Going slightly loco-motive in the stunning scenery of Japan’s southern Kyushu island, with bubbles!

Takachiho, in the northern part of Miyazaki Prefecture, is known the place where myths and legends dwell. While there are plenty of spots like Takachiho Gorge or Takachiho Shrine to appreciate both the stunning scenery and consider the legends of the Japanese gods, there’s a way to admire them that’s become hugely popular in the form of the Takachiho Amaterasu Railway’s “supercart,” and we had to go and discover what all the fuss was about.

The name of the railway, Amaterasu, is the name of the Shinto goddess of the sun and according to mythology the current Emperor’s great-great-great (and then a few more greats)-grandmother. What kind of train would a railway company with that name run? Perhaps a stately wooden shrine on wheels, manned exclusively by conductor-monks, and sedately running through the beautiful countryside to an accompaniment of jingly bells? Since the train we would be taking was called the Grand Supercart, maybe not.

While the railway line stopped transporting passengers in 2005, the line is now run as a tourist attraction where visitors can take in the breathtaking scenery or even try driving one of the railways’ old diesel locomotives.

Unlike the diesel train driving experience though, the supercart doesn’t require booking in advance, and you don’t need to buy a ticket for a specific time either. Our Japanese-language reporter Masanuki Sunakoma rocked up at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and after purchasing his ticket for 1,300 yen (US$12) discovered that the next train he could ride would be just a 20-minute wait, although it’s supposed to be much busier during the summer holidays.

Incidentally, on the same day, hiring a rowing boat in the nearby Takachiho Gorge (2,000 yen for 30 minutes) had a two-and-a-half-hour wait, so those waiting about for a boat would have plenty of time to fit in the super cart ride as well.

What to do while you wait? Our writer plumped for Amaterasu udon noodles at 500 yen at the station cafe, bemused by the auspicious name of the dish and also of the cafe, Miracolo, the Italian for miracle. Unfortunately, there were no St. Peter pancakes, Solomon sandwiches or Odin omelettes to accompany it.

Having finished his repast, the time for the train’s arrival was drawing near. Other passengers started to turn up, and then it came.

Daubed in garish pink, the supercart pulled into the little station, completely unlike anything we’d expected from a railway with such a sacred name. Takachiho may be the town where gods dwell, but this mode of transport is unusual to say the least, eschewing stately grandeur for a train seemingly more at home in a children’s play park or shopping centre.

Following the driver’s instructions and clambering into, or more accurately onto, the miniature-sized train, our writer was pleasantly surprised. He had a sense of size and power in the tiny train as usually only granted by dressing up as Godzilla and stamping around on cardboard skyscrapers, or sticking four Kit Kat Chunky bars together to form a jumbo-version of the standard bar. The thirty passengers took to their seats, and with a rush of anticipation, the supercart started to pull away from the platform on its journey into the mythical landscape of Takachiho.

The train journey takes you on a two-and-a-half-kilometre (1.6-mile) trp from Takachiho station to the Takachiho railway bridge, and then back again, taking about 30 minutes. With no roof on the miniature train, our writer was able to feel the refreshing breeze in his hair as he zipped along, then suddenly a tunnel appeared and…

The roof of the tunnel was lit up like a disco, as our writer was transported instantly from the tranquil view of green hills and forests to a church of dance with bright colours swaming around him. Outside the tunnel again, the driver resumed his double-duties as tour guide, explaining some of the history and highlights of this part of the world. Another tunnel approached, but this time the train exited to reveal…

…the Takachiho railway bridge, said to have been the tallest in Asia at the time it first opened to trains back in 1972. The train paused for a moment for the driver to warn passengers that in cases of strong winds, the train would have to turn back. Fortunately, lady luck was on our writer’s side and there was barely a zephyr to be felt. With an all too clear view of the very solid-looking ground, sharp rocks and water far below, the supercart rolled forwards, until coming to a stop in the middle of the crossing.

The distance from the open-topped mini-train to the surface of the water in the gorge below is 105 metres (344 feet), more than a 30-storey tall building. The train started off again, with the driver filling the air with a stream of bubbles from a device next to him. Despite the knocking of his knees, our writer discovered that the enchanting view explained the reason why people must have thought the gods lived here, as the green, dream-like scenery spread in every direction. Stunning as it was, it’s supposed to be even prettier still during the mountain cherry blossom season in spring, or as the leaves change colour in autumn.

On the way back our writer was again amazed and filled with child-like delight by the torrents of bubbles and the tunnel light shows, but all too soon his super-cart super-adventure was over.

The supercart runs about ten times a day, with extra trains on Saturdays, Sundays, national holidays and during the obon summer holidays. After alighting from the supercart, you can even go and see its big brother, one of the trains that made up the now-closed railway line’s carriage stock. Well worth a trip to Kyushu, especially as the island is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the Kanto or Kansai conurbations and home to so much of Japan’s most stunning scenery.

Location information:
Takachiho Amaterasu Railway / 高千穂あまてらす鉄道
Address: Miyazaki-ken, Nishiusuki-gun, Takachiho, Mitai 1425-1
Open 10 a.m.–4 p.m. (from 9.20 a.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays from 1 March to 30 November and during Golden Week and the obon summer holiday).
Closed the third Thursday of every month (unless it falls in Golden Week or the obon summer holiday)

Photos: ©SoraNews24
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