Each year for nearly a decade, a dedicated group of railway enthusiasts has been making its way to Japan to explore the small local railways that branch out like so many veins and arteries around the country.

The fascination is not only with the railways and the trains themselves — many of striking varieties — but with why some of these local networks were constructed in the first place, in backwaters and the open countryside.

The minor lines, which seem to continuously spring up, offer those who come on the trips — usually held once a year — a challenge and an opportunity to explore and learn about a particular area of a network. They also offer a peek into rural Japan.