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Hojo Railway, Hyogo – April, 2023

Hojo is a small town in Hyogo, just a bit north of Kakogawa. It contains the terminus and depot of the Hojo Railway Line, the only rail line operated by the Hojo Railway Company. The line is single-track and non-electrified, running through the countryside from Ao Station. They own a fleet of four one-man DMUs, with two or less operating at any one time via passing loops at larger stations. Their fleet used to consist of only three 2000-series "flower" DMUs, but they recently had a crowdfunding operation to bring a KIHA40 into the mix. It succeeded, and I helped!

Getting there...

From Shin-Osaka, there are a few hops to traverse. Hojo Town is in the sticks and the JR Kakogawa Line, starting at Kakogawa Station, happens to be the best rail connection to get there. Unfortunately, there's no Shinkansen connection at Kakogawa Station, so the closest transfer point from Shin-Osaka happens to be Nishi-Akashi. Once at Nishi-Akashi, you can transfer to a Special Rapid on the Tokaido Main Line which'll have Kakogawa as its next stop. As that Nishi-Akashi is smaller Shinkansen Station, you'll either need a Hikari or Kodama. I took the first Kodama from Shin-Osaka Station, but first had to let the first Sakura get out of the way...

Then check out the view... as the Kodamas don't come frequently...

And yeah, don't forget to grab an eki-ben snack from the platform shops... it's a slow ride. The funniest part about the 'slow ride' is that it's usually operated by the (well, back in the early 2000s) fastest rolling stock. You're either going to get a 700-series Rail Star, a 500-series shinkansen, or even a hello-kitty themed 500-series if you're lucky! Mine turned out to be a Rail Star and I wasn't disappointed.

Still looking good for its age! There's even business cabins which you can happily make use of as the services aren't very well patronised. The next best thing about the Kodama, for a rail-fan, is that (apart from single-platform stations like Shin-Kobe) they have to stop at all stations to let the other services pass. This allows for great photo opportunities, when you're not stressing that the train might leave without you!

You can even fluke it... and have another Kodama waiting in the other loop platform!

Ok.. that's enough Rail Star love. I made it to the Nishi-Akashi Shinkansen station and transferred to the JR Tokaido Main Line.

The Special Rapid was ready to roll and before-long we were at Kakogawa Station. Interestingly, you will need to go through a set of turnstiles to get to the platform, even though it should all be one concourse as it's all JR. Don't fret, just show your JR Pass or ticket and you'll be able to proceed.

Up on the Kakogawa Line platform, you'll find a 2-car green EMU ready to take you to Tanikawa (or Nishi-Wakishi, as per the service above.) The trip takes around 30 minutes to Ao Station, the start of the Hojo Line.

A Hojo DMU was already waiting on the platform when we arrived. Everyone else had a Pasmo/Ikoka/Suica card and just transferred using the machine, but I didn't so I asked the conductor what to do. It turns out that the driver also accepts coins! Just review the electronic board above the driver to work out the cost... knowing that you've travelled from the first station. I was going through to the terminus and would pay whatever the greatest cost was... and fortunately I had the coins in my pocket. If you don't, the ticket machine next to the driver can turn a 1000yen note into coins.

Single-Track Working

Straight away, you're in the country-side and you can see straight out the front of the DMU. The country-side was very green after a lot of recent rain.

Before-long we were approaching Hokkeguchi Station and an opposing DMU was already in the platform, waiting for us to clear the line.

Their driver was waiting on the central platform, radio'ing with the base to confirm that we were out of the block. I wish I'd watched if he also grabbed a staff from our driver? Either way, we were on the way again and in Hojo after about half an hour.

Hojo Station

On approach, the target was visible, but once in the station, getting to the target required a wander...

The poor KIHA40 was parked in an end-road and obviously wasn't going to be operating on the day I visited, but I still got to visit it!

After a quick dawdle around the streets, I made it to the level crossing in the the rear of the photos above...

It looked in really great condition! Sad I could go for a spin on it, but hey... I'd already done that in Hokkaido. I loitered for a bit to see the service we'd crossed earlier come back into town.

And then I checked out some junk shops up the road. Nothing of great interest, but a few cute SCSI and USB cables. What next? There's a notable park on the mountain just north of the junk shop, so I went for it... I had an hour+ before the next service!

Maruyama Park

Maruyama Park is located on a mountain (which they obviously think is circular!) in the east of Hojo Town. It was quiet when I was there, but if you go by the "don't do this" signs, then it must get pretty busy. There's a large pond, a globe that actually functions as a clock and a really long rollercoaster/slide.

Anyone paying attention to that last shot above will see the red 'pads' handing in the little shelter at the end of the slide. You're meant to take one and sit on it whilst you go down the slide... but I totally missed them and just bolted to the top of the mountain. There was a train to photograph!

Straya! The globe spins and tells the time... supposedly. I was too excited for the slide. But actually, the next service was due to depart soon, so I checked the clock closer and waited for a shot of the train.

The train passed...

The slide beckoned...

Fun was had!

There's a pause half-way... probably to stop human avalanches. Also to let people on half-way if they don't want to do the whole run.

Not using a pad under my arse, I was nearly jolted around enough to stop... but... when in Rome.

Tunnels... twists... turns! But that last corkscrew had me jammed... had to scoot forward and off.

That's what I finished the rides and saw the pads you were meant to sit on. Haha. Speaking of park rules...

In every language! And... look how scruffy that poor feral cat is.

A little bit of wildlife watching... and then done. Thanks Maruyama Park!

On the way back to the station, I passed this random under-contruction freight yard... or was it? Hah containers-as-hotel-rooms!

Back to Kakogawa

The weather was pleasant, so I dawdled to co-incide with the return trip of the DMU, of which I'd seen from the mountain-top.

I then pre-purchased a ticket from the vending machine and waited for the next service to depart. There happens to be a list of donators on the station wall, but I had chosen not to pay for that level of crowdfunding.

Before-long the service was off to Ao.

Ao Station

I had half a plan to walk from Ao Station back to Abiki Station to photograph the Hojo DMUs are they passed through the countryside. There's a great S-Bend between these stations and I had calculated a ~35 minute walk. What I hadn't calculated was a late arrival at Ao Station, as that meant I'd have milliseconds to get to the first photo spot before the train I'd travelled on returned to Hojo Town.

I walked way too slowly from Ao to the photo point... getting distracted by the Kakogawa Line...

Only to see the DMU piss past quickly...

It's a great spot. It was actually getting too warm, so I chose instead to return to Shin-Osaka and chill out for the afternoon. Mainly I was sad that it wasn't a KIHA40 in the shots above. I was a little put-off that I'd come on a day when it wasn't running. So... I returned to Ao Station, only to realise that the Kakogawa Line service that I'd photo'd above was the service I should've transferred to and that the next service was 1 hour away.

No problems? There must be a convenience store nearby? There isn't? It's a 30 minute walk!? I won't get back to the station in time? Hah.

The middle shot above shows the directions to each of the three railways that service Ao Station. Kobe to the left, JR straight ahead and Hojo to the right.

So yeah, where was I? No food? Too much time? I'd drank enough coffee cans to pee for the rest of my life... let's just photo the crap out of the station. Oh, and dawdle back to the rice fields to check out a cemetary.

Google says it's Ao Castle Ruins, but I don't know what to believe. Anyway, back to the station... and starvation...

Hojo then returned... as it was to make the connection with my Kakogawa service.

And then we all had to run up the platform as the 2-car service stopped way forward next to the Kobe Line Service.

This time I actually checked out the view from the front of the train. One is never unimpressed!

And then it was a transfer onto the Special Rapid. I could've then switched to the Shinkansen, but I had time, and a front seat on the Tokaido Main Line.

Not too many limited express trains at that time of day... or freight, for that matter, but I wasn't ready for much more than just staring out the front.

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