The following trip report is for a journey I took in July, 2012.
After a day of travelling in northern Tokyo, it was time to head south. Our destination was Hiroshima, but instead of travelling directly by Shinkansen, I had decided to take the indirect route via Takamatsu on the island of Shikoku. We were taking the overnight sleeper train to Takamatsu (known as the Sunrise Express Seto), then doubling back to Okayama on the Marine Liner service and finally the Sanyo line Shinkansen to Hiroshima.
It was getting late, and we decided to buy dinner on the train. We waited for the Sunrise Express on platform 9 at Tokyo station. The train before ours arrived in the platform; a Shōnan Liner service operated by an older 185 series EMU headed for Ito, south of Yokohama. It looked quite old and scruffy for a Japanese Limited Express service, and for some reason it had a determined looking seagull in a sailor’s hat in an illuminated box on the front of the train.
The Sunrise Express was due to depart at 22:00, and at 21:50 it arrived on the platform. The train was a beige and pink, double deck 285 series EMU with raised Driver’s cabs. It was 2 7 car sets coupled together, with one portion operating as our Sunrise Express Seto to Takamatsu, the other would be uncoupled en-route and was the Sunrise Express Izumo, bound for Izumo-shi. We boarded the train, and entered the narrow corridor that ran the length of one side of our car. At regular intervals along the corridor were short stair cases, leading up and down alternately. We reached the stairway corresponding with the number on our ticket, and descended. At the bottom were 2 doorways leading off at right angles to the stair case, and we entered our compartment.
In the compartment were 2 single beds, one either side of a centre walkway. A window at platform level was next to one bed, and just the right amount of luggage space next to the other. There were light controls for the 2 reading lamps and the main compartment light, and audio controls for the on board music. 2 clean drinking glasses were also provided. At precisely 22:00, the Sunrise Express slid out of Tokyo station. Many drunken Japanese businessmen waved goodbye to their colleagues from the platform and our train was soon gliding through the southern suburbs of Tokyo and on through Yokohama.
We went off in search of food, securing the compartment door with its electronic combination lock. Whilst walking along the train, we discovered that there were several different types of sleeping accommodation. There were carriages like ours, with a single deck walkway along one side of the car with large twin compartments above and below the corridor level, cars with double deck corridors running down the centre of the car and small single compartments either side of the upper and lower corridors, there were single deck cars with 3 levels of mats on communal floor space and there were cars with a central single deck corridor and larger single compartments either side. We walked through most of the train, finding only drink vending machines, before asking a conductor if we could buy food on the train. He smiled and shook his head – we went to sleep hungry.
We woke early the next morning, at about 6.30am. A long announcement was being made over the PA system, which went on for about 5 minutes (all in Japanese). I found out later that the announcement was due to the train being divided at Okayama, and making sure everyone was in the correct portion of the train. It was a good thing that we were woken by the announcement, as shortly after departing from Okayama, we passed over the Great Seto bridge. The Great Seto Bridge spans the Seto Inland Sea, and provides a road and rail link between the islands of Honshu and Shikoku. It is over 13 km long, and is actually made up of 11 bridges and viaducts between the islands in the Seto sea.
About 20 minutes after crossing the Great Seto bridge, we arrived at Takamatsu (right on time), and stepped out onto the platform in the humid morning air. We had arrived at Takamatsu at 7:30 on a weekday morning, and commuter trains were arriving from all over the island of Shikoku. Shikoku appears to have developed its own little ecosystem of trains, with single car diesel rail motors, electric multiple units, streamlined at one end and flat at the other, ancient electric multiple units on local services and the Marine Liners running back and forwards to Okayama on Honshu Island, with their single double deck car and 5 single deck cars. There was a rail motor pulling a brightly coloured trailer, with open sides and plastic seats (I later realised that this was for a school holiday special).
We exited the station in search of breakfast (ravenously hungry after missing out on dinner the previous night). About 500m from the main station entry was another, smaller station for the private (non JR) Takamatsu Electric Rail-road, with older EMUs heading off on Takamatsu’s 3 suburban lines. We found plenty of small cafes, but none seemed to be open for breakfast. After walking around for about 30 minutes, becoming hotter, hungrier and thirstier, we made our way back to the station. I spotted an advertisement for a food court on the second floor, so we made our way up, only to find that the only shop that was open was selling cakes and deserts. Finally, we settled on making up a meal from the food we could buy from the convenience store inside the station.
After eating our “breakfast” in the sea breeze at the Port of Takamatsu bus terminal, we purchased tickets for the next Marine Liner to Okayama. The Marine Liner trains provide a Limited Express service between Takamatsu and Okayama, departing roughly every 30 minutes. Despite their grand name, they are a fairly normal suburban service, with the exception of the double deck, bug eyed Green Car at the Takamatsu end of the train. The trip was uneventful, apart from another crossing of the Seto Bridge, and 55 minutes later we were in Okayama.
After a much needed coffee in the Starbucks at Okayama station, we purchased tickets on the next Shinkansen for Hiroshima. From the elevated Sinkansen platforms at Okayama station, I saw that there were trams running from outside the station and made a mental note to return the next day. The Sanyō Shinkansen trains were very frequent, and we had soon completed the 42 minute, 160 km journey.
At Hiroshima, we exited the station, and found the tram terminus. There were many trams leaving from the station; from modern, articulated trams to the vintage trams of the 1960s and 1970s. Our accommodation was on the Route 2 (Miyajimaguchi) tram line, so we boarded the sleek, modern Siemens tram, which rumbled along the cobbled streets of Hiroshima. After leaving the inner city area, we entered the narrow side streets of the suburbs. Our stop, Koami-cho, was in a quiet back street just before a small bridge which carries trams over the Tenma River. After the tram rumbled and clattered over the bridge, we were left wit the noise of 1000 cicadas chirping in the midday heat.
The Sansui Ryokan was just around the corner from the tram stop, and on arrival our elderly Japanese host showed us to our room. It was basic, but clean with bamboo matting on the floor. There was an air conditioner and it was exactly as required. The only problem was that there was only 1 room, when we had booked 2! We tried to explain this to our host, but he didn’t understand any English. A phone call was made, and a few minutes later, an elderly woman arrived, presumably the wife of our host. She understood enough English to comprehend the problem. After much muttering and head scratching, we were given the standby room as well as a smaller room. We were also told, in no uncertain terms, that there would be an additional charge. The additional charge worked out to be AUD$40 per night. Then were ushered towards our rooms and in exaggerated gestures, the operation of everything was explained to us. After dumping my luggage in my room, I left the Ryokan to explore Hiroshima.