You are currently viewing Japan’s beloved slow-motion train – BBC Travel

Japan’s beloved slow-motion train – BBC Travel

Up close, the Shirakami-Sanchi Highlands seemed as if straight from a haiku, as well it should. When Matsuo Basho, Japan’s most famous poet, breached the wilderness north of Akita in search of inspiration, he was instantly struck by its beauty. Such landscapes inspired the poet’s most famous work The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and it is one that first introduced the region to wider Japan.

“Many still come in the spirit of Basho,” said Ootomo, pressing his hand to the carriage window as a swathe of forest passed by. “That makes it a melancholy trip, even for me.”

Our journey neared its end in Akita, and before we slipped gently back into Japan’s ultra-modern world, I was drawn to the observatory car by the sound of singing amplified throughout the carriages. A farewell concert was underway next to the train driver’s cabin and the female singer’s vocals, accompanied by the plink-plonk of a shamisen, a traditional three-stringed Japanese banjo, couldn’t have been a more fitting end.

The artist’s soprano-like vocals reached an almighty crescendo. And, while the Japanese melody was not known to me, her voice – and the lyrics – clearly had a deeper connection with the landscape we were passing through.

For the other passengers, it resulted in something akin to euphoria, and failing to take part would have been like resisting karaoke after a barrel of sake. So, I clapped along, too. On this slow, sightseeing train, I learned, everyone needed to join in.

Rail Journeys is a BBC Travel series that celebrates the world’s most interesting train rides and inspires readers to travel overland.

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