Where Diego joins a queue, stares at sakura, and rides a ninja train.
Another clear and sunny day. More cherry blossom (and castle) hunting ahead!
After breakfast, I headed for Okayama Station and brought myself to platform 9. Today’s ride was going to be the 8:43 local train bound for Tsuyama.
Tsuyama is famous for the ruins of its massive 16th-century castle – supposedly one of Japan’s grandest back in its heyday – but it’s probably even more famous for its cherry trees. Many of those trees are planted right at the castle site itself, creating the perfect opportunity for a castle enthusiast to do a bit of hanami whilst gaping at the walls and fortifications.
Of course, all those sakura make Tsuyama a prime cherry blossom viewing spot – a fact not lost on many of the locals, if the queues at the platform were anything to go by.
And here’s our ride: a solid-looking, if somewhat aged, specimen of the JR diesel fleet (a KiHa40 DMU from the looks of it). I haven’t seen a lot of diesel trains in my travels through the country, but there are still quite a few of them out there, chugging along on non-electrified stretches of the JR network (such as the Tsuyama Line).
The route from Okayama to Tsuyama. Whilst lacking any particularly jaw-dropping sights, the scenery along the way was refreshingly beautiful to look at: light suburban giving way to patches of agricultural land, with quaint little towns and countryside stations strung along the track. I sorely regret not snapping any pictures during the ride; it would’ve made a good addition to my album by showcasing a side of Japan that one doesn’t very often get to see.
After the end of the journey, I exited the station and made for the tourist information office. The helpful staff spoke almost no English, but with my limited command of Japanese I managed to understand the directions they gave for the castle.
In due course, I arrived at the spacious castle grounds and began my walk through the ruins.
Perched on the edge of one of the castle’s upper enceintes was a beautiful turret, which had been rebuilt just a few years previously.
It was still quite early but there were already lots of people on the castle grounds, enjoying the sakura and the pleasure of one another’s company.
The upper sections of the fortress offered great views of the surrounding city . . .
. . . but with the trees in full bloom, there’s no doubting that the blossoms were the star of the show.
There were also some great views to be had from the trellised walkway (conveniently lined with benches) that ran right along the edge of one of the walls.
Now for a closer look at that turret we saw earlier.
Some of the castle’s fortifications, including the base upon which the tenshu once stood. A few parts of the castle defences had been lovingly restored, with sections of plastered walls rebuilt on top of the surviving stone foundations.
Time to head back to Okayama. I bade farewell to the castle, snapping a few more images along the way to the exit.
At the station, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the train I was about to board – a KiHa 120 DMU – had those decorated carriages that the JR network puts out for limited periods (mainly for promotional purposes). This particular one had a loud, colourful Naruto theme.
Not a fan of the series myself, but I do happen to be an anime enthusiast, so the ride turned out to be an excellent way to finish my long day of sightseeing.