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As far as Japanese public transport goes, nothing competes with the shinkansen (bullet train), but tour leader Mark Fujishige has found no end of novel ways to take to the tracks. As one of the world’s healthiest nations, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by the Yakuzen Resha train, complete with herbal medicine-infused bento boxes.
Yakuzen is the Japanese term for cuisine that blends kanpo (Chinese herbal medicine) with food. This makes eating herbs, and other foodstuffs that are good for you, go down much more easily. But don’t think of it as medicine disguised as food, rather food as medicine. As well as helping people recover from illness, yakuzen helps prevent it by maintaining good health. Ideally, ingredients are chosen according to the season or the needs of the person eating the meal.
Yakuzen Resha train
If you’ve read any of my other blog pieces, you may have noticed a pattern of sorts: food and trains. I don’t claim to be an expert on either, but I do like both very much!
I had the opportunity to combine these interests with the Yakuzen Resha (Chinese medicinal food train). Having seen advertisements on my local train line for months, I thought it’d be something unique and fun to try. Plus, I haven’t encountered much yakuzen in my lifetime, so it all came together nicely.
The Yakuzen Resha runs on the Yoro Railway between the city of Ogaki, in Gifu Prefecture, and Kuwana, in neighboring Mie Prefecture. During the hour-long journey, we enjoyed a healthy bento (Japanese-style lunch box) provided by a local yakuzen restaurant. The meal was filled with locally sourced and seasonal ingredients, some I was familiar with, and others that I’d never heard of or tried before. I’ll never look at a common weed quite the same way again!
But wait, there was more!
Entertainment came in the form of a reenactment of the legend surrounding the Yoro Waterfall, which the train line runs near. There was a special song about the benefits of yakuzen, and (of course) shopping! Horsetail tea, black garlic, rice crackers, and more!
Train travel in Japan
This trip was a far cry from some of the great train-related experiences you can enjoy in Japan. It’s nothing like riding in GranClass or seeing Mount Fuji at dawn outside your cabin window on the Izumo Sunrise. However, I thought it was a great day out and a way to support local businesses. As Japan enjoys record numbers of visitors from abroad, I hope communities outside major tourist areas enjoy some of the economic benefits of tourism.
Do I recommend adding the Yakuzen Resha to your lineup of holiday activities? Well, no, I can’t say I honestly do. At least not for the “average” visitor to Japan, but I hope you consider the addition of a smaller, less-visited destinations.