Mitani, on the mountain plateau between Yamaguchi and Tsuwano. Diesel car KIHA 40 2120. (2015)
This relatively important line in western Japan links the Japan Sea main line (San'in Honsen) with the Inland Sea main line (Sanyô Honsen). It has not only local services but also sees through intercity trains that cross the Japanese main island from sea to sea, linking the Yamaguchi area with the cities of Izumo, Matsue, Yonago and Tottori along the Japan Sea. At its southern end at Shin Yamaguchi passengers can change to and from the Shinkansen high-speed services up to Ôsaka and Tôkyô and down to Fukuoka and Kagoshima (on the island of Kyûshû). As the Yamaguchi-sen is the only railway connection to the prefectural capital at Yamaguchi (12, 7 km up the valley), its southern starting point, Ogoori, was renamed Shin Yamaguchi ("New Yamaguchi", or "the Shinkansen station of Yamaguchi") in 2003.
The Yamaguchi-sen is a diesel operated single-track railway line throughout. Between Shin Yamaguchi and the region of Yamaguchi town there are frequent local services, while about 6 trains cross the pass from there into the valley of Tsuwano and on to Masuda on the Japan Sea. A few more trains from Yamaguchi end at Tsuwano, while three expresses pass over the line to and from the cities of Yonago and Tottori on the Japan Sea coast. From Yamaguchi (26 m above sea level) the train climbs steeply up to the mountain plateau and reaches the summit shortly after Tokusa (293 m above sea level). From there starts the descent to Tsuwano (157 m above sea level) and on to Masuda (5 m above sea level).
High mountains surround Yamaguchi town, which has been a cultural centre for many centuries; it is well known, among other things, for its beautiful five-story pagoda dating from 1471. The railway line through from Ogoori (now Shin Yamaguchi) to Masuda is 93, 9 km long, and it was built between 1913 and 1923. Unfortunately, depopulation of the area beyond Yamaguchi (Tsuwano alone lost half its population between 1970 and 2015) is evident, and the line lost its freight traffic (a through freight train not serving the line itself) in 2013. However, the Yamaguchi-sen has been a pioneer railway in reintroducing special steam services in 1979 (steam had ended in Japan in 1975), and these remain tremendously popular to this day.
One of the biggest problems the line faces are natural disasters caused mainly by very heavy rainfall, and winter sees some violent snowstorms. Almost the entire section from the plateau at Tokusa down to the Tsuwano area was destroyed on July 28, 2013, and services could only be fully resumed on August 23, 2014.