Gonô-sen 五能線

MI   Mutsu Iwasaki   KK  Kita Kanegasawa

S   Shirakami Sanchi (Shirakami Mountain Range)

A   Iwakisan volcano

This line runs along the partly very desolate north-west coast of Honshû, almost all the way closely following the Japan Sea (Nihon-kai) coastline. It starts at Higashi Noshiro, where the main West-coast line to northern Japan (the Ô'u Honsen) turns sharply away inland to Ôdate, Hirosaki and Aomori. By contrast, the Gonô-sen continues straight on, first to the town of Noshiro in northern Akita Prefecture. After Mutsu Iwasaki (50, 9 km from Higashi Noshiro) it crosses the border into Aomori Prefecture. To the east of the line rises the vast Shirakami Mountain Range, famous for its natural beauty and its beech forests, the highest peaks in the region reaching to 1250 m above sea level.

After leaving the fishing village Fukaura (66, 9 km from Higashi Noshiro) the train, first continuing northwards, rounds the tip of the peninsula shortly before reaching Kita Kanegasawa (90, 6 km from Higashi Noshiro), where the dominating Iwakisan volcano comes into view. On this section of the line tragedy struck in the early morning of December 2, 1972, when, after a bridge had been torn away, a train fell into the ravine and the locomotive (steam locomotive class 8620 no.28688) was swept out into the raging sea.

From Kita Kanegasawa the line runs eastward through more inhabited land to Ajigasawa (103, 8 km from Higashi Noshiro) and from here inland through farming settlements to Goshogawara (125, 7 km). Goshogawara is the starting point of the Tsugaru Tetsudô, which runs up northwards through the Tsugaru plain. At Goshogawara the Gonô-sen turns south through vast orchards – mainly apple orchards – to reach Kawabe on the Ô'u Honsen, 147, 2 km from Higashi Noshiro. All trains continue from here over the 6, 3 km stretch to the city of Hirosaki.

The timetable is quite complicated, with a few local trains over parts of the line but no indicated through-running services, although in one or two cases the same coaches will continue after a while up or down the line. The full journey using local trains takes about 4 1/2 hours. Moreover, according to the season, comfortable tourist trains cover the full Gonô-sen on specific days.

The first sections of the line were built in 1908 (from Higashi Noshiro to Noshiro) and 1918 (first as a private railway) from Kawabe in the north to Goshogawara. The full line was completed between 1924 and 1936. In 1983 it was interrupted for a time after the serious Japan Sea Earthquake of May 26. Freight services ended in 1983 (1984 on the section Kawabe – Goshogawara).

The name of the line Gonô-sen 五能線 derives from the towns of Goshogawara 五所川原 in the north and Noshiro 能代in the south。



In 1972 the driver and fireman of locomotive 28683 (class 8620) wait for departure at Higashi Noshiro.

Between Sawame and Higashi Hachimori, on the way to Iwadate. (2013)

At Higashi Hachimori, with locomotive 28683. (1972)

Approaching Hachimori, on the way to Iwadate. Looking back down the coast. (2013)

Behind locomotive 28683 running along the Japan Sea coast in the region of Hachimori. (1972)

Running between Hachimori and Takinoma. The train consists of 3 cars, KIHA 48 1509, KIHA 40 525 and KIHA 40 532. (2013)

Entering Iwadate, the last community in Akita Prefecture. (2013)

Iwadate, with a diesel train headed by KIHA 20 236. The station master is waiting to exchange tokens for the train to be able to continue. (1972)

A two-car train (KIHA 40 530 and KIHA 40 535) headed for Higashi Noshiro crosses at Iwadate. (2013)

At the lonely border between Akita and Aomori Prefecture, north of Iwadate. (2013)

From a mixed passenger and freight train headed by locomotive 48640 (class 8620) going southward at the prefectural border Aomori/Akita betwen Ômagoshi and Iwadate. (1972)

Locomotive 28683 at Matsukami, on the way to Fukaura. (1972)

Locomotive 48640 coming down from the north, approaching Matsukami. (1972)

Between Matsukami and Jûniko, looking towards the Shirakami Mountain Range. (2013)

Approaching Mutsu Iwasaki. In the bay the stranded Cambodian ship "An Feng 8" can be seen. (2013)

Looking back at Mutsu Iwasaki on the way to Fukaura. The stranded "An Feng 8" in the distance. (2013)

At We-Spa Tsubakiyama resort locomotive 78653 (class 8620) recalls steam days on the Gonô-sen. (2013)

As night falls diesel trains meet at Fukaura station, where a number of freight cars can also be seen. (1972)

After leaving Fukaura northwards - looking back at Fukaura. (2013)

Between Fukaura and Hiroto. The train consists of KIHA 48 1509 - KIHA 40 525 - KIHA 40 532. (2013)

Memorial to the engine crew who perished when loco 28688 fell into the ravine here and was swept out to sea on December 2, 1972. Fresh flowers have been laid onto the tomb. Between Hiroto and Oirase, north of Fukaura. (2013)

From the train between Kasose and Ôdose, north of Fukaura. (2013)

After rounding Ôdose cape the train descends towards Kita Kanegasawa, where Iwakisan volcano comes into view. (2013)

At Kita Kanegasawa the tourist train "Resort Shirakami" crosses. It is made up of the 4 cars KIHA 48 702 - KIHA 48 1543 - KIHA 48 1701 - KIHA 48 701. (2013)

A 3-car train running the whole length of the Gonô-sen at Ajigasawa. The cars are KIHA 48 1509 - KIHA 40 525 - KIHA 40 532. Blue livery is given to Gonô-sen cars, while the green livery is actually for an Oga-sen car. (2013)

Near Mutsu Morita, between Ajigasawa and Goshogawara. In the background is Iwakisan volcano. (2013)

Running through the apple orchards near Itayanagi, between Goshogawara and Kawabe. (2013)

The Gonô-sen train has joined the Ô'u Honsen and is nearing the endstop at Hirosaki. (2013)