The Oito Line is one of Japan’s most picturesque local rail lines – connecting Itoigawa – facing the Sea of Japan – with the city of Matsumoto which is located in the middle of Nagano Prefecture – home of the 1998 Winter Olympics.
It sits at the foot of the Japanese Alps, nestled between the mountains in the heart of Japan. The line covers a distance of over 105 klms.
As the Oito line is adjacent in many areas to the the ancient Shio no Michi Trail, hikers on the trail are able to utlilise the train service to visit points of interest along the way, take short train trips between destinations in case of poor weather, and use the service to return on the start at Itoigawa ( or Matsumoto if travelling in the opposite direction) upon completion of the hike.
The train passes through a number of tunnels and rock shelters and repeatedly crosses bridges back and forth across the Himekawa River, limiting the train’s speed to a leisurely pace. While the railroad may be antiquated by today’s standards, when it was opened it was a marvel of civil engineering.
Construction on the Oito Line began in the 1920s with the construction of separate lines in Nagano Prefecture and in Itoigawa, called the Oito South and Oito North lines respectively. Due to the great difficulty in engineering a line through the Himekawa gorge, the entire line was not finished until the two lines were connected in 1957. The line was built to connect the cities of Ōmachi and Itoigawa, and thus the line was named by combining the names of the two.
JR services through Itoigawa are covered by the Japan Rail Pass, the Hokuriku Arch Pass, and the Kansai-Hokuriku Area Pass.