Rail Report: Trainspotting my way around Shikoku, Japan (19-23 November 2016)

I’ve logged thousands of miles of travel through the years in pursuit of the two Japanese things that interest me the most: trains and castles. Needless to say, I find a journey especially rewarding when I can satisfy my thirst for both in one fell swoop – and there are few places better endowed in that regard than the island of Shikoku. Since I’ve already written about the castles I visited during my November 2016 holiday in that area, let’s turn the spotlight on the trains that brought me here and there.

Right … shall we begin at the beginning? (^_^)

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19 November 2016: Okayama-Kōchi-Marugame-Okayama

My first stop of the day was Kōchi, on the southern coast of Shikoku. And here’s the train that brought me there from Okayama: a 2000 Series DMU, operating as the Nanpū 1 limited express service. Top speed in normal service is 120 km/h.

The interior shots below are of the Green Car (i.e., the first class carriage). Here, a 2-1 seat layout offered a more spacious environment for the roughly 2.5-hour ride ahead than the tighter 2-2 seating in the train’s Ordinary Cars. This particular unit was one of several in this ageing class of train that were refurbished from late 2010 onwards, with new upholstery and refreshed interiors. (I assume the individual power outlets were also introduced during the refit, as I didn’t spot any on an unrenovated 2000 Series DMU I rode later that day.)

I paused at Marugame for one last round of castle-hunting en route to Okayama. Once I’d finished, I returned to the railway station and settled into a platform-side seat to wait for my ride.

A few minutes before my own train pulled up at the station, another beast came to a halt alongside the platform opposite: a 115 Series EMU, D formation, set D-23. The lead car bore the body number KuHa 115-350.

My ride pulled into the station a couple of minutes later. I was in a bit of a rush to board so I captured these images after we’d arrived at Okayama. Another JR Shikoku 2000 Series DMU, this time operating as the Nanpū 18 limited express service … and quite different from the morning train as it was wrapped in special Anpanman livery.

This particular specimen is the so-called “Orange” set, a 4-car formation comprised of vehicle numbers 2030, 2230, 2231, and 2130. It’s one of two 2000 Series DMU formations (the other is a 3-car set code-named “Green”) employed by JR Shikoku on themed アンパンマン列車 (“Anpanman Train”) services running along the Dosan Line.

My seat was in the comfortable – but hopelessly drab – Green Car, which clearly had not been subjected to the 2010s-era makeover we’d seen in the first ride of the day. (Compare and contrast with the renovated train from this morning.)

I stole a shot of one of the Ordinary Cars as I walked past. A bit more cramped with 2-2 seating, but at least it looked a touch more interesting in there. (Though it makes sense that they would save the themed Anpanman interiors for the less expensive Ordinary section, since families travelling with children would be more likely to book seats in that area than in the more expensive Green compartment.)

I lingered on Honshū the next day, resuming my exploration of Shikoku – and my enjoyment of its rich variety of rolling stock – on the following morning.

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21 November 2016: Okayama-Matsuyama-Imabari-Matsuyama

I travelled from Okayama to Matsuyama (Shikoku’s largest city) on the Shiokaze 1 limited express service. Today’s rolling stock: a JR Shikoku 8000 Series EMU, set L2. Maximum speed in normal operation is pegged at 130 km/h, although the design speed for the full-production units is 140 km/h (the prototype unit had a top speed of 160).

This model dates from the 1990s, but the whole fleet underwent a major refurbishment from 2004 to 2006.

Typical Green Car set-up: 2-1 seat configuration (versus 2-2 in Ordinary). The huge picture windows are great for taking in the scenery during the more than two-and-a-half-hour ride, and especially during the transit across the massive Seto Ōhashi linking Okayama Prefecture on the Honshū side to Kagawa Prefecture on Shikoku.

After dropping off some luggage at my hotel, I returned to Matsuyama Station and boarded the Shiokaze 16 service for a short hop to Imabari. Another 8000 Series EMU, set L4 this time, and pretty much identical to the first train of the day.

Once I’d finished with the day’s castle hunt, I returned to Matsuyama on the Shiokaze 11. The service was operated using a relatively recent addition to the JR Shikoku fleet: an 8600 Series EMU, set E2. This three-car formation was constructed by Kawasaki Heavy Industries and delivered in October 2015. Maximum operating speed is 130 km/h, but the train’s rated design speed is 140 km/h.

I was seated in the Green compartment, which occupied half of car number 8702 on this particular set. Unfortunately, I only managed to take one quick snapshot of the interior as I disembarked.

Note the carpeted floors: not something I’ve seen a lot of on limited express services, but a common feature in the first-class cars of Shinkansen trains. Excluding the unique upholstery, even the seats look quite similar to Shinkansen-style Green Car units – down to the shape of the control buttons and the reading lights.

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22 November 2016: Matsuyama-Uwajima-Uchiko-Matsuyama

After breakfast, I headed to Matsuyama Station and waited for the 8:08 Uwakai 5 limited express service to Uwajima. As I cooled my heels on the platform, I engaged in a bit of light trainspotting – starting with a sleek new JR Shikoku 8600 Series EMU…

…or rather two of them, since that’s set E1 (on the left) and E11 (on the right) coupled together into a single train. E1, a three-car formation, is from the same 2015 full-production batch as E2 (which I rode the previous day), whilst the two-car E11 is one of a pair of pre-production sets delivered in 2014.

And over here, we have three older single-car units joined into one, led by a JNR KiHa 32 Type DMU bearing car number KiHa 32 9. The manufacturer’s plate on the head car – stamped with the name of Niigata Tekkōsho (the defunct predecessor company of rolling stock manufacturer Niigata Transys) – is dated “昭和 62年”, “Year 62 of Shōwa”, which gives us a build date of 1987. Looks quite good for its age, I must say.

Now for a (rather blurry) snapshot of my train: a JR Shikoku 2000 Series DMU. Car 2116 to be precise. Actually, I’m not certain if my seat was in this particular car or another one in the same formation, but it’s somewhere in there. (^_^)

After a happy morning of castle exploration at Uwajima, I returned to the train station and boarded the Uwakai 14 limited express service. Another 2000 Series DMU (car 2105 this time), virtually identical to the one I’d taken that morning.

Unlike the type 2000 specimen of the 2000 Series DMU that I’d taken a few days back (the one in the first day of this post), these type 2100 units aren’t equipped with Green Cars. They do have both reserved and non-reserved seats, but interestingly enough, the sections are not physically segregated. There’s an overhead signboard that indicates which rows are reserved or non-reserved, and different colours are used for the antimacassars (blue for reserved, white for non-reserved), so passengers who haven’t paid extra for a seat reservation can’t use the “oh I’m in the wrong section” excuse.

No castles to hunt in Uchiko, but there’s was plenty of beautiful architecture to admire (see here and here). And when I’d finished, I travelled back to the railway station for the homeward trip to Matsuyama, where I managed to do just one bit of trainspotting…

…not on the platforms, but outside the front door.

Nicknamed “Shiikoro”, this grand-looking beast mounted in the station plaza is a JNR Class C12 steam locomotive – unit “C12 231” to be precise. Built in 1939 by Nippon Sharyō, C12 231 served for three decades on railway lines in the Sendai area, up north in the Tōhoku region. It was then transferred here to Shikoku (quite a long journey, that), where it ran on the Uchiko Line for less than a year before finally being retired in March 1970. By that time, it had racked up a whopping 1,209,334 kilometres of travel over its entire service life.

Well done, old chap. Enjoy your well-deserved retirement in one of Shikoku’s most picturesque towns.

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23 November 2016: Matsuyama-Ōzu-Matsuyama

I took no pictures of the Uwakai trains that made my castle-hunting excursion to Ōzu possible, but I did manage to spot a rather interesting piece of rolling stock at the station before my homebound ride. Here we have a Type KiHa 54 DMU (unit 54 7 in this case) built in the 1980s, top speed 95 km/h, decked out in special “Welcome NanYo!” livery as part of a tourism campaign.

After arriving in Matsuyama, I headed for the tram stop close to the main railway station and boarded the next Line 5 service bound for Dōgo Onsen…

…which at that particular moment was being served by an Iyotetsu MoHa 2100 Type electric tram car. This particular unit, number 2105, was built by ALNA Sharyō in 2004. The car’s present livery – well, as of the day I rode it anyway – consists of wrap-around graphics promoting the Haiku Kōshien (俳句甲子園), a haiku competition for high schoolers held every August in Matsuyama. There’s also a fair bit of brand promotion thrown in for DyDo (yes, the drinks company you see all the time on Japanese vending machines); I’d imagine they’re one of the competition’s major sponsors.

And the last piece of rolling stock to be featured in this post, spotted at Dōgo Onsen’s iconic Western-style tram station…

…is the so-called “Botchan Train” (坊っちゃん列車, Bocchan Ressha), a 2001 reproduction of the old steam-powered narrow-gauge trains that used to serve the Matsuyama area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although patterned after a coal-fired SL, the present incarnation actually runs on diesel – a compromise taken in part to alleviate concerns over the pollution that a real coal engine might bring into the downtown area. (Obviously, having an electric train merely dressed up as an SL would have been far too much of a concession; at least a diesel unit retains a wee sliver of the feel and flavour of the original.)

Cheerio.

2 responses to “Rail Report: Trainspotting my way around Shikoku, Japan (19-23 November 2016)

  1. Great pics, I travel many times in Japan to see the trains, tramcars and other traffic. Was at Dogo Onsen station in november. Greeting from Holland.

    • Thanks mate, it’s always a pleasure to hear from fellow Japan train enthusiasts. It certainly helps that Japan’s got a seemingly limitless variety of rolling stock all across the country – one is almost always assured of encountering something new on each visit. Cheers.

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