Sponsored by Higashisonogi Town.
Sitting in a comfortable seat, watching the landscape whizzing by at high speed, all the while getting from point A to point B… Taking the train is definitely my favorite means of transportation. Especially so in Japan where trains always leave on time, are exceptionally clean and a lot more comfortable (mostly thinking of the shinkansen here). No wonder that the best train ride I ever experienced was in Japan, on a small local train riding along the Omura Bay and offering its passengers an out-of-this-world scenery. Get your ticket and follow me aboard the Sea Side Liner!
Taking a Dutch break
If, like me, you are on your way to Higashisonogi from Fukuoka, I recommend traveling there by train (even though driving would be a slightly faster option). Certainly for the stunning landscapes I mentioned earlier, but also for the trains themselves! Before being able to board the Sea Side Liner and enjoy the view on the sea, you will start by riding another rather special train: the Huis Ten Bosch train. Yes you read that correctly (or maybe not actually, Dutch can be tricky)! A very Dutch and very orange train that you will immediately spot in Fukuoka Hakata station.
If you are wondering where all that Dutch influence comes from, look no further than the nearby city of Nagasaki where merchants from the Netherlands were one of the few foreigners allowed to trade with an otherwise closed Japan in the 1600s.
Keep your eyes wide open while the train approaches its final stop (Huis Ten Bosch) and gets closer to the seaside, as the landscape will start changing. Huis Ten Bosch is a sort of theme park recreating many famous Dutch buildings, including wind mills and tulip gardens, so don’t be surprised if you suddenly spot red brick houses when approaching the station.
A very amusing european parenthesis on the way to the Japanese countryside!
Aboard the Sea Side Liner
You will ride the Sea Side Liner to Chiwata station, probably one of the most scenic stations in Japan. Your journey from here will only last about 20 minutes, so be prepared to enjoy every second of it!
When entering the Sea Side Liner, a cute little blue train, make sure to take a seat by the window on the right side, for the best view of Omura Bay (for example, you want to make sure you have control over the window blinds as a lot of people had it pulled down because of the sun on the day I took this trip).
The train quickly gets nearer to the sea, offering a beautiful point of view of the local houses and fields with a deep blue background. The most impressive part of the trip is when the railway comes within a few meters from the seashore.
On a clear day, it truly feels like you are gliding on the water and into the blue, just like Chihiro in the animated movie Spirited Away…
A magical train ride, in which your journey is as important as your final destination! Getting off at Chiwata station, the magical feeling continues as you watch the Sea Side Liner disappear in the distance, with the sea right by your side.
How to take the Sea Side Liner
Taking the Huis Ten Bosch train does not require much guidance (just buy your ticket at a ticket counter or machine and board the train normally), the local Sea Side Liner line can be a bit more tricky for travelers who don’t speak Japanese and have never been to the countryside.
Starting with the opening of doors (or the non automatic opening of the doors in this instance). When this local line is operated by a single person, note that only the doors of the first car will open. If the doors don’t open automatically, simply press the button near the door. Make sure to enter the car from the back door and exit by the front door.
If you did not purchase a ticket at the station, you can do so on board. Simply pick up a numbered card when getting on, which will determine how much you have to pay when getting off. You can check how much you need to pay on a fee table by the exit door. Put your ticket and money in the machine (or give it to the driver) and you are good to go. Please note that only coins and 1000 yen bills will be accepted.
Higashisonogi might feel like deep rural Japan and yet it is very easily accessible (as exemplified in this article). It will only take 2h30 by train or 1h30 by car to get there from Fukuoka, 30min by train or 1h by car from Sasebo, and 1h by train or 40min by car from Nagasaki. With Nagasaki airport being only 20min away by car, you can easily travel there with a domestic flight (frequent direct flights from Tokyo in just 1h30). Please note however that you will need a rental car to get around the area and explore it fully (available at Nagasaki airport for example).