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Into the mountain: A quest for hot springs via Kumano’s Torokko Train

Into the mountain: A quest for hot springs via Kumano’s Torokko Train

The quiet mountain town of Kumano City (熊野市 Kumano-shi) is most famous for the Kumano Kodo (熊野古道), an ancient pilgrimage trail that leads to various shrines in Mie (三重県 Mie-ken) and Wakayama (和歌山県 Wakayama-ken) prefectures. Completing the pilgrimage is nothing short of a spiritual quest. But Kumano City actually has plenty of other sightseeing gems to offer an adventurous traveller.

 

(Image credit: Mie Prefecture)

 

When I first pulled into town, I was a little iffy about how to spend my day, but straight ahead of me was the tourist information center. I told them I was interested in the torokko train (トロッコ電車) and then just shrugged as hard as possible. They complimented my broken Japanese and hyperbolic gestures, and then comfortably conversed with me in English and offered me tons of information. Loading me up with maps, brochures about sights to see in the area, train and bus timetables, they pretty much planned my whole day around what I wanted to do! Since I had some time to see other sights than just riding the train, and the bus for it wasn’t coming for a while, they recommended going to a nearby rock formation called “Ogre’s Castle” (鬼ヶ城 Onigajō), cycling through scenic rice terraces, or even bouldering. 

 

I opted for Ogre’s Castle. How could you not with a name like that? (Image credit: Mie Prefecture)

 

(Image credit: Mie Prefecture)

 

Just across from the tourist information center was a quaint little souvenir shop and the bus stop you’ll need to get to the torokko train. I took a look inside because the ogres had me parched. I found a really interesting beverage, and you’ll see my own ad for it later. Anyway, you’ll really want to get bus info from the tourist information center because there are only so many rides out to the torokko train, and then the torokko train only has six rides per day. Then you need to make sure there’s still a bus you can take back to Kumanoshi Station (熊野市駅 Kumanoshi-eki).

 

It looks complicated, but the hardest part is planning it, and the tourism guides did all of that for me. (Image credit: Mie Prefecture)

 

(Image credit: Mie Prefecture)

 

You can always just plan to stay the night at Hotel Seiryuso (瀞流荘). As a matter of fact, the torokko train is just up the hill from there, a 2-minute walk. They’ve even got their own hot springs with scenic views of the valley. Everything there seemed spotless, and quite new. But anyway, on to the main attraction! 

 

There she is, in all her glory. (Image credit: Mie Prefecture)

 

Wait, you don’t even know what a torokko train is? More or less, it’s a motorised train of small carts that travel along old mine cart rails. I didn’t see any signs of any mining still going on around here, but the tunnels aren’t going anywhere, so they’re making the most of them.

 

There are some old-school pictures of the mining days in the torokko train station building, where you buy your tickets. They’re pretty cool. (Image credit: Mie Prefecture)

 

Rail bikes?! It says riding through the tunnels is heart-pounding. Yeah, I bet. (Image credit: Mie Prefecture)

 

The gentlemen manning the station were real characters. They asked me a lot about where I was from, what brought me out to Kumano, etc. And they joked with me a lot. That’s part of the charm of coming out to the countryside. People aren’t as terrified of talking to strangers as they are in big cities.

 

The Kitayama River Viewpoint is only 5 minutes away! If you’ve got some time to spare before your train ride, you gotta check it out. (Image credit: Mie Prefecture)

 

(Image credit: Mie Prefecture)

 

I noticed a sign for a viewpoint only five minutes away, and the trail leading up a steep mountain nearby. “Yeah, I could use some exercise, I suppose”, I thought to myself. And then I flung myself up the switchbacks in the trail until I got to the top. And what a payoff! 

 

Jabara Water! That ain’t no lime. It’s Jabara! The jabara fruit is a type of yuzu hybrid with a distinctly different taste that originated in nearby Wakayama. Pick up one of these at the souvenir shop near the tourist info center! (Image credit: Mie Prefecture)

 

It was one really long staircase all the way up, but the views were so worth it. Japan is a small country, but this was one of those places that just makes it look like the mountains go on forever.

 

(Image credit: Mie Prefecture)

 

Once the time came to take the torokko to Yu no Kuchi Hot Springs (湯ノ口温泉), everybody loaded up into the little cars. And by everybody, I mean me and two ladies. The conductor ushered us all into the first car, and we tried to converse over all the noise. Just like that, we rattled along into the mountain on the loud, rickety tracks!

 

Forward ho! Into the mines! (Image credit: Mie Prefecture)

 

Would you be surprised to hear it got dark real quick? The train was quite slow, but it went straight through the mountain, getting quite dark aside from the dim lights in the wooden cars. Kids would love this, but maybe let them sit in another car so they can scream to their hearts' content. 

 

(Image credit: Mie Prefecture)

 

Almost all of my pictures came out terrible because of the vibrations and darkness. Hopefully you’ll be able to do better. Before you know it, you’ll be at the luxurious Yu no Kuchi Hot Springs.

 

There are quaint little bungalows and cottages available for rent just between Yu no Kuchi Hot Springs and the torokko train station. This is the ultimate getaway from the stress of living in the city. (Image credit: Mie Prefecture)

 

I’ve never been a die-hard hot spring enthusiast like some folks, but resting my old bones in some warm water sounded like a great idea at this point. Everything inside was really nice. The baths were entirely stone and wood. Inside was a pretty standard bath with huge windows looking out into the outdoor baths, arranged very much like a serene, Japanese garden. Past that, you could gaze into the forest.

 

They had “standing hot springs" which were deeper, and “sleeping hot springs”. There was also another large bath outside, all with trickling streams of steamy water on beautiful, natural stone. It feels really nice, but don’t stand up too fast. Now that I was clean and relaxed, I went back out to the lobby to enjoy a cool drink.

 

It was the perfect time to enjoy a cold beer. (Image credit: Mie Prefecture)

 

I took the ol’ mine-cart back to Seiryuso to check out one more thing before heading out of Kumano—something not to be missed on a journey as grand and multifaceted as this.

 

Souvenirs! Next to the lobby inside Hotel Seiryuso is a gift shop that has all kinds of quirky things from the area. (Image credit: Mie Prefecture)

 

I had a blast on this one day experience in Kumano City, but there was so much more to see and do that I know I’ll have to head back again in the near future. Taking an electric bike through the mountainside rice terraces sounded particularly amazing.

 

To get to Kumano City by car takes around 2.5 hours from Nagoya, and three from Osaka. From Nagoya by express train takes 3 hours, or 4 hours by highway express bus. So really, your best bet is to do all kinds of great stuff in Mie Prefecture for a few days!

 

Torokko Train (トロッコ電車)
Address: 10 Yu no Kuchi, Kiwa-cho, Kumano-shi, Mie 519-5416
Nearest station: Kumanoshi Station (熊野市駅)
Access: From JR Kumanoshi Station it takes 35 minutes by car, or 50 minutes by bus, to get to Seiryuso where the torokko train is located.
Opening hours: 8:50am–5:10pm
Admission fee: (One-way): ¥280 (Adult), ¥150 (Child)
Admission fee (Round-trip): ¥550 (Adult), ¥280 (Child)
Tel: +81 597-97-1180

Kumano City Tourism Association | Yu no Kuchi Hot Springs

 

Header image credit: Mie Prefecture

 

Writer’s profile:

Chad Martin’s otaku side brought him to Nagoya, Japan in 2012, but he stayed for the food, countryside towns, and gorgeous mountain scenery. Chad was born and raised on the east coast of the US, but he dares say he never grew up. He never shuts up about Japan.

 

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