This is an awesome hiking course along the now-abandoned tracks of the JR Fukuchiyama Line in Takarazuka and Nishinomiya, Hyogo.
This section of former Japan Rail track between Namaze and Takedao stations was closed approximately 25 years ago when the line was converted to electric rail and a new track was constructed in a more convenient location. The train had been in service since 1899.
You can view a video of the old train in operation on YouTube: Former Fukuchiyama Line.
The tracks have been abandoned ever since. Numerous signs warn hikers not to enter, but I met many fellow travelers (including many elderly ones) and didn’t see anything that looked remotely unsafe during my walk. Near the end of the trail I met a citizens’ group lobbying to turn the abandoned rail line into an official hiking path.
The trek took us about two and a half hours (with numerous stops for photos) and was almost completely flat, making it suitable even for beginning hikers like us. There is a bit of rough and rocky terrain, so make sure to wear proper shoes when you go.
And don’t leave home without this other essential tool: a good flashlight. The path will take you through a total of six train tunnels of varying lengths, and all of them are unlit. Completely black. You will not be able to see an entrance or an exit. There’s nothing dangerous in the tunnels, but I would not advise going in without a light.
Out in the regular daylight world, the scenery is lovely. It follows the forested Mukogawa river valley, and the train trip used to be a scenic standby for railway lovers back when the route was still running.
The entrance to the trail is a little hidden, so be sure to follow our guide:
Start out at JR Namaze Station. Head north from the station and you will see a wide river and a bridge.
Do not cross the bridge. Instead, turn left on the main road, route 176.
You will follow route 176 for a good 20 minutes as it curves around the Mukogawa River. It’s fairly busy, so be sure to watch out for cars.
You are looking for a small road that branches off to the right:
Can you see it?
Here it is.
Once you’ve reached this far, you’re home free. There’s only one path to follow until you reach JR Takedao station and the building surrounding it.
The green arrow on the following map shows the entrance to the trail. You can see Namaze Station in the lower right:
When you reach Takedao on the other end, it’s worth a stop at Takedao Hot Springs, which has a free foot bath for hikers!