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The terrific world of tetsuin: Collecting stamps while exploring local railway lines

The terrific world of tetsuin: Collecting stamps while exploring local railway lines

You may have heard of eki stamps (駅スタンプ eki sutanpu)—commemorative stamps at train stations—but do you know about tetsuin (鉄印)? If you have been to shrines and temples around Japan, you might have seen goshuin (御朱印)—red stamps with beautiful calligraphy often handwritten by the monks or priests—which are like a proof of having visited the place. Goshuin are usually collected in a special book known as goshuinchо (御朱印帳 goshuinchо̄).

 

In July 2020, 40 third-sector railway companies launched the tetsuinchо (鉄印帳tetsuinchо̄), a book for collecting tetsuin, special stamps which can be collected by riding the participating railway lines and visiting designated stations. Initially, they only planned to sell 5,000 tetsuincho, but the campaign garnered a lot of support, selling out quickly with overwhelming demand. Thus, they kept reprinting more tetsuincho, and the campaign still remains.

 

 

Tetsuin arranged in a tetsuincho. (GIF credit: Carissa Loh)

 

A tetsuincho costs ¥2,200, and comes in five colours, while each tetsuin costs around ¥300 for a regular version and up to ¥800 for limited edition versions. Some railway companies offer limited edition tetsuin that coincide with anniversaries, seasons, or holidays, so die-hard collectors can keep revisiting.

 

Where to get tetsuin

Railway companies offering tetsuin. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Ready to start collecting tetsuin? So far, I have collected 21. I confess that I can sometimes spend an entire day riding trains just to get one tetsuin. Is it worth it? Yes! Tetsuin encourages riders to visit lesser-travelled railway lines and stations, and is a great way to discover a quieter side of Japan. It’s also fun to explore the different railways and ride their different trains.

 

Here are the 40 companies that are taking part in the tetsuincho campaign, listed in the order they appear in the tetsuincho:

 

South Hokkaido Railway (道南いさりび鉄道)

Tetsuin for South Hokkaido Railway. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

South Hokkaido Railway has the northernmost tetsuin, and is the only one in Hokkaido. The company took over the 38km stretch between Kikonai Station (木古内駅) and Goryōkaku Station (五稜郭駅) Hokkaido Railway Company (JR Hokkaido) after the Hokkaido Shinkansen started operations in 2016.

 

Sanriku Railway (三陸鉄道)

Sanriku Railway’s tetsuin. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

I bought my tetsuinchо from Sanriku Railway’s Miyako Station (宮古駅), so Sanriku Railway was my first-ever tetsuin. Sanriku Railway’s Rias Line is Japan’s longest third-sector railway line at 163km, and has so many amazing places to visit—like the captivating cliffs at Kitamiyazaki, beautiful beaches at Jodogahama, and sumptuous seafood at Miyako—so I really recommend spending a day or two to explore the region.

 

Iwate Galaxy Railway (IGRいわて銀河鉄道)

Iwate Galaxy Railway has many cute train designs. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

If you’re in Morioka, there’s no reason not to ride Iwate Galaxy Railway, as it also operates from Morioka Station (盛岡駅). The designated station to get the tetsuin, Aoyama Station (青山駅), is less than 10 minutes away, and almost every other train I saw had a colourful and special design. They also have a lot of cute merchandise.

 

Akita Nairiku Jukan Tetsudo Railway (秋田内陸縦貫鉄道)

Akita Nairiku Jukan Tetsudo Railway has adorable trains decorated with Akita Inu. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Although I have ridden the Akita Nairiku Line, I did not have time to get the tetsuin at Aniai Station (阿仁合駅), so you know I’ll be back again someday!

 

Yuri Kogen Railway (由利高原鉄道)

Getting Yuri Kogen Railway’s tetsuin at Yashima Station. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Offering amazing views of Mount Chokai, the Yuri Kogen Railway is also known for its obako attendants, which means “young lady” in the local Akita dialect, as well as its wooden toy themed train. The designated station to get tetsuin is Yashima Station (矢島駅), and if you’re lucky, a local icon, the OG obako Ms Matsuko, will be the one writing the tetsuin. Unfortunately, I arrived too late, but was able to get a glimpse of Ms Matsuko’s shop at Yashima Station. Yashima Station also has a cute wall filled with wooden toys of train station staff. If you have the time, you can visit the nearby Chokaisan Wooden Toy Museum.

 

Yamagata Railway (山形鉄道)

 

Abukuma Kyuko (阿武隈急行)

Abukuma Kyuko’s tetsuin and tetsuin keyholder. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

If you’re in Fukushima, there’s no reason not to get this. Abukuma Kyuko also operates from Fukushima Station (福島駅), and the designated station to get tetsuin is at Fukushima Station. It was also here that I first discovered tetsuin keyholders, which are keychains that have an image of tetsuincho on one side, and the company’s tetsuin on the other. However, do note that not all 40 railway companies have tetsuin keyholders, and they are often sold out, so if you can get them, that’s a bonus. Tetsuin keyholders are ¥550 each.

 

Aizu Railway (会津鉄道)

Yagan Tetsudo Railway (野岩鉄道)

The railway tracks of Aizu Railway and Yagan Tetsudo Railway connect at Aizukōgen-ozeguchi Station (会津高原尾瀬口駅), so you can visit both in a single trip. Although I’ve ridden Aizu Railway twice, it was before tetsuincho came out, so tetsuin is another reason to go back a third time!

 

Watarase Keikoku Railway (わたらせ渓谷鐵道)

So many tetsuin designs for Watarase Keikoku Railway. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Getting Watarase Keikoku Railway’s tetsuin was one of the most memorable experiences for me. For one, I went during autumn and rode the open-air carriage train, and the views were incredibly amazing! They also had the largest variety of tetsuin designs available, and it was so hard to choose. The last reason…I mistakenly took back their empty display tetsuincho and left my tetsuincho (with ~10 tetsuin) at the station.

 

Moka Railway (真岡鐵道) 

Kashima Rinkai Tetsudo (鹿島臨海鉄道)

Isumi Railway (いすみ鉄道)

These three, along with Watarase Keikoku Railway, are located in the Kanto Region, making them possible day trips from Tokyo.

 

Hokuetsu Express (北越急行)

Shinano Railway (しなの鉄道) 

Echigo TOKImeki Railway (えちごトキめき鉄道)

Ainokaze Toyama Railway (あいの風とやま鉄道)

Ishikawa Railway (IRいしかわ鉄道)

Tetsuin for ~. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

These five are very accessible from major JR stations: Hokuetsu Express at Tо̄kamachi Station (十日町駅), Shinano Railway at Komoro Station (小諸駅), Echigo TOKImeki Railway at Jо̄etsumyо̄kо̄ Station (上越妙高駅), Ainokaze Toyama Railway at Toyama Station (富山駅), and Ishikawa Railway at Kanazawa Station (金沢駅).

 

Noto Railway (のと鉄道)

Noto Railway’s Satoyama Satoumi train. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Located at the tip of Ishikawa Prefecture in the Noto Peninsula, Noto Railway offers beautiful views of the sea, and if you’re visiting on a weekend I highly recommend taking the Satoyama Satoumi train (のと里山里海号) with meal plans. I took the sushi plan on the outbound journey, and the dessert plan on the way back. Both were delicious!

 

Akechi Railway (明知鉄道)

Nagaragawa Railway (長良川鉄道】

Tarumi Railway (樽見鉄道)

Tenryu Hamanako Railroad (天竜浜名湖鉄道)

Aichi Loop Railway (愛知環状鉄道)

Ise Tetsudo Railway (伊勢鉄道)

These six railway lines are located in Central Japan, and are possible day trips from Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture. You can even do two or three in a day if you schedule well. I haven’t visited Nagoya in a long time, so I will definitely be riding these the next time I visit!

 

Shiragaki Kohgen Railway (信楽高原鐵道)

 

Kyoto Tango Railway (京都丹後鉄道)

Kyoto Tango Railway. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Kyoto Tango Railway’s designated station for tetsuin is Amanohashidate Station (天橋立駅), which is where you can access Amanohashidate, one of Japan’s Three Great Views. If you are visiting on a weekend or public holiday, I highly recommend taking their restaurant train, the Tango KURO-MATSU train (丹後くろまつ号). Designed by Mitooka Eiji (水戸岡 鋭治), who also designed many of Kyushu’s D&S trains, it features a beautiful wooden interior. I rode the Breakfast Course, which was more like brunch, and had a generous assortment of tasty dishes. Best of all, this train is solo traveller-friendly, allowing bookings for 1 person.

 

Hojo Railway (北条鉄道) 

 

Wakasa Railway (若桜鉄道) 

 

Chizu Express (智頭急行) 

Tetsuin for Chizu Express. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

A small surprise when I got the Chizu Express tetsuin: the staff also gave me a small card with a scenic photo of the train. Since I was staying in Okayama, I was able to take both the Chizu Express and Ibara Railway on the same day, and spend the afternoon sightseeing at Kurashiki.

 

  Ibara Railway (井原鉄道)

Ibara Railway’s tetsuin. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

There were only a few people riding this train, and to my surprise, all were riding for the tetsuin! I rode Ibara Railway during the New Year holiday, so there was a limited edition New Year version of the tetsuin, which I got after being upsold by the friendly station staff.

 

Nishikigawa Tetudou (錦川鉄道)

 

Asa Coast Railway Company (阿佐海岸鉄道)

This railway has very interesting vehicles, known as Dual Mode Vehicle (DMV), which resemble buses rather than trains. Note that it is pretty far, so you should allocate a full day if travelling from Takamatsu or Tokushima.

 

Tosa Kuroshio Railway (土佐くろしお鉄道)

Tosa Kuroshio Railway’s tetsuin at Nakamura Station. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

I was so glad I managed to squeeze this in while on a trip to Shikoku, after giving up on Asa Coast Railway Company earlier in the trip due to time constraints.

 

Heisei Chikuho Railway (平成筑豊鉄道)

Heisei Chikuho Railway’s tetsuin vending machine. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Tetsuin are usually sold at the ticket offices of designated stations, but what happens if the ticket office has limited opening hours and is closed on weekends? For Heisei Chikuho Railway, they created a vending machine, so that people coming on weekends and holidays can also get tetsuin.

 

Amagi Tetsudou (甘木鉄道)

Sunset at Amagi Station (甘木駅). (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

I managed to get Amagi Railway’s tetsuin right before the office closed, and was rewarded with a beautiful sunset as I made my way back to Fukuoka.

 

Matsuura Railway (松浦鉄道)

Matsuura Railway’s tetsuin. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Matsuura Railway is home to the westernmost railway station in Japan, Tabirahiradoguchi Station (たびら平戸口駅). It also passes by the westernmost JR station, Sasebo Station (佐世保駅), which is where I boarded.

  

Minami-aso Railway (南阿蘇鉄道)

Did you know that the author of One Piece, Oda Eiichiro (尾田 栄一郎), was born in Kumamoto? (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Located in Kumamoto Prefecture, Minami-aso Railway is known for its torokko (open-air carriage) trains. The line was badly damaged due to floods in 2020, so when I visited in November 2022, only a short section was operating. If you’re a fan of One Piece, you must visit this railway line. Takamori Station (高森駅), the designated tetsuin station, is also where you can find the Franky statue of the One Piece Kumamoto Revival Project. Since July 2023, Minami-aso Railway started operating a One Piece-themed train, the Sunny-Go Train.

 

Kumagawa Rail (くま川鉄道)

Also located in Kumamoto Prefecture, Kumagawa Rail was very heavily damaged during the 2020 floods, and it is estimated that the lines will be fully restored in FY2025. As such, Kumagawa Rail’s tetsuin was primarily sold on their online shop.

 

Hisatsu Orange Railway (肥薩おれんじ鉄道)

Hisatsu Orange Railway’s Orange Restaurant is a must-ride. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Hisatsu Orange Railway is known for its restaurant train, and if you are coming all the way to get their tetsuin, I highly recommend taking the Orange Restaurant (オレンジ食堂) train. The railway line runs along the sea, so you can enjoy fantastic views while dining on delicious dishes. I rode it twice in one week, once on the sunset dinner course, and once on the morning breakfast course. Best of all, it is solo traveller-friendly, allowing bookings for 1 person.

 

How to buy tetsuin

Tetsuin are only sold at designated stations. (Image credit: Sue Lynn)

 

There are three main rules for acquiring tetsuin:

  • You need to have a tetsuinchо
  • You need to have a ticket departing the station you’re getting the tetsuin from
  • You can only get one tetsuin of each design per tetsuinchо (Eg. If the railway company offers 10 designs, you can get 1 each of the 10 designs, but you cannot get 2 of the same design)

 

When approaching the ticket office that sells tetsuin, present your tetsuincho and ticket, and let the staff know which design(s) you wish to purchase. Note that tetsuin are only sold at 1–2 designated stations per railway company. Please check the railway company’s website for the latest information.

 

If you collect tetsuin from all 40 companies, you can become a tetsuincho master (鉄印帳マイスター tetsuinchо̄ maisutā), and even get a special certificate. As of 3 October 2023, almost 1,700 people have completed the tetsuinchо, having collected all the 40 different tetsuin from all over Japan! How many do you think you can get?

 

Header image credit: Carissa Loh

 

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