From this distance the train appears to be suspended in the air across the valley, high above the river and motionless with its lights standing out like beacons against the backdrop of brooding forest in the deepening gloom. The tinny sounds of station announcements and departure chimes waft over on the breeze, and then the train slowly starts moving again, sliding horizontally through the air and accelerating out of sight into the mountainside, leaving behind the bridge it was standing on.
Hozukyo Station must be the coolest train station I’ve ever seen. It occupies the entire span of a bridge over the Katsura River in the mountains which form the western border of Kyoto (halfway between the city’s popular Arashiyama district and the town of Kameoka on the other side of the divide), with tunnels through the mountains directly at each end of the bridge. Why they even put a station there, I have no idea – there’s nothing there, no town or village, just a small parking area and the road along along the Katsura valley. It’s not even considered necessary to man the station, so few passengers does it see. It just seemingly floats there above the river, the express trains thundering straight over, the local services stopping for a minute to the great benefit of the occasional hiker and pretty much nobody else.
When you actually enter the station you stand there on the platform right next to the tracks, just a couple of feet from the passing trains – there can’t be many places in the world where you can stand on a rail bridge while trains are crossing it at full speed. From the platforms you also have a good angle to see along the tunnel into the depths of the mountain, see the glow from the headlights of the approaching train before it comes into view and hear the ominous rumble of the engine building towards you. And then here it is, bursting out of the rock face and blasting past you with a rush of air, the bridge shaking and rattling as it rumbles past, and then just as quickly it’s gone again. A few minutes later the local train emerges from the tunnel, slowing down to pick you up and take you back to Kyoto.
Hozukyo Station makes it possible to do a great hike along the Kiyotaki and Katsura river valleys, starting from the village of Takao (reached by bus from Kyoto Station or Nijo Station) where you can visit Jingo-ji Temple and throw your bad karma away on discs down into the valley, then through the pretty riverside village of Kiyotaki at the foot of Mt Atago (Kyoto’s highest), and along the river to finish at the station.
This mostly follows the Kyoto Isshu Trail’s Kitayama & Nishiyama courses which you can read about in detail here, leaving the Nishiyama Course at trail board 5-1 where you cross this bridge (rather than turning up the hill):
Once over the bridge you just follow that road all the way to Hozukyo Station (on the way you pass Torokko Hozukyo Station on the other side of a footbridge over the river – this is on the Sagano Line, a seasonal sightseeing train)
Have you been here? Any questions about it? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.
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See my hiking in Kyoto & hiking in Tokyo pages and the excellent Hiking in Japan & Ridgeline Images blogs for further inspiration; if you’re also heading to Korea or Taiwan, check out my pages on hiking in Seoul and hiking in Taipei
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I agree – this station is one of the coolest I’ve come across in Japan. My wife and I did the Kiyotaki hike starting from Takao in 2004 and ended it at Hozukyo. An interesting note from our visit: as we walked through the parking lot and into the station, there was a handcuffed man leading some police officers around the car park. My guess is that he had been taken back to the scene of a crime.
Interesting story, thanks for sharing… wonder what it was – it’s such an isolated spot (well, other than the major train line!) you can easily imagine it as some sort of crime scene.