The following is a trip report for a journey I took in July, 2012.
I had a lot of ground to cover, so early in the morning (well, early for a holiday) and caught a local train on the Sanyo Main Line from Nishi-Hiroshima to Miyajimaguchi. I could have caught the tram from outside the ryokan, but the train was much quicker; another old 3 car 113 Series EMU with only a handful of passengers on board. At Miyajimaguchi, there is a well marked footpath from the railway station to the ferry terminal where 2 ferry companies offer almost identical services across to the island. As my JR pass allowed for free travel on the JR ferry, I obtained my free ticket and waited in line to board.
The sea breeze was welcome on the hot, humid morning and the 20 minute trip across the Inland Sea was calm and uneventful. We passed oyster farms on our small voyage, and I was surprised at how dirty the water was; waste plastic floated on top of the water, and we even passed a couple of tyres adrift in the murky water. It really didn’t fit the stereotype of an orderly, clean Japan.
Approaching the island, there was a beautiful view of the large Torii Gate protecting the Shinto temple on the island. In a very Japanese way, our ferry docked at the wharf with a minimum of fuss and we disembarked in an orderly fashion. On the island, beautiful stone sculptures and old style lamps lined the waterfront. I was surprised to see several very life-like statues of deer depicted around the public areas. I was even more surprised when one of the statues turned its head towards me! I discovered they weren’t statues, but part of the large population of wild deer on the island. Due to a lack of harassment by the human population of the island, the deer show absolutely no fear, and quite often approach tourists in the hope that they will have a tasty snack.
After taking a multitude of photos of the deer, the Torii Gate and the stone sculptures, I took a tour of the island’s Shinto Temple. The tide was low, but when it is in, seawater surrounds the raised wooden walkways of the temple, making it appear as if it is an island on an island. When the tide is out, the smell of rotting seaweed is rather off putting and an unattractive bed of mud and sand lays below. In contrast with the temple’s ornate and old style fixtures, modern earth moving equipment was working in the temple forecourt and a high rise apartment block was visible on the mainland. In the temple’s gift shop, pre-packaged Shinto prayers and trinkets were on sale in an almost vulgar adaptation of the religion into modern consumer culture.
After passing through the temple, I walked around the island. I browsed amongst the many souvenir shops and cafes, with their highly inflated prices for the privilege of shopping on the island. On the way back to the ferry terminal, I witnessed a deer stealing a pizza from a group of surprised students, then attempting to eat one of their t-shirts.
Back on the mainland, I caught another 113 Series EMU on a local train back to Hiroshima where I changed to Shinkansen to Okayama. After a quick stop for coffee in the Starbucks at Okayama station, I boarded the double deck “green car” of a 5000 Series EMU on a Marine Liner service to Takamatsu, crossing the Great Set-o Bridge over the Inland Sea.
Takamatsu again had a great variety of trains arriving and departing at the dead end terminal. Local and Limited Express services to destinations all over Shikoku, as well as the regular Marine Liner services to Okayama on the island of Honshu. After watching the bustle of the mid afternoon traffic for about 30 minutes, I boarded a 2000 series DMU on a Limited express service. I didn’t know where it was going, but I didn’t care either. I had all afternoon and a JR pass; I was ready for adventure.
The little DMU sped through the suburbs of Takamatsu at speeds of up to 130 km/h (not bad on narrow gauge track!). We stopped at only the larger stations, and at one point crossed over another railway on a section of evelvated track. After traveling for about 45 minutes, I decided it was time to leave this train. I alighted at the next station (Yashima), where I found a single car 1500 Series DMU waiting on the opposite platform. After consulting the (Japanese) timetable on the platform, I was reasonably sure that this train was about to depart back for Takamatsu on a local service. I boarded the train, and inside, found the Driver standing at a counter at the front of the car, checking and selling tickets. At precisely the correct time, the Driver turned around, sat in his seat and departed the train. The train was a local (all stations) service, and the Driver sold tickets at each station along the line.
We had crossed the line I had noticed on our outward journey near Ritsurin station, so I left the little 1500 series DMU there, and walked down from the elevated station. I soon found the line I had seen from above. Immediately, I could tell that it was not a JR line; it was standard gauge (1435mm) as opposed to the narrow gauge (1067mm) of the conventional JR lines. Consulting my map, I deduced it was the Takamatsu Kotohira Electric Railroad, a private suburban railway operating through the suburbs of Takamatsu.
I walked beside the line for a kilometre or so, before finding a good spot for photography at a level crossing. The level crossing was in a lower class residential area, and I received a few curious looks from the locals as I loitered around the level crossing waiting for a train. After several successful photographs, I consulted my map again, and found a station nearby. I walked towards the station but close to where the station should have been, the railway went inside a shopping centre and I couldn’t find the entry. After searching in vain for about 10 minutes, I asked a schoolgirl walking by how to get inside. She spoke excellent English, and with typical Japanese courtesy, she went out of her way to show me where the station was. After thanking her profusely (arigato domo), I purchased a ticket for the (my JR pass wasn’t valid on this little private train) and made my way to the platform.
Within a few minutes, an ancient, bright green 2 car EMU pulled into the platform. A handful of people were aboard the spartan carriage, with linoleum flooring and longitudinal vinyl seating. The train may have been old, but was in perfect working order and in true Japanese fashion, right on time. I was at Kawaramachi station, and caught the little 2 car EMU back to Takamatsu. The Takamatsu Kotohira Electric Railroad does not use the JR station at Takamatsu, but terminates a few hundred metres away at Takamatsuchikko. It is a pretty little station in a small park. The low fence and short, colourful trains give it the appearance of a toy railway, especially as the station is a little lower than street level. I watched the small EMUs, yellow and green, some with cartoon animals painted on them arrive and depart like clockwork from the little station.
I made my way back to the JR station, and caught another 5000 series EMU Marine Liner service back to Okayama. At Okayama, I left the station and headed out to the tram terminus I had seen the previous day. The terminus was just over the road from the railway station and I watched the little old trams running to the dead end and back up the street. The trams were brightly coloured, all wearing all-over advertising. I walked a couple of blocks down the line to the junction of Okayama’s 2 tram lines, and was rewarded by the passing parade of brightly coloured trams on the 2 routes. Fairly soon, I began to see the same trams returning, as the combined length of both lines is only 4.7 route km.
I caught a tram the handful of stops back to the railway station, then caught the next Shinkansen towards Hiroshima. From the railway station, I caught a Hiroden tram back to the Ryokan and quickly fell asleep on the tatami floor mat after my busy day.