The Romantic Railway as seen today started operating in 1991. The 25 minute, 7.3 kilometer route begins at Saga Torokko station, adjacent to the JR Saga-Arashiyama station and terminates at Kameoka Torokko station, 10 minutes by foot from JR Umahori station. Originally part of the Sanin Mainline from Kyoto towards the northern Kyoto prefecture, the 1067 mm track gauge railway was built around 1899.
Meandering along the Hozugawa River
In 1989 Japan Railways (JR) built a new electrified double track line bypassing the winding route along the Hozugawa River meaning that the new route plunges in and out of tunnels creating a shorter, straighter and faster, but less scenic journey.
The intermediate stations are Arashiyama Torokko and Hozkukyo Torokko. The train hugs the sides of the Hozugawa Ravine and each season brings outstanding natural beauty to the journey; from elegant wild cherry blossoms in spring to shades of red and yellow maples leaves in the autumn. Even in winter the journey is magical, with crisp frozen trees and perfect white snow, the journey can easily feel like it resembles a fairy-tale. While travelling along the route, keep a look out for the adorable Tanuki (Racoon Dog) statues, believed to bring wealth and prosperity.
The train is painted in red, yellow and black, pushed by a JR Class DE10 diesel locomotive. All carriages are converted from gondolas (freight trucks) however carriage No.5 has one difference – it is open sided offering passengers uninterrupted views of the Hazugawa River gorge.
What is the train like?
JR Class DE10 diesel locomotive
Making a day trip from Kyoto...
To make a half day trip from Kyoto, catch the JR train to Saga-Arashiyama station and walk through the Ariashiyama Bamboo Grove. The bamboo grove is a spectacular 200 metre path, leading through a dense arrangement of thick green bamboo stalks that appear to continue endlessly in every direction (including upwards). The feeling inside the grove is unlike any other. Once through the grove, at the top of the hill, the entry point to Ōkōchi Sansō villa can be found. Ōkōchi Sansō villa is a two hectare estate, once belonging to Denjiro Ōkōchi (1898-1962). The Japanese garden is well kept, with narrow paths and stepping stones taking you on a loop with uninterrupted views back towards Kyoto. Once back at the gardens’ tea house, visitors are given a free* whipped green tea in a ceramic bowl and piece of matcha chocolate (*keep hold of your entry ticket).
When you've had enough of relaxing in the tranquil gardens, head out of the estate and few meters to your left until you find Arashiyama Torokko station. From here you can catch the Romantic Train to Kameoka Torokko station, before returning to Kyoto by JR from Umahori station.
The Romantic Railway train departing Kameoka Torokko station
The locomotive emblem
How often do the trains run?
The Romantic Railway operates from March to December, every day except Wednesday (unless Wednesday is a public holiday). The journey takes 25 minutes, with hourly departures from 09:07 to 17:07 from Saga Torokko station, and hourly departures from 09:35 to 17:35 from Kameoka Torokko station.
How much does a ticket cost?
Tickets can be bought up to one month in advance for carriages 1-4 and online articles recommend buying in advance due to the popularity of the train. For journeys in carriage No.5, tickets can be exchanged on the day free of charge if space is available. Walk up tickets are also available if the train is not full. A one way adult fare is 620 JPY (5.50 US$) and the Japan Rail Pass is NOT valid on this train.
How to get to JR Saga-Arashiyama station?
From JR Kyoto Station local trains take around 15 minutes to JR Saga-Arashiyama Station and 40 minutes to JR Umahori Station. The Japan Rail Pass is valid on these services but not the Romantic Railway.
There are always more photos to be shared, but sharing them all on this journal page will just make it look cluttered so if you want to see more photos for inspiration, check out my Flickr "2016 - Japan" album.
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