Itinerary: Ride the Kominato and Isumi Train Lines of Chiba
An itinerary to experience the countryside charm of Chiba.
Leave the stress of the Tokyo metropolis behind and soak up the nostalgic feel of these old-timey Chiba Prefecture train journeys. Along the way, you’ll experience the charming countryside of Chiba’s Boso Peninsula, which was named one of GaijinPot’s Top 10 Japan destinations for 2019.
While the prefecture is often just traveled through by visitors to and from Tokyo’s Narita Airport, this picturesque segment of it is definitely worth a visit while in Chiba. The enchanting area is not too far from Tokyo and is dotted with quiet little stations, cartoon characters, lovers of locomotive travel and lots of trainspotters.
The tetsu-ota (trainspotters) are something of a phenomenon in Japan and can be seen at many stops waving or capturing the quaint rail carriages on camera. This very Japanese hobby differs from other countries, as it involves people of all ages and from all walks of life. Some fans record and photograph the trains and others ride the cars.
It’s not just for the hobbyists, though. Traveling around Japan by train gives you the freedom to enjoy the different locations outside of the larger cities and this one- to two-day itinerary will give you an idea of where to go in the Boso area.
Boso is especially beautiful in the colorful spring and fall seasons, and in this post you’ll see where you can start and finish your trip, depending on how much you want to ditch those time constraints!
Kominato Railway Line
The Kominato Railway Line started in 1925 and has 18 stations over a 40-kilometer stretch. The cars are vintage stock with pictures onboard that feature the history of the line.
Unlike trains in Japan’s cities, you’ll see lots of barrier-free pedestrian level crossings en route, from Goi (on the JR Uchibo Line) to Kazusa Nakano where you can transfer onward via the Isumi Line. The cars can be full of chatty and (for Japan) boisterous folk heading out to soak up the scenery or wander around one of its stations.
Takataki station, located in Ichihara City, is a popular destination for the lakeside area nearby. The Ichihara Lakeside Museum is a 20-minute walk from the station and it boasts a 28-meter-tall observation tower to view the lake. Closer to earth, it has international arts and crafts workshops during the year. Visitors, both adult and children, on special theme days can create their own picture books, animations and landscape painting.
Tsukizaki station, also located in Ichihara City, draws hikers who wish to see a geological treasure soon to be known as Chibanian. These strata, or layers of rock, were formed over 770,000 years ago and are a testament to a change in the planet’s magnetic field. This patterned mineral wall is found alongside the Yoro River and is a 40-minute hike from the station if you want to trade the rolling stock for some ancient rock.
Yoro Keikoku station
Alight at this stop to experience the famous Yoro Hot Spring area located at the Ichihara City/Otaki Machi border. Renowned for its kuroyu (black springs), the water in these resorts gets its unique hue from the broken-down plant materials contained in the soil.
The Yoro Keikoku Valley is a haven for hikers, particularly the walk by the banks of the Yoro River. The area was listed as one of GaijinPot Travel’s Top 12 autumn spots near Tokyo for it’s gorgeous fall foliage.
Keep an eye out for the 12th century Shusse Kannon temple. Further on, you can gaze at Awamata no Taki, which at 30 meters, is the prefecture’s biggest waterfall. The area is full of wildlife, including river lizards, snakes and herons.
Isumi Railway Line
Switch lines at Kazusa Nakano for the Isumi line which has been running (in various incarnations) since 1912. It was modified and expanded in the 1930s and achieved its current form in 1988. The line runs for nearly 27 kilometers and contains 14 stops. The scenery on the line includes photogenic rice paddy fields and from mid-March to April the bright yellow blossoms of rapeseed flowers cover some 15 kilometers of the track sides.
Visit Otaki Castle on the Isumi Line to see an Edo-period fortress. The 16th-century stronghold operates as a museum these days and has an impressive collection of local artifacts, weapons and samurai armor. There are plenty of short walking routes in the vicinity of the castle and most of the mountain trails shouldn’t take more than an hour or two to complete.
Back on board and time to make some room for the Moomins. Finland’s finest forest creatures are emblazoned on trains and hiding in the grass near Kuniyoshi station.
Or you can take the fast train that conjures up Showa era coziness, complete with retro-style wooden tables fitted with wooden drink holders. Grab a snack and a beer from the platform vendor — he’s not hard to miss — who wears a hat in the shape of a train.
A popular destination in September is the Ohara Hadaka Matsuri in Isumi City.
This “naked festival” takes place over two days with scantily-clad male participants carrying portable shrines into the sea. Ohara harbor is known for its large volume of lobster caught and sold at the market every Sunday morning. If you miss the market, you’ll no doubt find the lobster and other local fish at the many restaurants around town.
For more on transport in Japan, see our Japan 101 transport in Japan guide.