Aioi to Kokura via Shikoku

I awoke early in my hotel in Aioi and after a very basic complimentary breakfast, headed across the road to the Shinkansen station. Today I was planning to spend some time on the island of Shikoku, so I caught an Hikari Shinkansen for the 16 minute trip to Okayama.

As soon as I left the train at Okayama, I knew something was wrong. I counted my bags, and with dread, I realised that I had left one of my bags on the Shinkansen! I used Google translate on my phone to communicate this to the barrier gate attendant, who sighed and handed me a slip of paper from a pile. I looked at the paper, and written in Japanese and English were directions to the lost property office.

The directions on the paper led me outside the station to a nondescript doorway; the sign on the door read “JR WEST – Lost and Found”. I entered, and found a cramped office occupied by three flustered looking railway staff. One of the staff approached me and bowed. I showed her the Google Translate readout and my ticket (to indicate which train and carriage I was travelling on when I lost the bag). She started speaking in rapid fire Japanese and I held up my hands and told her that I didn’t understand. She said “moment please…” and picked up the telephone. She said a few Japanese words into the handset and handed me the phone. I didn’t quite know what to expect, so I hesitantly said “…hello?”. A young lady answered in flawless English with a strong American accent, informing me that this was the operator for a telephone translation service. Via the operator at the translation service, I discovered that the train had not yet reached its destination of Hiroshima, and I should come back later. The train would be thoroughly checked and if found, my bag would be held at the Hiroshima lost property office. I was handed a number written on a scrap of paper, and told to bring it back to this office later on, and I would be told whether or not my bag had been found. Thankfully the lost bag only had clothes in it; my wallet, passport and laptop all securely in another bag which never left my sight. Feeling slightly better, I headed for the platform to catch a Marine Liner to Takamatsu.

The view from the Great Seto Bridge, out across the inland sea

The view from the Great Seto Bridge, out across the Inland Sea

Takamatsu is on Shikoku, an island in the Seto Inland Sea. To get to the island, travellers can take a variety of ferries, or make the journey over the Great Seto Bridge. The Great Seto Bridge is actually a series of 11 consecutive bridges with a combined length of over 13 km, running along an archipelago of 5 islands between the larger islands of Honshu and Shikoku. It is a double deck bridge, with a highway on the upper level and double track electrified railway on the lower level. Several train services use the bridge, the fastest regular train being the Marine Liner service, taking between 50 and 60 minutes to make the 72km trip from Okayama to Takamatsu. Marine Liners are EMU trains, operated by a combination of 5000 series double deck cars and 223-5000 series single deck cars. The trains are generally 5 or 7 cars long, with one 5000 series double deck reserved car at the Takamatsu end (Green class on the upper deck, ordinary class on the lower deck). The remaining 4 or 6 cars are 223-5000 series single deck unreserved cars. They generally operate every 30 minutes.

The double deck "green car" on a Marine Liner service at Takamatsu.

The double deck “green car” on a Marine Liner service at Takamatsu.

I had been to Takamatsu previously (The Sunrise Express, Takamatsu and Hiroshima and Miyajima, Okayama and Back To Shikoku) and had a vague travel plan mapped out in my head. I stood at Takamatsu station watching the trains arrive and depart; from the curious 8000 series EMU (streamlined at one end and blunt at the other), to the little 1200 and 1500 series railcars operating single car local services. I chose to catch an N2000 series tilting DMU on the Kotoku line, running east from Takamatsu.

An N2000 Series tilting DMU at Takamatsu

An N2000 Series tilting DMU at Takamatsu

We departed from Takamatsu station and were soon speeding along through the suburbs at speeds of up to 130 km/h; the little 2 car limited express Uzushio service leaning into the corners. I left the train at Shido station, where I decided to walk the 500 metres to Kotodenshido station. Kotodenshido station is the terminus of the Shido line on the Takamatsu-Kotohira Electric Railroad; a privately run suburban railway in Takamatsu. Unlike most JR lines (which operate on narrow gauge – 1067mm), the Takamatsu-Kotohira Electric Railroad operates on standard gauge (1435mm). It operates short EMU sets powered by 1500v DC overhead wires.

A 1500 Series railcar stands at Shido station on a local service

A 1500 Series railcar stands at Shido station on a local service

As I walked from Shido station, I found a police car had blocked off the street leading to Kotodenshido station, with two slightly bored looking police standing on the corner. I was concerned, as I hadn’t yet seen any evidence of crime on my travels through Japan (let alone crime so serious that it would warrant a whole street being blocked off). As I walked closer, I watched the police stop a delivery van before waving it through. Then I saw a family with young children walk past without so much as a blink from the police officers. I did the same, and was ignored completely. As I walked up the street towards the station, the reason for the road block became clear; a procession was slowly making its way along the street, with bearded men in flowing robes carrying a statue, led children beating drums. I presumed was some sort of Shinto festival and I watched the noisy, happy parade as it slowly disappeared from view.

A train at Koto as seen from the street outside the staion.

A train at Kotodenshido station, as seen from the street outside the staion.

I found Kotodenshido station nestled in between some low rise housing. The line ran off at a right angle to the street, with buffer stops a couple of metres from the footpath. Outside the station was a small ticket office, with an happy looking station attendant. I bought a ticket to Kawaramachi (the other end of the line) and made my way up the small ramp to the island platform. The main platform was about 4 car lengths long, with a very small back platform, which looked as if it would only hold 2 cars. At the end of the platform, the 2 platform lines converged into a single line towards Kawaramachi.

A train arrives at Kotodenshido station

A train arrives at Kotodenshido station

After waiting for about 10 minutes, an old pink and white 3 car EMU arrived into the main platform. I was surprised to see that it had a 2 person crew (a Driver and Guard), who rapidly changed ends. I climbed aboard, and the train departed after being in the terminus for only about 4 minutes. Inside the car, it was clean, basic and comfortable; velour covered longitudinal seating ran between the 3 sliding doors on each side of the car. There were plenty of strap hangers, but they were not required as there were ample seats for the half dozen or so passengers who had boarded the train.

A train on the  Takamatsu-Kotohira Electric Railroad near Omachi.

A train on the Takamatsu-Kotohira Electric Railroad near Omachi.

We made our way way sedately through the suburbs, stopping every couple of minutes at small unstaffed platforms on the single line. Few people boarded the train, and the guard checked tickets as passengers left at each stop. At Omachi station, I noticed a few good spots for photography, so I left the train. As with all of the other passengers, the Guard checked my ticket. He looked at it, then looked at me and back at the ticket. He became all flustered and said “you pay too much”; I had purchased a ticket to the end of the line, but had only travelled about half the distance. I waved my hand and said that it didn’t matter, but he was adamant that something must be done. He confiscated my ticket, and dug around in his bag. He triumphantly pulled out a ¥100 coin (about A$1.10) and handed it to me with a smile. He then bowed and signalled for the Driver to depart.

An N2000 tilting DMU leans into a corner at high speed near Omachi.

An N2000 tilting DMU leans into a corner at high speed near Omachi.

After that very Japanese effort for a trivial ticket discrepancy, I spent some time photographing trains on the Shido line, as well as the JR Kotoku line, which was just across the road. I started walking alongside the JR Kotoku line back towards Takamatsu. I checked the timetable, and found that the next local train would get me back just in time to catch the Marine Liner I had a seat booked on back to Okayama. The train left the nearest station in 22 minutes, and Google maps told me I could walk there in 17 minutes so I set off though the lane-ways of Omachi.

Turtles swimming in a storm water drain near Omachi.

Turtles swimming in a storm water drain near Omachi.

In an open storm water drain beside the road, I found some wild turtles swimming. They were about the size of dinner plates! I couldn’t resist stopping for some photos, which cut my margin to about 2 minutes. I walked faster, and made it to Furutakamatsuminami station 3 minutes before the train was due. As with almost all Japanese trains I had caught, it was right on rime, and I was barely on the platform before the single 1200 series railcar arrived. The Driver checked my rail pass and we set off for Takamatsu. The all stations journey was uneventful, and I just had time for a few more photos at Takamatsu station before boarding the Marine Liner back across the Great Seto Bridge back to Okayama.

A 1200 series railcar approaches Furutakamatsuminami on a local service bound for Takamatsu.

A 1200 series railcar approaches Furutakamatsuminami on a local service bound for Takamatsu.

Back in Okayama, I made my way back to the lost property office. I handed in my receipt, and the attendant made a phone call to Hiroshima. After a rapid fire exchange in Japanese, the attendant told me that they had found my bag, and it was waiting for my collection. The office in Hiroshima closed at 20:00, and It was now 17:00, so I had plenty of time for a tram ride before heading off to collect my bag.

Okayama trams at the junction stop of

Okayama trams at the junction stop of Yanagawa.

Thankfully, Hiroshima was between Okayama and my destination of Kokura. I made my way to the ticket office to change my tickets so I could break my journey in Hirsohima, before heading out into the street in front of the station. Okayama has 2 short tram lines, totalling just 4.7 route km, runing on narrow gauge tracks (1067mm) and electrified at 600v DC. Both routes terminate outside Okayama station and run together for 2 stops before diverging at Yanagawa, about 5 blocks from the station. I spent some time photographing the little trams, but with such a small network, it wasn’t long before I was seeing the same trams on their return journey.

An Okayama tram.

An Okayama tram.

I walked back to the station and boarded a Sakura Shinkansen for Hiroshima. After a 40 minute trip, I made my way to the ticket gate and asked the attendant where to find the lost property office. He pointed vaguely up a corridor, so I followed his gesture and found a sign indicating the way to the lost property office. The sign led me to a dead end, with some lockers and toilets. There was also a boarded up wall, where I presume the lost property office had once been. I had remembered seeing a map, so I walked back and studied it. The map showed the lost property office around the other side of the station, outside the building. I walked outside, where it had started to rain, and started to make my way around the building. Easier said than done, as the retail area around the station was being renovated, everywhere I turned, I was redirected away from where I wanted to be It felt as if I was in one of those dreams where you know exactly where you need to go, but can’t quite get there!

Finally, after walking through part of an underground car park and down several very dingy passage ways, I found the lost property office. It was a temporary looking cramped office with a couple of depressed looking attendants sitting forlornly behind desks. I couldn’t help but think that this was probably where railway careers came to die. The attendants brightened slightly at the sign of a visitor and I was given a smile. I handed over the receipt given to me in Okayama and the attendant smiled and made an exclamation before rushing off to a storeroom. A short time later, she emerged with my backpack. I thanked her very much (arigato, domo arigato) and left to catch my train down to Kokura.

After a 50 minute trip on a Sakura Shinkansen. I arrived in Kokura on the island of Kyushu. I walked the 4 blocks from the station to my hotel in the rain. The desk clerk spoke no English, but after showing my passport, he found my pre-booked reservation. My room was oddly triangular in shape, but comfortable and quiet, and after a full day’s travelling on 3 Japanese islands, I had no problems drifting off to sleep.


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