Yamaguchi-sen 山口線

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.  

View of the storage area for diesel cars (mostly KIHA 47, some KIHA 40) mainly of the Yamaguchi-sen at Shin Yamaguchi. In the background the valley in which the town of Yamaguchi lies. (2018) .

Formerly class 181 diesel sets used to work the express services from the Inland Sea via Yamaguchi over to the Japan Sea. Here KIHA 181-8 is getting ready for the journey at Ogôri (today named Shin Yamaguchi). (1992)

Shortly after leaving Shin Yamaguchi on its way to Yamaguchi town the train comes to Nihozu. (2009)

At Yabara halt, not far from Yamaguchi. (2015)

Yuda Onsen at the entrance to the city of Yamaguchi. Diesel car KIHA 40 2122. (2010)

KIHA 47 81 + KIHA 47 1102 entering Yuda Onsen from Shin Yamaguchi. (2009)

A train consisting of two class 47 cars leaving Yuda Onsen. The front car is KIHA 47-1007. (2001)

On a stormy morning diesel car KIHA 47 3020 enters the station of Yuda Onsen, just south Yamaguchi. (2010)

Entering Yamaguchi station. (2010)

KIHA 40 2072 standing at Yamaguchi station. (2003)

Shortly north of Yamaguchi town begins the steep incline up to the mountain plateau separating the south and the north side of Western Japan. Niho station (here with KIHA 40 2075) is the last stop within Yamaguchi town, before the train enters into the wilderness. (2010)

Coming down the steep incline from the mountain plateau to Yamaguchi town. From a two-car train (KIHA 47 1071 + KIHA 47 9). (2015)

After arriving up on the mountain plateau the train first stops at Shinome. KIHA 40 2074 + KIHA 40 2076 cross on their way down to Yamaguchi. (2015)

Steam locomotive C57 1 climbing up to the mountain plateau at Chômonkyô. (2015)

On the mountain plateau between Yamaguchi and Shimane Prefectures. View from KIHA 40 2119 at Watarigawa. (2010)

Taken from KIHA 47 9 at Watarigawa. (2015)

Near Mitani, in the centre of mountain plateau. (2015)

KIHA 40 2119 at Jifuku. (2010)

Apple orchard at Nabekura. (2015)

From the train at Tokusa. (2015)

At the northern rim of the mountain plateau between Yamaguchi and Shimane Prefectures. The train has come up from the Japan Sea via Tsuwano and is arriving at Funahirayama, with beautiful susuki pampas grass alongside. (2010)

Arriving at Funahirayama at the end of the long climb up from Tsuwano. (2015)

Violent storms, landslides and serious flooding affected the Yamaguchi-sen in recent years. On the descent down to Tsuwano in Shimane Prefecture we can see where the railway line had been torn away. (2015)

From a train descending towards Tsuwano. (2015)

Passing the upper part of Tsuwano town. (2015)

Looking down from Taikodani Inari Jinja in Tsuwano. A two-car train for Yamaguchi is climbing out of Tsuwano town. (2003)

Steam locomotive C57 1 descending into Tsuwano. (2003)

Tsuwano station, with KIHA 40 2071. (2010)

Tsuwano station, with KIHA 40 2042. The yellow/white livery carried by diesel cars in the Hiroshima area has given way to a universal mid-tone red. (2015)

Steam locomotive C57 1 at Tsuwano, preparing for the return journey over the mountain plateau to Yamaguchi. (2003)

On the way down from Tsuwano to the Japan Sea the first village is Aonoyama. (2010)

From an express train climbing up to Tsuwano from Masuda, above Nichihara. (2002)

From an express train climbing out of Nichihara in the direction of Tsuwano. (2009)

An express passes through Nichihara between Masuda and Tsuwano. Two-car set KIHA 187-5 + KIHA 187-1005. (2010)

Approaching the Japan Sea the train follows the river Takatsugawa, here at Higashi Aobara. (2010)

The first crossing station after leaving Masuda on the Japan Sea is Iwami Yokota. (2009)

The two-car express train (KIHA 187-5 and 187-1005) has arrived at the end of the Yamaguchi-sen at Masuda by the Japan Sea. It will now continue up the San'in Honsen to Izumo, Matsue and Yonago. (2010)