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The Sanin Line - Part 2

It was a long day. By the time the Shinkansen pulled into Nagoya station it was twelve hours from the first train to the last. But my Sanin line journey was complete.

One of the nice things about this trip is the lack of alarms. Not that I sleep in much, especially considering how late I stay up. Like last night, when the washing was finally done by 3am. Well, it's not like I need to concentrate at work.

About 8am I checked out of the hotel and headed down to Matsue station. This time I was going to have my breakfast. I found just what I wanted, a small station cafe selling a Y500 breakfast of thick toast, scrambled eggs, ham, potato salad, a tiny bowl of spaghetti, a salad and a cup of lemon tea served in an exquisite china cup. A western breakfast with Japanese sensibilities. It feels like a very civilised way to start the day.

Now it was time to go forward by going back. With the help of the tourist office I caught a bus to the station of the private Ichibata Dentetsu electric railway. I would love to have walked there through pretty Matsue, one of my favourite Japanese cities. We drove over the river and past canals plied by small tour boats and past the original Matsue castle. Despite the big stone walls, it's pretty small as castles go, but still worth visiting, which we did last time we were in Matsue. I had climbed up the steep ladders with Alex strapped to my chest.

After a fifteen minute ride we arrived at the station. There was still a little over ten minutes before the train departed, enough time for a very quick dip in the foot bath out the front. The water seemed far hotter than last time, too hot to fully immerse my feet. But my blistered soles appreciated the quick soak. A quick dry with the towel I brought just for this purpose and I boarded the old electric train.

On a previous trip we had caught the train back from the Izumo Taisha (shrine) station back to Izumoshi, where it adjoins the JR line. Today I wanted to catch the other section, which runs around Lake Shinji and back to Izumoshi.

The flat grey of big Lake Shinji merges into the hazy sky, the water only broken by thin black posts, the odd small fishing boat and a variety of birds. I love the mystical serenity of the lake. It's one of the features that makes Matsue such a attractive city for me. If only it had trams.

At Ichibataguchi the train stopped, then the driver swapped ends and we reversed down the Y junction to continue our journey. Considering that there was a single shop and just a few houses there I don't know why they haven't eliminated the Y section of the track.

Eventually we said goodbye to Lake Shinji and passed through flat rice paddy countryside. Passengers for Izumotaisha had to change trains at Kawato, but we continued on to Izumoshi, past the Izumo Science Centre.

We'd spent a night at Izumoshi and there isn't much to do there. I had about an hour to waste. There are a few hotels and shops near the station, a couple of small cafes. I just wandered around a little, looked for any local omiyage (gifts) to take home. I don't mind these dead cities.

I had actually passed through Izumoshi the previous night en route to Matsue, so now I had to backtrack along the JR line. I caught the rather old looking Yakumo Express to Yonago. There it leaves the Sanin line and continues down to Okayama via a very pretty route which I've ridden on twice before. Not today! I actually fell asleep around Matsue, still tired from last night.

There was now another hour before my next train. When I poked my head out of Yonago's station I could hear loud drumming and cheering. Further down the city street there was a festival under way with green clad dancers moving to the sound of taiko drums while giant towers of lanterns were held aloft. There's something to see to make my short visit worthwhile!

When the performance wrapped up I could see food stalls set up further down the road. I was in need of lunch, but didn't want to get too far from the station, so I returned to find another stall, where I ate a meal of yakisoba seated under a temporary shelter.

My two carriage diesel train was colourfully decorated with "Conan" manga. A number of trains had manga or other decorations. I had regretfully watched a train bound for the Sakaiminato branch line pull out soon after we arrived - another line I haven't yet caught. No time now for that as I had a long way to travel.

Much of this ride was past flat rice paddy countryside with only a few water views towards the very end. It was probably the least interesting stretch of the Sanin route. A father and his three young boys boarded the train partway along. Watching the toddler hold his older brother's hand the while they sat on the seat made me miss Alex.

I had an hour and a half to spend in Tottori. The city is famous for its sand dunes, which we visited and enjoyed last year. There was no time or inclination to do the same here, so despite the summer heat I instead went looking for a hot spring bath house, a group of which are located very close to the train station.

Hinomaru was an unprepossessing building with a hot spring symbol on the side and noren curtains at the front. I placed my shoes in the locker at the front, then entered through the male curtains to the left, straight into the change room. A female attendant sat at the junction between the men's and women's baths. I bought a bath ticket from the machine and then another for soap hire, then left my clothes in a locker.

It was only a small bath, but the hot water bubbled vigorously. After washing my body I entered the bath, which felt so good on my tired body and sore feet. There were only two other elderly men in the bathroom, neither bathing at the time. I stayed until a much larger crowd of younger men arrived, the brief bath enough to make me feel better.

When I returned to the station it was almost time for my next train. I quickly purchased some Niseki pear flavoured products from the Omiyage store and headed up to the platform.

The two car DMU (diesel multiple unit) was quite crowded. Another young train fan took his viewing position looking out the front of the train, I was content to sit and relax as we chugged up through mountains dense with bamboo, forest and vines. Between Iwami and Higashihama beaches enclosed by rugged headlands appeared. I could see people swimming in the waters and at the latter stop a couple of young ladies exited the train, one holding a big inflatable beach ring.

I fell asleep after Igumi, to be woken by the train driver at Hamasaka station. Fortunately, I still had enough time to cross the bridge for the connecting service to Toyooka.

The hazy late afternoon light was tinged with orange as we passed through jungle covered mountains. At Amarube we emerged on to a new build of the famous viaduct with spectacular views of the coastline. Both this and the last section were probably the prettiest of the Sanin line.

Though the train went all the way to Toyooka, I jumped off, along with many others, at Kinosaki Onsen, to change trains. It's a real pity that I couldn't stop over there, even for an hour, as there are plenty of hot spring foot baths and places to eat. Kinosaki Onsen was the highlight of our March holiday to Japan and it is a very lovely hot spring town.

But I was in a big hurry to catch the Limited Express Konotori, bound for Osaka. As the last light faded I reclined on the comfortable seat and used mobile internet and the app to try to find a hotel on this Saturday night in summer. I'd already search for places along the Sanin line, but nothing showed. Kyoto was too expensive. I saw that I could catch a train to Nagoya and there was one cheaper hotel by the train station that looked okay, so I booked that. Phew.

I was determined to complete the Sanin line, despite having done this stretch already earlier in the year. So at Fukuchiyama I crossed the platform to catch the Limited Express Hashidate bound for Kyoto.

It was now dark outside, which is a pity, because the scenery is very beautiful, especially as you pass into the area around Arashiyama, with its temples and bamboo forests, on the outskirts of Kyoto. One stretch of the Sanin line, the old tourist train route through Arashiyama, will have to remain untravelled for now, though I am determined to catch it one day.

At Kyoto station I was shocked to suddenly see so many western faces again after travelling through some of the less popular parts of Japan. I quickly changed to the Shinkansen line and jumped aboard the Kodama (slower) service to Nagoya, arriving there just before 10pm.

I was hungry, but found a cafe open by the station entrance. It was last orders time, but I squeezed in a Japanese curry and salad before they reverted to drinks only. As I left there was still a long queue at the adjacent McDonalds, showing that bad taste is international.

My hotel, the Sanco Inn, is a nondescript business offering, but okay for that. I did need to buy some more shampoo when I discovered that they only offered honey scented options. The streets around the station were buzzing with youth out having fun and there were still a number of eateries open near the hotel. For me, the only thing I wanted was sleep.

So there we have it. I have realised my dream and completed the whole Sanin line. And what a wonderful journey it was! Scenic views of a magnificent coastline and plenty of interesting stops along the way. That was part of the dream, stopping at places like Nagatoshi where there might not be any attractions more than a glimpse at Japanese life, along with more popular cities like Hagi, Matsue and Tottori. I'd visit again, certainly, but I'd be happy to do it at an even slower place, savouring the beauty along the way.

Photos: Matsue to Izumoshi, to Tottori, to Nagoya.


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