By Daisuke Inoue / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterMISHIMA, Fukushima — Along the JR Tadami Line (see below), which crosses the Oku-Aizu area in Fukushima Prefecture, there are scenic spots that make visitors feel nostalgic, as well as food culture and lifestyles that date back to long ago.
These features have been introduced all over the world via blogs and social media sites, and thus a large number of tourists visit.
What attracts people to the area? To find out, I toured some spots along the railway.
A whistle echoing through the air broke the quiet, and the sound of a train running along the tracks grew louder.
It was in the afternoon on a fine day in mid-April. About 30 tourists mainly from Taiwan were standing in a line at an observation point in Mishima, a town in the prefecture, from which you can look down at the Tadami River First Bridge. They held cameras and smartphones, pointing them toward the bridge.
Soon, a three-car train appeared from between the mountain slopes, and a flicker of excitement spread among the tourists.
The photo opportunity lasts 10 seconds. The Tadami Line train passed over the bridge then disappeared again behind the slopes.
A 29-year-old man who was visiting for the third time said: “There is no place in Taiwan where a railway and nature can be photographed together with this level of beauty. I guess this is a rare place in the world.”
He said he would soon post the photos on a social media site to show his acquaintances.
According to the Tadami River Power Source Watershed Promotion Association, the number of foreign tourists who stayed in four towns in an area along the railway, stretching from Yanaizu to Tadami, reached 851 in 2018.
This was a 15-fold increase from three years ago. Among these tourists, about 60 percent were from Taiwan. Most of the others are from Asian countries or regions, such as Thailand, Hong Kong and Singapore.
In Taiwan, where the climate is warm, snow rarely falls.
An official of travel agent H.I.S. Co. said that there has been a trend in recent years for “experienced tourists who have come to Japan many times to make little side trips to the Oku-Aizu area, as they want to feel a sense of entering a hidden scenic spot or having an out-of-the-ordinary experience.”
There is one photograph that triggered the increasing amount of attention being paid to the bridge as a good photo spot. It is by Kenko Hoshi, 70, a photographer of local scenery living in Kaneyama in the prefecture.
After retiring from his job at a construction company, Hoshi began taking photos of scenic views full-time, as photography had previously been his hobby.
Currently, he spends 300 days a year taking photos in the Oku-Aizu area. He has held exhibitions of his works twice in Taiwan, and he was once invited to speak at an event there.
The work that attracts widespread attention everywhere he goes is a photo of a train on the Tadami Line crossing the Tadami River First Bridge in a winter scene.
The image of the photo was rapidly shared by a large number of people via Weibo, a Twitter-like website in China, and other media. The photo became so famous that the image was used on tourism posters in Taiwan.
So, why has the image attracted the attention of foreigners?
“Though there are no people in the photo, the snowy scenery through which the Tadami Line train runs can make people imagine the daily lives of local residents who live surrounded by the harsh elements of nature,” Hoshi said. “Maybe Taiwanese people also feel it is like a story and feel empathy.”
The Mishima town government built a recreational trail to the viewpoint from which the Tadami River First Bridge is seen. There are three photo spots, which visitors can reach after a climb of three to 10-minutes up some steep steps.
It takes about 30 minutes to walk from Aizu-Miyashita Station on the Tadami Line to the entrance of the recreational trail.
By car, exit at the Aizu-Bange Interchange on the Ban-etsu Expressway and drive for another 15 minutes. Visitors can park their cars at Ozekaido Mishimajuku, a roadside rest area, and then walk to the trail.
■ Tadami Line
The railway is 135.2 kilometers long in total and connects Aizu-Wakamatsu Station and Koide Station in Niigata Prefecture. Because of damage caused by torrential rain in July 2011, a 27.6-kilometer section between Aizu-Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station is still closed. East Japan Railway Co. aims to reopen all sections on the line in fiscal 2021.Speech