autumn tours being offered in Japan. One undeniably awesome traditional experience you can try is riding the Watarase Valley Railway, a Japanese railway that connects Kiryu Station in Gunma and Mato Station in Tochigi. Although you can ride the train anytime, the best time is during the fall season when you can enjoy the stunning, colorful foliage along the way.
The Watarase Valley Railway, also known as Watarase Keikoku Railway, is a 44-kilometer-long sightseeing railway. It runs along Tangible Cultural Properties of Japan such as the Kamikanbai Station Building, Yoshinozawa Kakehi, and Konakagawa Bridge. It also crosses the Watarase River Valley which looks breathtaking. The ride takes about an hour and 20 minutes.
The railway runs two types of trains that travel from Gunma Prefecture to Tochigi Prefecture. However, reservations are necessary in order to ride the train as they don’t run on a daily basis. Somewhere along the line, you will be able to see many historical spots such as parks and museums. Autumn leaves look gorgeous during the fall season, while cherry blossom trees look pretty in spring.
It is said that the railway played a role in the history of the Ashio Copper Mine in Japan’s Tochigi Prefecture, a popular site of major pollution in the 1880s. Many riots among miners were also witnessed in the place. The Ashio Railway Co. opened the line in order to service the mine, and it was only in 1914 when services to passengers were opened. After the closing of the copper mine and the Ashio-Motoyama – Mato section, the line was then transferred to Watarase Keikoku Railway Company.
The train’s seasons for travel are from September to November (autumn), December to February (winter), March to May (spring), and June to August (summer). It is ideal for single travelers, couples, families with infant and/or children, and even groups.
Ticket fee for adults is 510 yen while children’s fee is 260 yen. Take note that it is important to present your ticket at the time of boarding.
If you’d like to make a reservation, you can book in person at the following stations: Aioi Station (Gunma), Omama Station (Gunma), and Tsudo Station (Tochigi). If you’re coming from Tokyo, you can head to Kiryu Station by train which takes about two hours to reach. On the contrary, Mato Station is also accessible from Central Tokyo. It takes about two and a half hours by car from Kiyotaki IC going to Nikko Utsunomiya Road, and it only takes another 20 minutes to head to the station.
There are many package tours in Japan that include the Watarase Valley Railway in its itinerary. Some of them also include beautiful neighboring places such as the Ashio Mountains and Takatsudokyo Gorge. If you have no particular package tour in mind, then it is best to make an advance reservation for the railway and hop on the train at its next travel time. Enjoy the charm of Japanese nature as you ride through the changing seasons!