During the Meiji Restoration the shogunate and daimyo set about a policy franticly importing Western technology and proposing new governmental structures. Steam locomotives were the most obvious sign of modernization and dramatically promoted the power of the legendary Japanese leader Tokugawa Yoshinobu. Tokugawa is the man, incidentally, that moved the seat of Imperial power from Kyoto to (Edo) Tokyo. Meiji Japan, despite an astonishingly fast and successful modernization, had ambiguous constitutional structure, military orientation, and nationalist ideologies. As a result of the Meiji Restoration, Japan was led head first into the disastrous imperialist adventures of the 1930s and 1940s.
The Torokko Romantic Train provides visitors with a perfect glimpse of preserved history. Very little has been altered to the line other than the re-construction of the train stations and the addition of a gaudy paint scheme to the current train. Nonetheless, traversing the narrow gauge tracks through massive canyons and over the treacherous whitewater of the Hozu River really gives one the sense of the dramatic accomplishments and changes experienced by typical Japanese during the Meiji Era. The coal smoke and the open carriages complete the experience, for during the 25-minute ride passengers are withdrawn from the ultra-modern, clean, efficient, and over-sanitized Japan.
To access the Torokko Romantic Train, travelers should exit at JR Umahori Station in Kameoka. From there it is just a short well-marked walk. Rides are cheap at just 600 Yen per adult passenger and provide views as stunning as the Hozugawa Kudari, but at a fraction of the price.
March 23, 2004
From journal Kyoto / Osaka Peregrination #2