Friday, April 05, 2013

Matsuura Railway - Nishi Kyushu Line 松浦鉄道西九州線

Location Name: Matsuura Railway - Nishi Kyushu Line 松浦鉄道西九州線
Type: Railway Line 列車線
Location: Nagasaki and Saga Prefectures, Kyushu, JAPAN
Terminals: Sasebo Station, Imari Station, Arita Station
Distance: 93.8km
Number of Stations: 57

Photos: Matsuura Railway / 松浦鉄道

The Matsuura Railway (松浦鉄道) loops around the Kita-Matsuura Peninsula in the western portion of Kyushu through Nagasaki and Saga prefectures. The line was originally called the Matsuura Line before the break up of the JNR in the late 80’s, but is now called the Nishi Kyushu Line (西九州). It is currently run as a class 3 railway and owned by Nagasaki Prefecture and local transportation and industrial interests.

Going up from the South and looping up clockwise, following my route, the line starts in Sasebo (佐世保). This port city is famous for its hamburgers and the home to a large United States Navy base. The station is quite large with elevated tracks. A single escalator in the northwestern corner of the concourse provides access to Matsuura Railway’s ticket machines and platform based ticket booth. 

I bought the ¥2,000 one day free ticket from the man in the booth, who went out of his way to get me one. I think you can buy them on the train, however. The “Free Ticket” (フリーきっぷ) offers one day on the trains allowing you to get on and off as you please. Traveling from Sasebo to Imari (伊万里) is ¥1,950 so it is worth buying if you plan to ride the entire line.

Initially, I thought this ride was going to be quite basic and I was only riding it to be a completionist. It turned out to be one of the most beautiful rail lines I’ve been on. 

The Matsuura line leaves Sasebo Station through a valley of buildings on an elevated track. The city is quite built up. Sasebo is a city much like Nagasaki in that the city is built into the mountains. Small tunnels open up into little valleys full of haphazardly placed homes. The train is elevated to a degree so you can look down on the little streets and houses. I thought it would turn rural much faster, but the city seemed to continue on and on into the mountains. This part of the line reminded me of Shintetsu and driving through western Kobe. 

It is on this first stretch that the line passes Sasebo-chuo (佐世保中央) and Naka-Sasebo (中佐世保) stations. Both names mean pretty much the same thing and the two stations are a mere 200m apart. This is the shortest distance between any two train stations in Japan--streetcars and cable cars excluded. I was on an express and didn’t even notice passing by Naka-Sasebo station.

At around Motoyama station the landscape becomes more rural/residential as the train crosses a many small valleys and goes through many small bucolic tunnels. Make sure to check out the very fun looking new playground and unique public toilet as you reach Kora Station (小浦).

I planned a layover at Saza station (佐々) and was very glad I did. The station itself is modeled after a log cabin and is very welcoming. Not much around the station as far as stores go, but it was fun to explore. The air had a natural fresh spring scent to it. Leaving Saza the tracks follow the river of the same name. The next train car I got on was much more packed and not as new as the first one I rode. There was a group of grandparents on a hiking excursion sponsored by the railway and a large group of young people all in black for a funeral as I later discovered.  Both groups piled out of the train at the same station in a mass exodus that was quite a sight to see. 

As the line reaches the tip of the Kita-Matsuura Pennisula the train makes a brief stop at Tabira-Hiradoguchi Station (たびら平戸口). Excluding the monorail in Okinawa, this is the westernmost train station in Japan. I didn’t realize this until I got on the train and saw a pamphlet advertising the fact. Just like Nishi-Oyama (西大山), the southernmost station, the train holds for a few minutes to allow us train people to snap a few quick photos. Be careful though, the train almost left with my bag, but not me on board!

From Tabira-Hiradoguchi the view gets a little boring. Coming into the namesake village of Matsuura, there are a few large factories and a power station to look at. There are no toilets in the trains so make use of the short stop at Matsuura Station if needed. Leaving Matsuura the landscape gets increasingly built up with stores and houses. Some nice views of the sea do pop up. Imabuku Station (今福) is lined with sakura trees which were in bloom when I passed by. Photographers along the side of the tracks were so close that the engineer had to blow the horn at them so they would move back to a safe distance.

The train pulls to a stop at Imari Station where the JR and Matsuura sides are bisected by a road. There is a supermarket, restaurants, and convenience stores near by. In the station is a very helpful tourist information desk that also sells local products where I picked up some omiyage.

After exploring around Imari Station, heading to a shrine with some beautiful sakura, and hiking up the hill to a highly recommended supersento, I got on the train for the last haul to Arita. This portion of the line goes through a pleasant valley bounded by some tallish looking mountains. At Arita Station the Matsuura train pulls into a far platform of the JR station. The building at Arita has a small staffed ticket booth for the Matsuura Railway along with the JR one.

I really enjoyed riding this line. There seemed to be a lot of community support for it. The trains were clean and the staff was cheerful. If you get a chance to ride this line, I would go for it.

Matsuura Railway - Nishi Kyushu Line 松浦鉄道西九州線 at EveryTrail


angryparsnip said...

I love when you post these trips you take. What a beautiful area this is.
I would love a really good print of the train track through the tree tunnel. Fabulous photo.
As always your photos are spectacular.

cheers, parsnip

Anonymous said...

Sorry but I think you should have visited Hirado island if you had had free-ticket.
Yes, the view from Tabira-Hiradoguchi station is pretty boring. But you could have viewed the gorgeous landscape from a bus at the bridge which connect the station and the island.
And Hirado city is lovely city and it has the history which precede Nagasaki.

Unknown said...

You are very correct. The bridge area is absolutely spectacular. I have driven over it once before many years ago. Sadly, I was constrained by time as I had to get back to Omura by 5pm to have dinner with my wife. (She let me take a day out of our vacation to geek out on the trains by myself--Thank you Yuko!!!). I figured I only had enough time to make one stop. That's why I decided to walk around Imari instead and check out the supersento there. The goal of this post was to document and describe the Matsuura Railway. It's part of my goal to ride every train line in Japan. If I had time to hike around the Hirado area, it would have become it's own blog post. It would deserve it. I wholeheartedly recommend everyone to visit the island, and I hope to return there soon. Thank you for your helpful comment.