Local Bus and Train Adventure from Saitama Prefecture – Part 1
This week, two teams are embarking on a two-day “fixed-route local bus versus local train” race. They will depart from Chichibu Station in Saitama Prefecture and aim to be the first to reach Nikko Toshogu Shrine, a World Heritage Site. One team will travel by bus only and the other by train. There are two checkpoints that they must pass before heading towards the goal. Teams can each spend up to 10,000 yen on taxis during the race.
From Chichibu Station, the two teams will head to the first checkpoint, a farm called Three Brown in Maebashi Town, Gunma Prefecture, which produces “legendary” cheese. The bus team goes to the tourist information center first to find the best way to travel north from Chichibu station. They are told that there is only one bus going north and it only goes to Minano station. They therefore take the bus to Minano at 10:40 am. The members of the other team, meanwhile, miss their train and must wait for the next one.
The bus team asks the bus driver to head north from Minano station. They are advised to get off at Irohabashi Orikaeshijo and transfer the buses to Kodama station in Honjo town.
The train crew members finally board a Chichibu Railway train at 11am and head to Hanyu Station, the terminal station. They arrive at 12:35 pm then take the Tobu Isesaki line to catch the 12:40 train to Ota station in Gunma prefecture. From there, they will travel to Akagi, then take a Jomo Electric Railway train to Kasukawa Station, near the first checkpoint. The train crew members are now ahead of the bus crew.
In the meantime, the bus team arrives at Minano station and participants must wait 40 minutes before taking the next bus at 12:10 pm. They decide to have lunch at a Korean restaurant and order the sundubu set, which includes a clam-based stew cooked with homemade spicy miso and shiitake mushrooms. The team leader books an on-demand bus called Motoizumi-go. This reservation-based bus picks up passengers and drops them off at any bus stop in this area for 300 yen per person. The Motoizumi-go bus picks them up from the Irohabashi bus stop and takes them to Kodama Station in Saitama Prefecture. They then take a fixed-route bus and head to Isesaki Station in Gunma Prefecture.
At that time, the train crew arrived at Ota station. The train to Akagi station will leave at 1:50 p.m., leaving them half an hour for lunch. They find a noodle restaurant near the station and order Ota’s specialty fried noodles. After that, they will take the train to Akagi and take a Jomo Electric Railway train to Kasukawa station.
The bus team, on the other hand, changes from an on-demand bus to a fixed-route bus and heads to Isesaki Station. The journey takes about half an hour. Team members go to the information center to ask how to get to Mount Akagi. They are told that they can take the Akabori shuttle, get off near an electric train station in Jomo, and take the on-demand bus from Furusato to get to the first checkpoint. However, there are no buses until 4 p.m. – two hours later – and they must reach the cheese farm before it closes at 5 p.m. The team leader therefore decides to first book an on-demand bus at the nearest Ogo station for 4.30 p.m. They will then take a taxi for part of the way and walk the rest of the way to Ogo.
Meanwhile, the train crew missed their train and didn’t arrive at Kasukawa station until 3:15 p.m., half an hour later than expected. They have to walk 8 km to reach the Three Brown Cheese Farm, crossing several steep hills along the way. They walk halfway before deciding to take a cab for the rest of the way, as they only have half an hour left before the 5pm cut-off time.
The members of the bus team, meanwhile, walked for an hour and advanced two miles. They reach Ogo station and take the on-demand bus called Furusato, which they had booked earlier. They arrive at the first checkpoint, the Trois Bruns farm, at 4:45 p.m. It is located at the foot of Mount Akagi in Gunma Prefecture. The farm’s rich cheese is called “legendary” because it is made with milk from brown Swiss cows – they make up less than 1% of cows raised in Japan. One of the most popular farm products is cheese mixed with iyokan.
The train team finally reached the Trois Bruns farm around 4:55 p.m. and met the other team there. The bus team leaves the place first. As the next checkpoint of the race – one of the largest waterfalls in Japan – is near the Tochigi prefectural border, the bus team decides to stay at a hostel called Nashigikan nearby. They call the hostel to reserve their rooms. The manager picks them up and drives them to the spa hotel located in the mountains near the Watarase valley.
Meanwhile, the train crew spends just over 2,000 yen on a taxi and heads to Kasukawa station. Members then take the train to Kiryu Station, where they spend the night at the Park Inn Kiryu near the station.
1) Take advantage of the time between trips by bus or train to taste the local specialties
2) Find accommodation near the station to save time the next morning