Fukushima is known as a treasure trove of Japanese sake, but did you know that sake is also an essential part of getting around here as well? Recently, more and more travelers are enjoying the luxurious pleasures of sake on the trains in Fukushima as they view the beautiful vistas passing by. There is even a word in Japanese for this practice now, nomi-tetsu, a portmanteau of the Japanese words for drinking and train. If you are interested in trying nomi-tetsu yourself, we recommend taking the so-called “Oza Toro Tenbosha” (Japanese for floor-seating, trolley, and observation cars, another portmanteau) which runs on the Aizu Railway regularly during the viewing season for autumn leaves, weekends, and summer holidays. Unlike normal trains in Japan which run through urban areas, this special train for tourists features Japanese-style floor seating in some cars, as well as open trolleys and special observation cars. The views seen from the train cars, such as the many flowers blooming in springtime or the accumulating snowfall in winter, are sure to bring out the delicious taste of the sake even more.
The Aizu Railway is a mountain line that connects Aizu Wakamatsu with Minami Aizu, comprised of only one or two cars at a time. While used by locals on weekdays, the line becomes quite festive on weekends when the Oza Toro Tenbosha is running due to the many travelers attracted to the beautiful natural vistas along the Agano River and rustic farming villages that the train passes through. The floor-seating car does away with normal seats and is rather designed after the traditional Japanese living room, creating a very relaxing environment, and in the wintertime, there is even a kotatsu heater and table combination, long favored in Japan for warming the feet in cold weather. Meanwhile, the trolley cars are windowless and open to the air, allowing you to enjoy a more dynamic view. You can feel the crisp mountain breeze against your skin, and the cars are particularly popular with camera enthusiasts. Finally, the observation cars feature reclining seats, so while the number of seats is limited, they allow you to enjoy the beautiful vistas in a more private environment.
It is possible to eat and drink in each of these cars, so the ability to casually enjoy some sake during the journey is particularly appreciated by liquor aficionados. Thus, by riding the Oza Toro Tenbosha, the trip to your destination, normally a time spent in various stages of boredom, is transformed into an attraction in its own right with the ability to eat and drink while watching the scenery. It is without a doubt that your time on this train will become yet one more unforgettable memory of your trip.
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Japanese sake, or rice wine, is an alcoholic beverage which presents a different flavor depending on its temperature and the food accompanying it. For that reason, it is typically consumed in small sips using a tiny cup called an ochoko. Sake is always specially brewed to go well with the local cuisine, so we recommend looking for something local to Fukushima when selecting the snacks to go with your sake. We particularly recommend Nishin no Sanshozuke (pickled dried herring with leaves of Japanese pepper), or for the more adventurous, bazashi (horse meat sashimi, or raw horse meat, considered a delicacy). If you encounter others on your journey enjoying nomi-tetsu, why not join them in raising a cup together? You may be able to exchange valuable travel information unavailable in the guidebooks.
The route of the Oza Toro Tenbosha selectively connects mountain villages within the Aizu region, allowing you to enjoy a more relaxing train experience quite unlike the crowded urban commuter trains Japan is famous for. Not only can you observe the changing seasons through the train windows, but you can also absorb views of the daily lives of the people, their history, and culture. Further, you will likely be able to grow more familiar with Japanese sake compared to when you drink it more formally at a high class restaurant.
While it is possible to purchase sake and snacks on the Oza Toro Tenbosha train itself, it is perhaps better to avail yourself of the more numerous options available at Aizu Wakamatsu Station, which features an abundance of gift shops as well. There are also many tourist destinations along the Aizu Railway route, so there is the option of boarding without a particular destination in mind and getting off en route on a whim to enjoy walking through the towns. There is also a sake brewery near Aizu Tajima Station, the final stop on the line, which would be another interesting place to visit.
So, please come and enjoy a unique travel experience, rare even in Japan, on the Oza Toro Tenbosha!