This is an update of a story about railway cycling in Japan and a space age project that I wrote about in March 2021 under the title ‘Gatton-go – cycling with a difference’. I had just begun my travel blog and had very few followers. So some of you might have missed it. My article mainly focused on the Gatton Go railway cycling experience in the Japanese Alps town of Kamioka, Gifu. But I also mentioned that this small town also had, hidden away deep underground in an old mine, the Kamioka Observatory Institute for Cosmic Ray research – one of the leading edge space age projects in the world. I was under the impression that the Institute was not open to the public. But only weeks before my visit, and unbeknownst to me at the time, the Institute opened a museum for visitors. Sadly, it missed my research trip planning radar and no one in Gifu mentioned it to me.
This updated story still includes the Gatton-go cycling, but has more information on the new museum. It sounds fabulous, especially for the scientific minded.
I hope that when independent tourists are allowed back into Japan, GIFU and the town of Kamioka do more with up to date English language sites, brochures and publicity to let visitors – both Japanese and overseas travellers – know about that wonderful attractions of Kamioka.
Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine myself cycling along an old railway track through Japanese mountain tunnels – but there I was, in my 60’s, powering along thanks to a tiny electric motor and a little mining community with an innovative idea to attract tourists to its remote location.
The zinc mining town of Kamioka, in the Gifu prefecture on Japan’s main island Honshu, lost its commercial railway service in 2006. So, the townspeople came up with the idea of using the abandoned track for a unique experience that allows people to still ride along it – not on trains, but cycling electrically assisted mountain bikes fixed to the track on guide rollers.
In 2012, Kamioka opened a three kilometre town course under the name of Gatton Go, with bikes attached to the railway track. Later, a slightly more challenging Canyon Course was added.
Both courses take around 40 to 60 minutes to complete a round trip that takes cyclists through beautiful mountain scenery and tunnels. There’s a half way stop for a break, otherwise you must stay on your bicycle along the route. You can take your camera, but if you drop it you can’t stop to retrieve it.
Couples or pairs can ride linked bikes, and there are seats that can go between two bikes if room is needed for a third adult or child. Carts are provided for those who want to do the course, but not pedal a bike. There’s even cute sidecars for small children.
How hard is the pedalling? Not difficult, though a little effort is needed for gentle inclines.
Accessing Gatton Go is easy by public transport. It’s about an hour’s drive from the popular tourist city of Takayama in Gifu Prefecture where the local Nohi Bus company in 2019 sold Gatton Go tickets – transport and entry included – starting at around 4,200 yen an adult depending on the course length. That’s just over $A50, depending on the exchange rate. The Nohi Bus company is located next to Takayama’s main railway station, with the tickets including a return public bus ride to Kamioka, return taxi rides from the Kamioka town bus terminal to the Gatton Go railway station, and the Gatton Go railway cycling experience. At the time of writing, Coronavirus measures and the downturn in tourism were affecting some Nohi and Gatton Go services. So check the website or contact Nohi.
I undertook the Gatton Go course with my partner and some Australian friends. We were slightly concerned when we found we were the only westerners heading to Kamioka, particularly as none of us spoke Japanese. But the Nohi bus company in Takayama had alerted Gatton go staff and taxi drivers, who received us warmly every step of the way. A lovely lady even came out to the front of the Gatton Go headquarters to welcome us. It was all very easy, and we had no need to worry.
A small shop with drinks and snacks operates at the station, and a brief safety talk is given before rides begin. The talk is in Japanese, but we were provided with safety information sheets in English. Helmets were also provided.
There’s also an old railway carriage on display that is an enjoyable railways museum piece. You can board it and have a good look around.
Gatton Go was a brilliant little adventure, worth the trouble of getting off the beaten tourist track! I might even go back for more on a future trip and try the longer course!
SPACE AGE MAGIC:
For the scientific minded visitor, Kamioka has something very special that is at the forefront of international space research – the Kamioka Observatory Institute for Cosmic Ray research. It is the world’s largest underground neutrino detector, and it is located deep underground in a mine near the town. It studies the nature of neutrinos in efforts to reveal the history of the universe using neutrinos.Luckily I was travelling with a retired geophysicist and an engineer who explained these things to me!
Basically, the super-Kamiokando is a neutrino detector that assists scientists to detect dying stars and learn more about the universe, including tracing the history of exploding stars.
I researched Kamioka in February 2019 for my upcoming Japan itinerary, and missed seeing that the Observatory was opening a museum in March 2019. So it was open to the public when I was there, but unfortunately no one mentioned the new museum to me, so I missed out. If I return to Kamioka, I will definitely visit the museum!
Check out its website.
This old Japanese Alps mountain town offers a great opportunity to cycle along its historical old railway tracks – and a chance to check out some of the world’s best science at the super-Kamiokando museum, is part of this magic experience. I understand there are some great hiking trails in this area too.
Did you see my last two blog travel stories: An update on CURRY FLAVOUR – JAPAN and FLIGHT – my ups and downs tale in the Air!