Sunday, December 22, 2013

Takamatsu to Matsuyama Trip and return to Tokyo

Continuing on from the last blog entry, back in January 2013, I was in Japan on a train trip from Tokyo to Takamatsu and Matsuyama. We got to experience a lot of different trains during this trip! I will focus on the Takamatsu to Matsuyama (and Tokyo return) section of the trip in this blog entry.

The next part of our Shikoku trip involved taking the JR Shikoku tilt train (above) from Takamatsu to Matsuyama, which takes a couple of hours, mostly travelling along the scenic Shikoku coastline. I had never been on a tilt train before so I was very excited to experience a journey on one.

Here is the Takamatsu Station platform sign next to the train:

Here is a closeup of the JR Shikoku logo:

We were in carriage no. 1 for this trip:

 Inside the train my attention was first drawn to the beautiful washroom sinks. It is rare to see this sort of washroom bowl on a train:

We then took our seats and here is the view from the inside of the carriage:

The seats were comfortable, can tilt and rotate 180 degrees if you have 4 friends travelling together for example. Here is some of the scenic views of the mountains as we headed towards Matsuyama:

We eventually arrived at Matsuyama station:

Looking around Matsuyama Station I could see some of the other local trains:

Outside Matsuyama Station:

Near to Matsuyama station is the tram stop heading towards Dogo Onsen, our primary destination in Matsuyama.  Here is the view from the tram stop:

Matsuyama is far from the larger cities of Japan, and the age of some of the trams running there reflects this, and also the general absence of English explanations:

The tram I wanted to catch wasn't due for a while so I went tram spotting. There are some modern trams too:

However, the tram I wanted to ride is the Bocchan Resha. It is a replica of the original steam train series and wooden carriages used in Matsuyama, but updated to use Matsuyama tram lines and runs a diesel engine and smoke effects (with electric pantograph power to conform to Automatic Train Stop ATS - regulations). They are quite narrow but the Bocchan Resha looks fantastic:

Bocchan Resha rear view heading towards Matsuyama Station tram stop:

Here is a few more modern and older tram models running in Matsuyama:

 Back at the Matsuyama tram stop, the Bocchan Resha is about to arrive - you can see how narrow and small it is compared to the tram next to it:

The entry door to the narrow wooden carriages is very low and of course I hit my head on the top of the door frame trying to get inside with our luggage in tow. They reckon 8 people can sit in here but I personally doubt that claim!

The original plate from the construction of the Bocchan Resha in Germany back in 1888 is shown here:

After a short 30 minute trip we arrived at Dogo Onsen tram stop. It is a beautiful station:

Having got off the Bocchan Resha, a surprise awaited as the loco then separates from the carriages and shunt to a special location just beyond the station where a man can lift and turn the loco around on the railway line by himself, and then reconnect the loco to the carriages for it's return journey! Very interesting!

Here is the train, all turned around and reconnected ready to go back to Matsuyama station:

Here is a closer look at the Bocchan Resha loco:

If you visit Matsuyama, make sure you take the time to ride the Bocchan Resha, it is a very interesting train. There is a staff member in period costume on the train who explains the history of the train - it was all in Japanese though - my wife was kind enough to translate it for me!

Dogo Onsen is the oldest bathhouse in Japan, over 3000 years old. Until very recently, this was the bathhouse used by the Emperor of Japan, and you can still use the public baths in it today:

Some interesting decorations on the fence surrounding Dogo Onsen:

Near the Dogo onsen station is this rather neat clock tower, which has an interesting display that occurs each hour:

We stayed in a beautiful luxurious Ryokan near Dogo Onsen, which was very relaxing and included a huge 3 hour dinner course! It had two baths in the room, one small and one bigger:

These baths have water supplied from hot springs below the surface and supposed to have special properties to help you relax - it certainly worked for me!

This was the view from the bedroom out past the onsen to the view outside:

Here is one course of the MANY courses we had for dinner that night in the Matsuyama Ryokan. It was delicious:

The next day we headed back to Tokyo, taking the the same tilt train service from Matsuyama Station, which continues past Takamatsu and continues on to Okayama. Here is the ekiben (Railway Station lunchbox) we bought at Matsuyama Station for the trip, train themed of course:

Along the way we saw some breathtaking scenery approached the bridge between Shikoku and the main Honshu mainland:

The view got even better as we crossed the bridge itself - the weather is clear and looked great:

The bridge is very high up and this view demonstrates that quite well:

At Okayama Station, we then waited a short time for the Tokaido Shinkansen to take us back to Tokyo, which takes a couple of hours to get there:

It was a fantastic trip, and I was very glad to see and ride a lot of interesting trains along the way! I hope this inspires people to come and visit Shikoku! :-)

Sunrise Seto Night Train Trip to Takamatsu and Naoshima

Back in January 2013, I was in Japan spending time with my wife's family in Tokyo over the New Year period. After the New Year has begun we went on a train trip from Tokyo to Takamatsu and Matsuyama. We got to experience a lot of different trains during this trip! I will focus on the Takamatsu section of the trip in this blog entry.

Prior to the Shinkansen getting to remote destinations in Japan by rail was done by Night Trains. Essentially you left in the late afternoon or evening, sleep on the train and arrive at your destination in the morning.

Japan Railways (JR) has been steadily expanding the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) rail network to cover a lot of Japan now, which in recent years has replaced most of the night trains that were running in Japan. This is because the Shinkansen is much faster than the Night trains are.

With the removal of many of the Night trains from service in the past few years, I was very keen to ride a few Night Trains before they disappear altogether.

Which neatly brings me to the train you see above. This is a night train called Sunrise Seto which travels from Tokyo Station to Takamatsu, located in Shikoku, which is an island off the coast of the main island in Japan (Honshu). It leaves Tokyo at 10pm exactly. In Japan, trains always leave on time. Our trains departure is shown below:

It is called Sunrise Seto because as the sun rises in the morning, the train is crossing the Seto sea between the main island of Honshu and Shikoku, close to the destination of Takamatsu.

Shikoku is definitely not at the top of most tourists destination list when visiting Japan. It is a shame this, because there is a lot of interesting things to see and do. I will show you some of these things!

There is no Shinkansen line currently going to Shikoku. The closest the Shinkansen get is a city called Okayama, around 2 hours or so from Takamatsu by another train. We used the Shinkansen when we went back to Tokyo.

This train has a number of different accommodation options - Nobi Nobi is the cheapest, where you basically sleep on the floor (it is a bit nicer than it sounds), up to Single and Twin Suite rooms.

We went for the Twin Suite room. Of course I had to go and take some photos of the train before it departed. Here is the sign above the platform for the Sunrise Seto, showing that this position is the entry location for Carriage No. 4:

The Sunrise Seto train then arrived into Tokyo Station (bit blurry sorry):

On the side of the train is the name of the train and the Destination Takamatsu, helpfully written in Japanese and English:

Some views of the train waiting at the platform:

In this shot it is clearer that there are two levels in the train. Our room is on the bottom because the twin rooms are only on the bottom unfortunately. If we picked the upstairs rooms then my wife and I would have to travel in separate room! If I travel on this train again myself I will choose the top as it is a much better view!

Sunrise Express Logo. There is also a Sunrise Izumo night train which connected to the back of the Sunrise Seto, and separates during the journey to go to another city in Japan:

Here is the view from our room on the train:

The room is locked with a combination lock, and has two beds with Radio, reading lamps, etc. There is power too which is handy for charging my phone and iPad for watching movies:

We reserved our shower time (there is a shower in each carriage) which is activated using a card (shown below) for 6 minutes maximum at the reserved time. At the end of 6 minutes the water stops automatically and the door unlocks!! You also get a Japanese Yukata for sleeping in:

You also get a small (and it is small) hand towel which has the train printed on it. You get to keep this as a souvenir:

As the train departed Tokyo I moved quickly to the lounge carriage, which gives a better view of the city as we left:

It was quite pleasant to sit here and eat some food watching the night lights of Tokyo fly by:

As a surprise my wife bought some great train bento (Meals) and other things from Tokyo station before we departed. I have say the sake in the Glass Shinkansen shaped bottle was great!

I tried to take some photos of the sunrise in the morning when I woke up, but they turned out too blurry to include here! As the sun was rising, the Sunrise Seto began the very long bridge crossing into the island of Shikoku:

Finally we arrived at Takamatsu Station:

Unlike a Shinkansen, the Sunrise Seto  moves around more (like a train in Australia does), so after travelling overnight I felt a bit dizzy when I got off the train at Takamatsu, but it passed soon after.

We had a fairly tight schedule on arrival, as we were catching a morning ferry to Naoshima, a small island about 1 hour by ferry from Takamatsu. We planned to look around Takamatsu later in the day.

We hurriedly dropped our luggage off at the hotel and went to the Takamatsu Ferry terminal, which had some nice art sculptures on the wharf:

We made the ferry with about 15 minutes to spare, bought our tickets, ready to go to Naoshima:

From the ferry I could take some nice photos of Takamatsu city:

As we headed towards Naoshima we were treated to some beautiful views of Shikoku from the ferry:

Once we arrived in Naoshima, we quickly started to explore it by bus and on foot. (no trains there unfortunately).  Naoshima is famous for it's modern art displays across the island (inside museums and on the island itself). I include some examples from our travelling so you can see what I mean:

Naoshima was interesting, and worth seeing if you are visiting this part of Japan. We then returned back by ferry to Takamatsu to look around. First step of course was to catch a local train to the main shopping district of Takamatsu:

We eventually reached the southern end of the very long shopping district in Takamatsu, and walked through it on our way back towards Takamatsu Station. We bought some clothing and other things while were were here:

Donation boxes in Japan are many and varied, but this one in Takamatsu still got my attention:

For dinner, we did of course have to sample the food Shikoku is most famous for, Udon Noodles, in a a local Takamatsu Restaurant:

In my next blog entry I will cover the next part of the Shikoku train journey from Takamatsu to Matsuyama, looking at the JR Shikoku tilt train, Bocchan Resha steam train, Matsuyama trams and more!