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Welcome back, Tadami Line! I rode the entire Tadami Line, and you should try it too

Welcome back, Tadami Line! I rode the entire Tadami Line, and you should try it too

One of Japan’s most scenic railway lines, the 135.2km-long Tadami Line (只見線 Tadami-sen) connects Aizu-Wakamatsu Station (会津若松駅 Aizu-Wakamatsu-eki) in Fukushima Prefecture (福島県 Fukushima-ken) with Koide Station (小出駅 Koide-eki) in Niigata Prefecture.

 

In July 2011, heavy rain caused floods that badly damaged the Tadami Line, destroying and sweeping away bridges, stations, and railway tracks. Train services for parts of the Tadami Line were suspended, and replaced with bus services. After years of discussions between the railway operator—East Japan Railway Company (JR East)—and the local governments, it was decided that they would work together to repair the line.

 

Reopening sign and artwork at Aizu-Wakamatsu Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Finally, after over 11 years, the entire line finally resumed operations 1 October 2022! For the first time in over 11 years, the 27km section between Aizu-Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station have been reconnected by rail! You don’t have to be a railway enthusiast to ride this line, many visitors come to support its rebuilding and reopening, to explore the nearby towns, and to enjoy the fantastic views.

 

The Tadami Line. (Image credit: Google Maps)

 

In this two-part series, we will explore the terrific Tadami Line. In Part 1, we checked out some scenic viewpoints that are easy to access, and in Part 2, I will share my experience riding the entire line in November 2022, after its reopening. Are you ready? Let’s go!

 

5:45am: Boarding the train

Train was already full at 5:45. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

On my first day in Aizu-Wakamatsu, I took the Oku-Aizu Burari Tabi Bus to explore some scenic photo spots along the line, but on my second day, I finally got to ride the train! I had heard that since its reopening, many domestic tourists were flocking to support the line and visit for themselves, but I never expected the train to be so full 20 minutes before departure. At first, I thought I was being kiasu, but it turns out that everyone else was even more kiasu. By the time I boarded at around 5:45, there were already no more seats, and I had to mentally prepare myself for standing the entire 4.5-hour ride.

 

6:08am: Departure from Aizu-Wakamatsu Station

Weather clearing up as the sun rose. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

There are only three trains per day that run the entire route from Aizu-Wakamatsu Station to Tadami Station, and the first one departed at 6:08. It was an unexpectedly foggy day, and when we departed, the view was eerily obstructed in white.

 

Fortunately, as the sun rose, so did the temperature, and the fog dissipated, giving way to beautiful views of the Tadami River. It was autumn, the colours were brilliantly contrasting with the blue sky. Despite having to stand, I had managed to snag a corner near the door, so I could look out the window and take in the passing views whenever I wanted to.

 

Something that surprised me but also made me wish I had thought of was foldable chairs. I was surprised to see seasoned local train riders who brought their own foldable chairs, which they unfolded sat by the window facing the other side. What great thinking.

 

7:04am: Aizu-Yanaizu Station

Steam locomotive train at Aizu-Yanaizu Station as seen from riding the train. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

At around 7:04, the train passed Aizu-Yanaizu Station (柳津駅 Aizu-Yanaizu-eki). Something special about Aizu-Yanaizu Station is that there is an old steam locomotive (SL) train, C11 244, exhibited by the station, which I got a glimpse of as the train entered the station. Unfortunately, the train did not stop here for very long, and we couldn’t hop off to get a better photo.

 

If you have time, I suggest getting off at Aizu-Yanaizu Station to explore the area, then taking the next train to continue along the Tadami Line. Around Aizu-Yanaizu Station, you can take a ride on a very unique sightseeing boat modelled after the SL train. The 40-minute, 4km-long boat ride passes by the town’s iconic Zuikoji Bridge, and you can enjoy a view of the Tadami River that’s different from what you’d see from riding the train.

 

View of the Tadami River from Enzoji Temple. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Another place to visit is Enzoji Temple (圓蔵寺 Enzо̄ji), a hillside temple with a rich history said to be built over 1,200 years ago. If you visit the Aizu region, you might have seen motifs of bright red cows known as akabeko (赤べこ). Did you know that Enzoji is believed to be the birthplace of akabeko? Legend has it that at the time of the temple’s building, difficulties were encountered in transporting materials, but then a red cow appeared and provided help. Since then, akabeko has become a symbol for protection, good luck, and for warding off evil. Enzoji Temple is 10-minute walk from Aizu-Yanaizu Station.

 

7:29am: Aizu-Miyashita Station

Aizu-Miyashita Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

One of the longer stops that the train made was at Aizu-Miyashita Station (会津宮下駅 Aizu-Miyashita-eki), where it stopped for about 10 minutes to wait for a passing train. The Tadami Line is mostly a single track, so trains need to wait at stations for each other to pass, in order not to collide while on the track. Since there was time, I hopped off the train to stretch my legs and get the station stamp

 

Stamp Rally in Fukushima. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of railway, some stations in Fukushima recently got their station stamps renewed, and there was an ongoing stamp rally (つなぐふくしまスタンプラリー) whereby if you collected three stamps out of the 10 designated stations, you could get a pin badge set. I had already gotten the ones for Kо̄riyama and Aizu-Wakamatsu the day before, so this was my third. I showed my sheet to the station staff, and was rewarded with a cute pin badge set!

 

View of a train crossing the No.1 Tadami River Bridge, from the No.1 Tadami River Bridge Viewpoint D. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Aizu-Miyashita Station is also where you would get off if you were visiting the No.1 Tadami River Bridge Viewpoint by public transport. From Aizu-Miyashita Station, there is a community bus departing at 8:10 that goes to the roadside station Michi-no-eki Mishimajuku, which is where the viewpoint can be reached from. My first ever ride on the Tadami Line in February 2020 was to this station, where I took that very bus to the viewpoint.

 

8:15am Aizu-Kawaguchi Station

Aizu-Kawaguchi Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

The next longer stop that the train made was at Aizu-Kawaguchi Station (会津川口駅 Aizu-Kawaguchi-eki), where it would wait for another passing train. The tracks here run right beside the Tadami River, so you can get a wonderful view of the trains together with the river and the autumn colours.

 

Before the Tadami Line’s reopening, Aizu-Kawaguchi Station was where the train services ended and the replacement bus services ran from. Most of the bridges that were badly damagaed in the 2011 floods were in the section beyond Aizu-Kawaguchi Station.

 

Aizu-Kawaguchi Station is where you would get off to walk to the Kaneyama Fureai Hiroba viewpoint, which I mentioned in Part 1. It is also around the half-way point of the Tadami Line. While there are only three trains per day that run between Aizu-Wakamatsu and Koide, there are six trains per day that run between Aizu-Wakamatsu and Aizu-Kawaguchi.

 

Signs of congratulations. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

After departing Aizu-Kawaguchi Station, passengers got to experience something that hadn’t been experienced in over a decade—riding the train between Aizu-Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station (只見駅 Tadami-eki). Along the way, I saw countless signs with heart-warming messages of congratulations and gratitude, placed by the local communities. Many people also waved at the train as it passed by, be it people standing by their homes or fields, or people in cars waiting at the crossing.

 

The Tadami Line is a very local line in the countryside, so you will not see tall buildings or wide roads. Instead, you will be charmed with the enchanting natural scenery, quaint homes, and warm community.

 

9:07am: Tadami Station

Long stop at Tadami Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

The final long stop was at Tadami Station at 9:07, a station that shares a name with the line itself. The train would stop here for about 30 minutes, so all passengers were encouraged to get off and have a look. By this time, the skies had turned blue, and the weather was beautiful. The autumn colours were also in time, providing a dazzling background of orange.

 

Tadami Line souvenirs. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Near the station was the tourist information centre and a shop which sold special Tadami Line souvenirs. One of the more unique items included rice in a packet shaped like a Tadami Line train. Tadami Station is the last station before entering the Niigata side of the line, and Niigata is famous for its rice, especially the Uonuma area where the Tadami Line runs. Other items included masking tape, limited edition T-shirt, and more. Being the masking tape addict that I am, I couldn’t help but get all the varieties…

 

View from the train somewhere between Tadami Station and О̄shirakawa Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

After Tadami Station, the train will cross the Fukushima-Niigata border before arriving at О̄shirakawa Station. Spanning over 20km, this section is also the longest distance between two stations along the Tadami Line. In fact, it is one of the longest distances between stations for local lines. The train ride from Tadami Station to О̄shirakawa Station took a whopping 29 minutes, and it was just one station! Along the way, there were also many opportunities to catch autumn colours from the window.

 

9:58am: О̄shirakawa Station

Autumn colours around О̄shirakawa Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

At around 9:58, the train reached О̄shirakawa Station, the first station on the Niigata side of the Tadami Line. Around this area, the autumn colours were vivid and gorgeous, especially with the red car tunnel in the distance.

 

Vast rice fields on the Niigata side of the Tadami Line. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

О̄shirakawa Station is located in Uonuma City (魚沼市 Uonuma-shi), a place famous for its delicious rice, especially koshihikari (コシヒカリ). As the train travelled along the line deeper into the Niigata side, the scenery changed from that of autumn colours to that of vast rice fields.

 

10:41am: Arrival at Koide Station

Koide Station at last. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Finally, at 10:41, after over 4.5hours of standing, the train pulled up into Koide Station, the Niigata terminus of the Tadami Line. There are 36 stations on the Tadami Line, but the ride honestly didn’t really feel that long due to the multiple stops and the amazing views. I was lucky to be by the window, and was able to snap away at the stunning scenery outside.

 

If you’re travelling with heavy luggage, take note that there are no escalators or elevators at Koide Station (and Aizu-Wakamatsu Station for the platform I departed from), so do allow for extra time between transfers to lug the luggage up and down the stairs.

 

Closing

Welcome back, Tadami Line. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

After 11 long years, the entire Tadami Line is finally reconnected. In Japanese, the words for reopening (再開 saikai) and reunion (再会 saikai) have the same pronunciation. Indeed, the reopening of the line will lead to reunions. It was very heartening to see strong support from local tourists, who flocked to the Tadami Line when it reopened. Perhaps the fact that it was autumn added to the appeal, but there was such an overwhelming amount of support that extra train services had to be added.

 

If you’re ever in Eastern Japan, I hope you can take a ride on the Tadami Line and visit the towns and cities along the line. Don’t just visit, spend a night or two at the quaint Aizu countryside, enjoy the scenery, enjoy the food, and enjoy the people.

 

Getting there

Aizu-Wakamatsu Station and Koide Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

The Tadami Line runs between Aizu-Wakamatsu Station in Fukushima Prefecture and Koide Station in Niigata Prefecture. There are only three trains in each direction per day that run the entire line; although there are a few more trains that run shorter routes of Aizu-Wakamatsu↔️Aizu-Kawaguchi or Koide↔️О̄shirakawa.

  • Aizu-Wakamatsu: From Tokyo Station, take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Kо̄riyama Station (~80 minutes), then transfer to the Ban-etsu West Line and take it to Aizu-Wakamatsu Station (~70 minutes).
  • Koide: From Tokyo Station, take the Joetsu Shinkansen to Urasa Station (~100 minutes), then transfer to the Joetsu Line and take it to Koide Station (~10 minutes).

 

If you are thinking of riding the Tadami Line or exploring Fukushima Prefecture and Niigata Prefecture, check out the JR EAST PASS. The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) offer substantial discounts, and unlike most other passes, can be used by all foreign passport holders, even foreigners residing in Japan. Both passes offer unlimited rides on JR East lines (including bullet trains and Joyful Trains) in their designated areas for 5 consecutive days.

 

JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)

The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)

 

If you are visiting the Tohoku region, check out the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 5 consecutive days at only ¥30,000. For the Tadami Line, this pass covers Aizu-Wakamatsu Station to Tadami Station. You can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains and Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, on the JR-EAST Train Reservation.

 

JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area)

The JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)

 

If you are visiting Niigata and Nagano, check out the JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area), an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 5 consecutive days at only ¥27,000. For the Tadami Line, this pass covers О̄shirakawa Station to Koide Station. You can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains and Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, on the JR-EAST Train Reservation

 

The JR-EAST Train Reservation. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Both the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) can be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use these passes.

 

Header image credit: photoAC
Information is correct as of November 2022. Timetables are subject to change, please check before riding.

 

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