A classic bonnet bus is operating in Kitakata, northwest Fukushima Prefecture, until November 21. The special bus links Shingu Kumano Shrine, a famous spot for viewing autumn foliage, with Kitakata Station on the JR East's Ban'etsu West Line. This is the first time it runs during the shrine's foliage light-up.
The nostalgia of the retro bonnet bus and the shrine's golden ginkgo trees has drawn tourists from around Japan and overseas.
The bonnet bus, which houses an engine in its long nose, was ubiquitous in Japan until around the 1950s. The specific model of the bus in Kitakata is a vintage Isuzu TSD40 registered 54 years ago, operated by Hirota Taxi Company based in Aizuwakamatsu city. This rare four-wheel-drive bus can reach a maximum speed of 65 kilometers per hour (40 mph) and is a must-ride for vintage automobile enthusiasts. Aside from its limited operation for tourism purposes, the bus is also used at special local events.
The Great Ginkgo of Nagatoko
The bus completes a six-kilometer journey between Kitakata Station and the Shingu Kumano Shrine in approximately 15 minutes. Throughout the day, it makes four round trips, with two trips (arriving at 3:15 and 4:15) taking visitors to the shrine's Nagatoko Hall of Worship, an Important Cultural Property of Japan.
One of the highlights of the shrine is the majestic Great Ginkgo of Nagatoko which stands behind the worship hall. The tree reaches 37 meters (121 ft) and is said to be more than 850 years old. The combination of the classic bonnet bus and the golden foliage of the shrine creates a nostalgic atmosphere. Many visitors are seen trying to capture the best angle with their cameras.
A Timeless Experience
The idling sound of the large diesel engine inside the vintage bonnet bus adds to the experience as it emits a rhythmic rattle. The bouncy ride, caused by even the slightest road bump, delights passengers.
An 80-year-old woman from Niigata Prefecture rode the bus with a friend. She was absolutely delighted by the experience. "The wave of nostalgia brought tears to my eyes," she exclaimed. "The bus's wooden floor was especially lovely. It was a wonderful experience." A tourist from Taiwan also said they also enjoyed the unique ride.
Toshinobu Yuda is the bus's 74-year-old driver. "It's an old bus with no power steering, so it's difficult to drive straight. But that's what makes it good," he laughs. "I hope people enjoy the old exhaust sound inside the bus."
A representative of the Kitakata City Tourism Exchange Division said, "This is the first time we have included the bonnet bus in our autumn tourism campaign, but we hope to continue operating it in the future."
The coming weekend is the best time to see the ginkgo tree foliage at the Shingu Kumano Shrine. Illumination hours are from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm.
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(Read the article in Japanese.)
Author: The Sankei Shimbun