If you’re also thinking of going to this small railway town in Hyogo Prefecture, here are some tips!

West Japan Rail’s new mystery travel service, the Saikoro Ticket, is an amazingly cheap way to travel on express trains to the western and southwestern parts of Japan. For just 5,000 yen (US$30.31), you could get a round-trip ticket to one of seven destinations, but the catch is that where you get to go is determined by the roll of a die.

Our Japanese-language reporter K. Masami tried her luck and ended up getting tickets to a place in Hyogo called Amarube. She just used them to go on a little vacation, and she wanted to share her experience of using the ticket and visiting Amarube, as she’s got some great advice for anyone thinking of traveling to this relatively unknown place!

Masami had to reserve her tickets online before proceeding to a Japan Rail ticket window to receive them — that’s the most important part, but thankfully it was easy. Next, she had to find out what there was to do in Amarube before she went.

After a quick Google search, Masami determined that Amarube is the name of a neighborhood in the oceanside town of Kabe in northern Hyogo Prefecture, roughly four hours by train from Osaka. On her search, she saw many pictures of a railway bridge that looked vaguely familiar, which led Masami to think that Amarube was probably a place for fans of trains and railway history. With that in mind, she embarked on her trip to Amarube.

The start and end points of the Saikoro ticket have to be within the city of Osaka, so Masami, who lives in Nara, had to first make the trip to Osaka. Of course, that cost her extra money, but that was fine.

Upon arrival at Osaka Station, Masami navigated the rush hour crowds and found her way to the special express train headed for Kinosaki Onsen called the “Tokkyu Konotori Ichigo”. That was one nice thing about going to Amarube; you can also use the ticket to visit Kinosaki Onsen, a nice little hot spring town, on the way. You could also even just forgo Amarube completely and go to Kinosaki Onsen instead if you wanted. That kind of freedom to choose is a nice benefit of this ticket.

In any case, Masami boarded the Konotori and spent a leisurely three hours watching unfamiliar landscapes race by until they finally arrived at Kinosaki Onsen Station. There she was supposed to transfer to a train that would take her to Amarube, but the next one didn’t come for another hour.

Masami decided to make a pit stop in Kinosaki and wander around the town for an hour. She had to be careful, however; the next train after that wasn’t for another hour, and she didn’t want to miss it.

Once it was time, Masami headed for the platform of a local train on the San-in Line for Tottori. It was a retro-looking, orange-colored, two-car train. Masami thought it looked really cool so she took some photos of it before climbing aboard.

Though it was around lunchtime on a weekday, the train was full. Her fellow passengers all looked like people who also had Saikoro Tickets to Amarube, and as Masami suspected, they all got off at Amarube Station.

The station’s location on a cliff overlooking a bay was fantastic. Though the skies were threatening rain the day she went, the view of the Japan Sea that spread before her as soon as she alighted from the train was stunning.

The platform is built on elevated ground, which is what made the view so spectacular. After the railway bridge the train crosses was rebuilt with concrete in 2010, the nearby area was established around it, so the area surrounding the station was pretty fun to explore.

Just in front of the station was a highway rest stop where food was served. A lot of Masami’s fellow Saikoro Ticket travelers seemed to stop there to rest before dispersing. Masami chose a different route.

There were several observation decks leading from the station where you could get wonderful views of the bridge, the trains, and the ocean, so Masami climbed up to one. On that rainy day, she was not surprised to be the only one to brave them.

There weren’t many trains, so Masami took her time taking pictures of the scenery until she realized the next train to stop in Amarube wouldn’t arrive for another one to two hours. Masami really wanted a shot of a train passing over the bridge, so she hung out on the observation deck so long that a surprised station worker said in a strong Kansai accent, “How good ye are, waitin’ here all this time!”

Beyond these observation decks, there weren’t many other spots around the station you could freely stop by, and there were only two places to stay. Masami supposed that someone who has no interest in trains or railway bridges might find it hard to kill time in Amarube.

▼ There is a tortoise station master, though. Its name is Sora.

But the gorgeous scenery is really something you won’t see anywhere else. Masami thinks that even if you miss the one train per hour that comes by, it’s still worth climbing to the observation decks and recording the view with your eyes and your camera.

▼ Masami did manage to get that golden shot, though.

Masami took her time doing a little bit of this and that around Amarube then boarded the train back to Kinosaki, where she planned to spend some time lavishing in the onsen by herself. Afterward, she checked into a business hotel a few stops away from Kinosaki for the night.

▼ Kinosaki Onsen Station

Since Amarube itself didn’t have much in the way of accommodation, Masami recommends you book a stay in Kinosaki or the surrounding areas instead. It might even be good to find a hotel more towards Tottori. That way, the next day you can wake up and go sightseeing around Kinosaki or Toyooka, which has a cool geopark full of caves and an old Edo town, before heading back to Osaka.

Masami has one other key piece of advice for those holding a Saikoro Ticket to Amarube: don’t worry about rushing around and seeing everything there is to see. Instead, plan to take your time absorbing everything before your eyes as much as you can, especially if you plan on traveling to see the fall leaves this year.

Though Amarube was a quiet place without a lot to do, Masami, who hardly ever goes beyond the limits of the large cities in Kansai, found herself entirely satisfied with the small feeling of adventure it provided, and doesn’t regret her visit one bit. It’s even inspired her to consider buying another Saikoro Ticket!

Where will she go next? She can’t wait to find out!

Related: Saikoro Ticket
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