Fukushima is known as a treasure trove of Japanese sake, but did you know that sake can also be an exciting part of getting around the prefecture 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’re interested in trying nomi-tetsu yourself, we recommend taking the Oza-Toro-Tembo train.
The three parts of the name refer to the three areas of the train: the oza carriage (which has a tatami-floor), the torokko (tram) carriage, and the tembo (observation deck) carriage. The Oza-Toro-Tembo train runs on the Aizu Railway line during selected days of the peak tourist seasons. Unlike normal trains in Japan which run through urban areas, this special train for tourists features beautiful rural views, such as the many flowers blooming in springtime or the accumulating snowfall in winter. These views are sure to bring out the delicious taste of the sake even more.
Aizu Railway is local train line that connects Aizu-Wakamatsu City with the Minamiaizu area. Aizu Railway trains are usually comprised of only one or two cars at a time. While used by locals on weekdays, the line becomes quite festive on when the Oza-Toro-Tembo train runs through the beautiful natural vistas along the Agano River and rustic farming villages. 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.
The floor-seating carriage does away with normal seats and is designed after the traditional Japanese living room, creating a very relaxing environment. 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 tram carriage is 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 take great photos, making it particularly popular with camera enthusiasts. Finally, the observation deck carriage features limited seating in the form of reclining seats that allow passengers to enjoy the beautiful vistas in a more private environment.
Passengers can eat and drink in each of these cars, so the ability to casually enjoy some sake during the journey is particularly appreciated by sake aficionados. Thus, by riding the Oza-Toro-Tembo, 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.
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 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).
The route of the Oza-Toro-Tembo train 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 absorb views of the changing seasons through the train windows, but you can also observe local people going about their daily lives.
While it is possible to purchase sake and snacks on the Oza-Toro-Tembo train itself, it is perhaps better to avail yourself of the more numerous options available at Aizuwakamatsu Station, which features an abundance of gift shops as well. There is also a sake brewery near Aizu Tajima Station, the final stop on the line, which would be another interesting place to visit.
Please come and enjoy a unique travel experience, rare even in Japan, on the Oza-Toro-Tenmbo train!