Ô’u Honsen (Akita – Aomori)    奥羽本線 (秋田―青森)

a1  Akayu     a2  Mamurogawa     a3  Yuzawa     a4  Hachirôgata     a5  Takanosu     a6  Ôwani Onsen

A  Zaô (Volcano)     B  Asahidake     C  Gassan (the highest of the 3 Dewa Mountains Hagurosan, Yudonosan, Gassan, significant pilgrimage spots associated with activities and beliefs linked to sacred mountains)   D  Chôkaisan (Volcano)     E  Iwakisan (Volcano)

The Ô'u Honsen was one of the major railway lines to the north, connecting Tôkyô with the plateau of Yamagata and, beyond it, the city of Akita, one of the main Japan Sea ports in northern Japan. From Akita northwards the Ô'u Honsen forms a link with the city and port of Aomori, from where ferries cross the Tsugaru Strait to Hokkaidô. The name "Ô'u 奥羽" refers on the one hand to the Province of Mutsu 陸奥 (basically present-day Aomori Prefecture), on the other hand to the two old provinces surrounding the 3 Dewa Mountains (出羽三山), namely Ugo 羽後 (basically present-day Akita Prefecture) and Uzen 羽前 (basically present-day Yamagata Prefecture).

Since the opening of the high-speed Shinkansen links to the north the Ô'u Honsen has lost much of its significance. Its southern part, the former 1067 mm gauge incline between Fukushima (71 metres above sea level) and Yamagata (136, 5 metres above sea level) via Yonezawa (248, 7 m.a.s.l.), was re-gauged to 1435 mm in 1991 to allow Shinkansen trains from Tôkyô to work through to Yamagata (services began on July 1, 1992). The continuation of 1435 mm gauge Shinkansen services through the Yamagata plateau as far as Shinjô was opened on December 4, 1999. From Shinjô northwards across the border into Akita Prefecture (Yuzawa – Yokote – Ômagari) there are only a few local trains per day.

The northern section of the Ô'u Honsen begins at Akita, 298, 7 km from Fukushima. At first it runs northwards through fertile rice growing country side, much of the way alongside the Hachirôgata reclaimed land. Hachirôgata was once a large lake and shallow lagoon; work transforming this lake into an area for intensive rice production was completed in 1977. Today only a few canals and retention basins are left. North of Hachirôgata trains arrive at Higashi Noshiro junction (56, 7 km from Akita), from where the spectacular and lonely Gonô-sen continues up the coast.


At Higashi Noshiro the Ô'u Honsen turns sharply inland to tackle the mountainous area, working up the river to the town of Ôdate (104, 2 km from Akita). On the way it passes through Takanosu junction, where the scenic Akita Nairiku Jûkan Tetsudô (The Railway through the Inner Part of Akita Prefecture) has its starting point. Beyond Ôdate the line cuts straight through the mountains. Since the laying of double track in 1971 one section here sees two separate track-beds, one for the up and one for the down line. As we approach the old castle town of Hirosaki (148, 4 km from Akita) vast fruit orchards, often apple orchards, catch the eye. Not far from the city rises the imposing Iwakisan volcano. Somewhat south of Hirosaki in the mountains lies Ôwani Onsen, where passengers can change to the local Kônan Tetsudô.

Beyond Hirosaki the line continues through agricultural land and several forests to Aomori, 185, 8 km from Akita. One station before Aomori is Shin Aomori, where the Shinkansen coming up from Tôkyô and continuing to Hokkaidô is met. At Aomori terminal the two traditional main lines to northern Japan – the east coast line Tôhoku Honsen and the west coast line Ô'u Honsen – come together. As both lines carry a considerable amount of freight there are extensive marshalling yards at Aomori, which until 1988 and the opening of the Seikan Railway Tunnel used to be the ferry port for travel to Hokkaidô.

As mentioned, freight trains over the northern section of the Ô'u Honsen from Akita to Aomori are frequent as the line is part of the freight link to the north from the Kansai area, passing through Tsuruga, Kanazawa, Niigata and Akita.

Building of the Akita to Aomori line began as early as 1894 and was completed by 1902. The line was electrified (AC 20 kV/50 Hz) in 1971. There is about 1 local service per hour between Akita and Ôdate, and between Hirosaki and Aomori. Services are less frequent between Hirosaki and Ôdate, particularly during daytime. The two cities of Akita and Aomori are also linked by 3 express trains a day.

The port area of Akita is served by two freight-only lines operated by the Akita Rinkai Tetsudou (5, 4 km and 2, 5 km long) and the branch line (2, 7 km) from Tsuchizaki (7, 1 km from Akita) to Akita Harbour (Akita-kô). This branch line has been regularly used since 2018 to meet cruise ships.

Akita Station, with several class 701 sets waiting, on the left 2-car set 701-14. (2017)

Shortly after leaving Akita northwards the railway shops are passed. In the yard are several coaches class 581/583 and class 481/485 being scrapped. Also to be seen is tourist diesel set KIHA 48 702 + 1543 + 1701 + 701, to be used for the Akita harbour branch to meet cruise ships. (2017)

Between Hachirôgata and Kado, with a view over the reclaimed land which used to be a lagoon. In the distance the mountains of Oga Peninsula. (2013)

Running through the early morning mists. Near Moritake, taken from train set 701-9. (2013)

The station of Moritake, south of Higashi Noshiro, with 3-car set 701-13 entering from the north. (2013)

Class 751 express sets were originally 6-car trains taking passengers from Morioka to Aomori. Then the Tôhoku Shinkansen was lengthened to Hachinohe, the class 751 trains now forming a link between Hachinohe and Hirosaki. Since completion of the Tôhoku Shinkansen to Aomori the class 751 work as mere 4-car sets between Aomori and Akita. Here train set 751-1 is seen enterning Higashi Noshiro. (2013)

At Takanosu the station platform draws attention to this town's famous drumming. 3-car set 701-4 is entering the station. (2003)

Takanosu junction, with 2-car set 701-17 entering. On the left is a train of the Akita Nairiku Jûkan Tetsudô, with car 8805 and party car 8808. (2017)

Kawazoi, between Takanosu and Ôdate, with 3-car set 701-2. (2013)

Ôdate station, with 3-car + 2-car set (701-3 leading). February 2013.

An AC/DC electric locomotive EF 81 717 runs through Ôdate with a train of container wagons. (2013)

In a violent blizzard a class 481/485-3000 (with KUHA 481-3022 leading) very slowly enters Ôdate station. (2013)

Just north of Ôdate the luxury train "Cassiopeia" crosses. This train used to be the highlight of a two-day journey from Sapporo (Hokkaidô) down to Tôkyô. Its last regular journey was in March 2016, its last visit to Hokkaidô in February 2017. Since then the Cassiopeia is used for cruises mainly around northern Honshû, here on November 15, 2017.

Shirasawa station, north of Ôdate. (2015)

In the mountains between Ôdate and Ôwani Onsen the up and the down lines diverge. South of Jinba. (2015)

The tunnel in the background at Tsugaru Yunosawa forms the border between Akita and Aomori Prefecture; this part of Aomori was the old province of Tsugaru. Coming up from Akita is an express class 751. (2013)

Apple orchards seen from the train at Nagamine halt, south of Hirosaki. (2015)

Autumn near Nagamine. Taken from train set 701-9. (2015)

A 5-car train (3-car set 701-17 + 2-car set 701-25) leaves Ôwani Onsen for Hirosaki. (2013)

A freight train headed by AC/DC locomotive EF 81 502 runs through Ôwani Onsen. (2013)

Snow clearing at Ôwani Onsen, with the Kônan Tetsudô on the left. Express train 481-1508 (rear car KUROHA 481-1029) is ready to leave for Akita. (2013)

Coach MOHA 484-1082 of train set 481-1508 looks warm and inviting in the violent blizzard at Ôwani Onsen. (2013)

Ticket control at Ishikawa, about 6,4 km from the City of Hirosaki, The conductor has got out onto the platform, while the lady driver of 3-car set 701-3 checks the rear of the train. (2015)

Leaving Hirosaki for the south a last view of Iwakisan volcano. Taken from Akita Nairiku Jûkan Tetsudô 8902 at a time when this company ran a regular express service up to Hirosaki. (2003)

A local service worked by 2-car set 701-15 at Hirosaki. (2013)

On the platform at Hirosaki, with 2-car set 701-21. (2013)

2-car set 701-103 at Hirosaki. (2013)

Apple orchards in the biting cold, with Iwakisan volcano in the background. Near Hirosaki. (2013)

Approaching Hirosaki from Aomori, south of Namioka. (2016)

Tsurugasaka, south of Aomori. 3-car set 701-9 at the platform. (2015)

3, 9 km out of Aomori terminal is Shin Aomori Shinkansen station. (2016)

A class 481/485-3000, which for several years joined the class 751 on services between Aomori and Akita. Here is set KUHA 481-3005 at Aomori station. (2013)

Aomori terminal, with the old ferry pier in the background. Waiting at the platform is 3-car set 701-101. (2010)