The train was originally created, like many other train lines throughout the world, for the purpose of moving building materials to a hard-to-reach site. Now, it's almost entirely used for transporting eager tourists who want an authentic taste of the Japanese Alps without getting eaten by authentic Japanese bears or having to hike. Today was a weekday, so the only other people who were free to take the train with me were elderly retirees.
Like the bridge shown in the picture at the top of the page, Japanese designers love pairing a bright, vivid red with natural scenery. Most commonly, you'll see this when you come across the gate to a Shinto shrine, but many bridges also follow this aesthetic pattern. It's a lovely contrast. The red pops out of the scenery, but it's all so beautifully designed that the red adds to the scenic image rather than detracts from it.
The train comes with two options. You can ride in the regular car, which is an open-air car that looks like it popped directly out of the nineteen-fifties, or you can ride in the relaxation car. The benefit of the regular car? Perfect for taking a billion and one glare-free pictures. The benefit of the relaxation car? You don't freeze your buns off. I chose the regular car, since I'm much less whiny about the cold than your average Japanese person, and today was a beautiful day anyway. I swear, with how bundled-up these people were, you'd think they were headed on an expedition to Alaska.
I was on the good side on the way back down, but the light was nowhere near as nice by that point. Plus, a whole day of tourist activity meant that my iPhone was about to die, so I had to conserve my batteries a bit. But let's not get ahead of ourselves! Before I could head back down the mountain, I had to spend some time on top of the mountain first.
The final stop on the line is a station called "Keyakidaira". It offers a lovely rooftop view of the gorge, fine, cafeteria-style dining, several vending machines, and a series of walkways that lead up into the hills.
During my outing, I was once again struck by the physical ability of all the elderly Japanese people around me. I see this in town all the time--a person who looks like they've earned the right to do nothing but sit on their butt and play poker all day will instead be tending a rice paddy or doing some other sort of hard farm labor. Today, even the people who had to walk with canes were huffing it up the mountain. And let me tell you, these mountains are steep. Much steeper than the Rockies. I was seriously impressed. So, alongside my retired companions, I ventured up one of the trails.
Since this was such a visual experience, I'd like to share some more pictures with you all. You can listen to me natter on all day about how fabulous it was, but nothing can describe it. Even the pictures can't really do it justice. If you would like to see a larger version of any picture in this post, just click on it!
The only thing that would have made it better? If everyone at home had been here to share it with me!