Apple Orchard Railroad
The Konan Railway Owani Line is a "railway that runs through apple orchards," which is rare in Japan. Opened in 1952.It connects Chuo Hirosaki Station in the city center of Hirosaki City with Owani Station in Owani Town, which boasts hot springs and skiing. The total length is 13.9km, the boarding time is about 35 minutes, and the number of stations is 14. The 12 stations in between are unmanned stations.
1 Apple and The Train
Apple watching from the train window
Around ten minutes after the train leaves Chuo Hirosaki Station, the buildings give way to the countryside, and apple orchards spread out on all sides. During the peak harvest season from October to November, a special train runs slowly along the line so that passengers can enjoy the sight of the trees weighed down with apples from the train window. While you are ‘apple watching’, look for the hawk kites flying above the trees. These kites fly around in circles in the wind, scaring away birds that try to eat the apples.
Apples wrapped in bags
You may also see apples wrapped in red or blue bags. These apples are called ‘yutai apples’. They are wrapped this way to protect the apples from pests, but this method also has the added benefit of making the apple’s skin smoother and move vivid in color. These apples can also be stored for a longer period of time and are sold all the way up until early spring.
Bright red apples in October and November
Aomori’s apples ripen to a bright red color from around the beginning of October. During the peak harvest season from mid-October to late November, you can often see farmers on ladders picking the apples.
*Apple orchards are private property. You must have permission from the farmer before entering their property. Furthermore, it is very dangerous to walk or stand on the railway tracks, so please do not trespass under any circumstances.
The apples are also cute before they ripen
The red apples are a blue-green color before they soak up the sun’s rays, but there are also some varieties that never turn red. Two popular varieties of yellow apples are Orin and Toki, which are very juicy with a distinctly sweet rather than acidic flavor. Not only are they delicious, but they are also cute to look at.
Enjoy apples in the waiting room of an unmanned train station
Disembark at Koguriyama Station. If you walk around the area near the station, you’ll find an unmanned apple stand! Picked from trees along the ‘Apple Orchard Railway’, the apples look so tasty that you’ll want to take a bite right away. The next train is an hour later. You can spend this free time listening to the sounds of birdsong and the rustling wind.
2 The Konan Railway in Winter
Beautiful wintry scenes of Tsugaru from the train window
Tsugaru is an area that typically experiences heavy snowfall. In a normal year. Snow starts falling here and there in the surrounding towns from mid-November. From December, the snow starts piling up, and with the new year, Tsugaru transforms into a beautiful monochrome world wrapped in snow. The cold is harsh in this snowy country, so the train doors remain closed even when the train is stopped at a station in order to keep the carriages warm. Press the button by the doors to get on and off the train.
Amidst the falling snow, from Chuo Hirosaki Station to Owani Onsen
Chuo Hirosaki Station is roughly a 20-minute walk from JR Hirosaki Station. The building and the lettering on the station sign are both very retro, making you feel like you’ve slipped back in time to the Showa era (1926-1989). The station faces the river and is nearby Hirosaki’s city center Kaji-cho, where there are many bars and restaurants as well as an old red-brick church. Ride the train from here on a journey to Owani Onsen, the final stop on the line, as you watch the snowy scenery outside the window.
Warm up by the station’s heater
You can warm yourself up by the station’s heater as you wait for your train. There are even handmade cushions placed on all the seats. Try talking to the train driver or the locals to find out more about local secrets.
Past residential areas and schools, and into the countryside
After the train leaves the station, it runs alongside Tsuchibuchi River, with its distinctive red bridge, before going through residential areas. After passing Hiroko Shita Station, where there are several temples and an art museum, the train goes through an area with many different schools around Hirosaki Gakuindai Mae and Seiai Chuko Mae stations. Many students ride the Owani Line in the morning and evening. If you want to hear teenagers speaking in Tsugaru-ben dialect, try riding the train during school commuting hours.
What do apple trees look like in winter?
Apple trees are deciduous. In winter, the leaves fall, and you can clearly see the shape of the trees. For that reason, farmers prune them during winter. They prune the trees into a shape that helps nutrients reach the fruit and trim the branches to grow sideways for easy harvesting. Many farmers leave one apple on the tree without picking it. This apple is called ‘kimori’ and is left as a good luck charm to protect the tree in winter and bring about a plentiful harvest the next year. Try searching for this remaining red apple buried in the snow.
The ancient battleground where Tsugaru began
Between Ishikawa Station and Ishikawa Pool Mae Station, there is a large railway bridge spanning the Hira River. The small hill next to the river used to be called Daibutsugahana, and a castle stood here during the Muromachi period. Later on, Tamenobu, who would become the first daimyo of the Hirosaki domain, launched a surprise attack here in the first battle of the unification of Tsugaru. Miyukibashi Bridge on Prefectural Road 260 is the perfect spot to take a panoramic photo of Daibutsugahana (now Daibutsu Park) and the train crossing the iron bridge.
Arriving at Owani Onsen
The final station on the line is Owani Station, Compared to the Hirosaki city area, the mountains are closer and the snow deeper. Discovered in the Kamakura period, Owani Onsen boasts over 800 years of history as a hot spring resort. We also recommend walking around town and sampling cuisine, including Owani Onsen Bean Sprout Ramen rice crackers baked by hand in-store, and mochi from old-fashioned sweet shops.
Finish your trip at the Ekimae Omotenashi Foot Bath
After walking around town, rest your feet at the foot bath. The Ekimae Omotenashi Foot Bath is open from 7:00 to 18:00, even during winter. The water is quite hot, so your whole body will gradually warm up by just soaking your feet in the foot bath.
The Konan Railway’s popular ‘Russell-kun’
The black train in the photo is the Ki-105 snowplow train born in 1937. Together with the ED221 train, these snowplow trains are dispatched on the Owani Line during emergencies. They are often dispatched when the train tracks are buried under snow. These trains are called Russell trains in Japanese, and the mascot character Russell-kun is even available as a LINE sticker.
*For safety reasons, the schedule for the snowplow trains is not made public. (The photographs on the right and in the middle are of the snowplow trains on the Konan Line.)
3 The Countryside and the Konan Railway
Over fields and rivers...
After setting out from Chuo Hirosaki Station, the train enters the countryside once it passes Chitose Station. The photo on the left was taken at Owasawa River’s overpass nearby Koguriyama Station.
Bring your bicycle and go see the scenery!
From April to November, you can take your bicycle onto the train at all stations along the Owani Line as part of the Owani Cycle Train (no reservation necessary). However, you cannot take bicycles onto the train during the festival season or in the morning and evening on weekdays. You can take one bicycle on for free, with no extra costs besides the train ticket. For more details, please contact the Konan Railway Company Ltd.
For more information about rental bicycles (payment required), please contact the Hirosaki Municipal Tourist Center.
Panoramic views from Daibutsu Park
Disembark at Ishikawa Station, walk for about 10 minutes (5 minutes by bicycle), and climb to the top of Daibutsu Park. Here you can enjoy panoramic views so beautiful it’s worth walking all the way there just to see them. It feels like you’re gazing out at a scene from a diorama; the train crossing railway bridges in fields that stretch out from the towns to the row of mountains at the edge of the Tsugaru Plain.
Be captivated by Mt. Iwaki at every station platform
The Konan Railway is a picturesque railway line that runs at the foot of Mt. Iwaki. Every station along the line becomes a viewpoint for Mt. Iwaki. Depending on the day, Mt. Iwaki shows a completely different expression as it’s bathed in the beautiful light of the early morning and evening or covered by variously shaped clouds. You can enjoy the various rich expressions of Mt. Iwaki from each station platform.
Head into the sunset as you return to Hirosaki
The evening train from Owani Onsen to Hirosaki heads directly into the sunset. On days with good weather, the sunset is breathtaking, and the scenery is deeply moving. This photo was taken between Matsukitai Station and Tsugaru Osawa Station. The surrounding fields are apple orchards.
Let’s find the heart!
Inside the train, hanging straps with red rings hang in a row! Hidden among these is one with a handle shaped like a heart. They say that if you find it ‘your love will come true’. The red hanging straps and attached green triangles are designed to look like an apple. The green triangle also represents Mt. Iwaki. And if you look even closer, you’ll realize there is an advertisement for the SHIBUYA109 department store in Tokyo on the hanging straps. This train originally ran on Tokyo’s Tokyu Line, and the advertisements are left from that time.
The Konan Railway also operates the Konan Line, which is known as ‘the Rice Field Railway’
The Konan Railway also operates the Konan Line from Hirosaki Station, which is connected to JR Ou Main Line’s Hirosaki Station. The line stretches for 16.8 km to Kuroishi Station with 13 stations along the route. Between Tsugaru Onoe Station and Tanbo Art Station, there is a popular photo spot where the train passes through rice fields with the regal Mt. Iwaki providing the perfect background. The verdant ears of rice in August and the golden ones in October make for a beautiful photograph.