The Stove Train that runs slowly through the Tsugaru Plain covered in powder snow. If you lightly rub the frost on the window with your hand, the freezing cold outside will feel like pricking your fingertips through the glass. With the piping hot dried squid in your hand, the view of the pure white snowy field outside seems no longer cold.
The "Stove Train" on the "Tsugaru Railway" in Aomori Prefecture, Tohoku region of Japan, is a narrative winter tradition that resonates in the hearts of people just like an old movie. Today, I will introduce the actual experience of riding such a train.
Aomori Prefecture "Tsugaru Railway": The northernmost private railway in Honshu
Aomori Prefecture's "Tsugaru Railway" (津軽鉄道 / Tsugaru Tetsudo) is the northernmost private railway in Japan that connects Tsugaru Goshogawara Station to Tsugaru Nakasato Station, and the one-way ride takes about 45 minutes. Of these stations, only Tsugaru Goshogawara Station, Kanagi Station, and Tsugaru Nakasato Station are manned stations.
Every winter, heavy snow falls in the Tohoku region. In the days when electricity was not widespread, charcoal was used to heat the rooms to raise the temperature, but for more than 90 years since its opening in 1930, Tsugaru Railway had already adopted winter trains equipped with stoves for heating.
Despite electrical equipment has been developed in modern times, Tsugaru Railway still keeps the traditional coal stove and runs a Stove Train only in winter from December to March of the following year. Even those of us who live in a convenient modern age can experience a nostalgic Stove Train, and it has become a special sightseeing experience in the Tohoku region.
In addition to the Stove Train in winter, there are three special seasonal trains in operation: the "Furin Train" (wind chime train) in summer and the "Suzumushi Train" (bell cricket train) in autumn. You can fully enjoy the charm of Aomori while traveling around the Tsugaru Plain through these trains.
Aomori Prefecture Tsugaru Railway "Stove Train" Ride Experience
Depart from Tsugaru Goshogawara Station, the starting station of this journey!
"Tsugaru Goshogawara Station" is the starting station of Tsugaru Railway. From Aomori Station or Hirosaki Station in downtown Aomori, take the JR Gono Line or JR Ōu Main Line,. Tsugaru Goshogawara Station in just a mere 1-mere walk from JR Goshogawara Station!
The cozy Tsugaru Goshogawara Station looks like an office in an old school building. The station has a fireplace, and the walls are lined with hand-painted paintings, old photos, posters, and handwritten slogans. The retro atmosphere makes you feel as if you have slipped back in time.
Don't forget to buy the Stove Train ticket!
If you want to experience the Stove Train, don't forget to purchase both the Stove Train ticket (500 yen, top one in the photo) and the regular ticket (fees for different fare sections, bottom one in the photo)! The ticket is a traditional hard paper ticket, and the ticket is punched by the staff. This retro design also gives a special feeling!
The Tsugaru Railway runs low number of trains each day, while the stove trains are even more limited. The stove train makes a round trip between Tsugaru Goshogawara Station and Tsugaru Nakasato Station, and there are only two or three trains (*1) in operation per day. So if you want to ride the train, you are highly recommended to check the timetable on the Tsugaru Railway official website in advance.
*1: 2 trains per day on December 1st and weekdays in December (3 trains per day from December 30th to March 31st).
Let's hop on the retro train of Tsugaru Railway!
From the platform of the Tsugaru Railway and the train itself, you can feel the tranquility like in an old Japanese movie. When the train starts moving slowly, the whole car body shoke and the racks overhead made a rattling sound. In addition, the car body swayed greatly. The conductor called on everyone to remain seated and not move around to take pictures, so as not to fall and injure themselves.
The hot dried squid on the Stove Train is a must-eat!
All seats on the Stove Train are non-reserved, and the seats by the stoves are the most popular and crowded - not for warming up on the stoves - but actually for enjoying the dried squid (スルメ / surume)!
In fact, there are Tsugaru Peninsula sightseeing attendants who guide tourists in Tsugaru dialect on board. There is even a service where you can grill dried squid while the train is running. If you buy dried squid on board (it is sold for 700 yen inside the train), the attendants will help you grill the dried squid on the grilling net above the stove, tear it into small pieces, and put the pieces in the passenger's plastic bag.
The seats in front of the stove are actually very hot! Even if the outside temperature drops below freezing, you will still need to take off your coat or scarf in the car.
After taking a picture, happily grab a warm dried squid and move to a seat away from the fireplace to eat. Dried squid is really chewy,. The more you chew, the better it smells, and it goes well with alcohol!
Apart from the dried squid, we also recommend the winter-only "Stove Bento" (ストーブ弁当 - 1,150 yen, requires reservation of at least 3 days in advance) available at Tsugaru Goshogawara Station. Filled with rice balls, fried shrimp, and local vegetables (contents change according to the season). Aomori specialty 100% apple juice is also on sale at the station!
Best tourist attractions along the Tsugaru Railway
The charm of the Stove Train is not limited to the retro interior and the famous dried squid. Here are some must-see tourist spots on the Tsugaru Railway line.
Tsugaru Railway "Tsugaru Goshogawara Station": Tachineputa no Yakata (Tachineputa Museum)
When you come to Aomori Prefecture, you can't help but see the traditional culture of Nebuta! A few minutes' walk from the starting station, Tsugaru Goshogawara Station, there is the "Tachineputa no Yakata" (立佞武多の館 - Tachineputa Museum) which is home to some large Tachineputa's Neputa.
The biggest highlight of the exhibition hall is the 23-metre-high Goshogawara paper doll lantern called Tachineputa. If you go down the spiral slope from the observatory on the hill, you will feel overwhelmed as if a giant is standing right in front of you. Best still, you can enjoy a realistic festival feeling without actually visiting the festival venue.
There is a production studio where you can see the Tachineputa production process for free (April to June is a free production trial period), and you can also experience making goldfish Neputa and Neputa lights, so it is a course that the whole family can enjoy together.
Tachineputa no Yakata (Tachineputa Museum)
- Address: 506-10 Omachi, Goshogawara City, Aomori Prefecture
- Opening hours: 09:00-17:00 (Open until 15:00 on December 31st)
*As of March 2023, all facilities are open until 17:00.
*6F Observation Lounge open until 14:30, 1F Café Plum open until 16:30.
*Operating hours are subject to change during the Neputa Festival.
- Closed: January 1st
- Admission fee:
- 【Tachineputa exhibition room and art exhibition gallery set admission ticket】Adults 850 yen, high school students 500 yen, elementary and junior high school students 300 yen
- Access: About 5 minutes on foot from Tsugaru Railway "Tsugaru Goshogawara Station"
Tsugaru Railway "Kanagi Station": Shayokan - Osamu Dazai Memorial Hall
Kanagi Town, where the Tsugaru Railway runs pass, is the hometown of one of Japan's leading literary writers, Osamu Dazai. The "Shayokan - Osamu Dazai Memorial Hall" (太宰治記念館「斜陽館」) near Kanagi Station is his birthplace.
Originally built in 1907 by Genemon Tsushima, the father of Osamu Dazai as well as a large landowner at the time, it is a mansion with a total area of over 2,200 square meters, including attached buildings and gardens. The mansion later became the ryokan "Shayokan" (斜陽館), attracting literary fans from all over Japan.
It was purchased and restored by Kanagi Town in 1996, and is now open to the public as a memorial hall. Valuable cultural items such as stationery and handwritten manuscripts from the time are on display. The whole museum is enveloped in a literary atmosphere.
Shayokan - Osamu Dazai Memorial Hall
- Address: 412-1 Asahiyama, Kanagicho, Goshogawara City, Aomori Prefecture
- Opening hours: 09:00-17:00
- Closed: December 29th
- Entrance fee: 600 yen for adults, 400 yen for high school and university students, 250 yen for elementary and junior high school students
- Access: About 7 minutes on foot from Tsugaru Railway "Kanagi Station"
Tsugaru Railway "Tsugaru Nakasato Station": The northernmost private railway station on Honshu
Tsugaru Railway's final station, Tsugaru Nakasato Station, is also the northernmost private railway station on Honshu in Japan. There is a light meal corner and an exhibition about the Tsugaru Railway on the premises. If you have enough time to spare, take the train to Tsugaru Nakasato Station and get off. Here, you can take a commemorative photo in front of the signboard of "Japan's northernmost private railway's northernmost station" on the platform.
Everything you see on Tsugaru Railway will be like a scene from a movie. If you have the opportunity to travel to the Tohoku region, I highly recommend taking the Aomori Tsugaru Railway Stove Train, which is only available during the winter season! Looking at the snowy landscape outside the train window, the time of your trip will pass in a blink of an eye.