I’ve got plenty to look forward to in the historic capital of Ehime Prefecture – but of course, I’ll need to get there first. It’s a good thing I love long train rides.
We’ve got a lot of ground to cover today so we’ll take it in three posts. First part:
I was more than a little excited about today’s journey – partly because of what I was looking forward to seeing at my destination, but also because this trip would see me reach a significant milestone in my life as a traveller and Japanophile.
But we’ll have more to say on that later. Right now, I’ve got a train to catch.
The first ride on today’s itinerary is an early shinkansen service: the Sakura 541, an N700 series train bound for Kagoshima-Chūō that leaves Shin-Ōsaka at 06:25 and stops briefly at my transfer point, Okayama, 50 minutes later.
Shin-Ōsaka Station’s Platform 21 was peaceful and blissfully free of crowds this Wednesday morning . . .
. . . but the usual orderly queues soon materialised as our ride pulled into the station.
The N700-7000 and N700-8000 series trains used on Sakura services don’t have a full Green Car for first-class passengers. Just half a compartment, with 24 seats arranged in 6 rows.
Splendidly comfortable reclining seats, with proper legrests in addition to the usual footrests. Not a bad place to start the morning’s activities.
And speaking of morning activities, I haven’t had breakfast yet. Time to break out the bentō.
Mmm, beef katsu.
I’m a fast eater, so the food was long gone by the time our 50-minute hop to Okayama was over.
I only had 8 minutes to change trains at Okayama, but it was more than enough to put me on the 07:23 Shiokaze 1, bound for Matsuyama with a scheduled arrival time of 10:05.
An 8000 series train with a tastefully designed Green Car: rich blue upholstery contrasting with light wood accents and huge picture windows. A refreshing theme to match its refreshing name, Shiokaze – literally “salt wind” but perhaps more poetically translated as “sea breeze”.
And an appropriate name too, considering that the route runs over the Seto Inland Sea between Honshū and Shikoku.
I didn’t get a proper view of the entire structure, but even from my limited perspective I felt that the Seto Ōhashi (Great Seto Bridge) fully deserved the “大” character in its name. An engineering marvel, this was the longest two-tiered bridge system on earth – quite the fitting location for what was about to happen.
A look outside the window. A quick glance at the time. A restrained moment of celebration in my seat.
12 February 2014. 7:51 AM or thereabouts. Difficult to say with absolute certainty considering the limited view I had on my rapidly moving express train, but this was approximately the moment when we completed the crossing from Honshū to Shikoku. The moment when I reached the travel milestone I wrote of earlier.
At that point, I earned the right to say that I’ve been to all four main islands of Japan. Huzzah.
Well, perhaps it would have been more appropriate to save the congratulations for later, once I’d actually set foot on the soil of Shikoku. All the same, it was a pretty exciting moment, one that I never could have imagined I’d ever experience when I first arrived in this country five years ago.
Back then, my plan was to simply do the well-trodden tourist route of Tōkyō-Kyōto-Tōkyō. My anime-induced interest sated, confident that I’ve seen all that’s worth seeing, I could then divert my time and resources to trips in other countries and save Japan for much later in life, perhaps doing a longer cross-country trip during my retirement years.
Five years later, I was on the fifth iteration of what had become a near-annual ritual of exploring this incredibly fascinating land, never coming even remotely close to running out of things to see, do, and experience.
Returning to the present. (The present of this post, at any rate.) The ride on the Shiokaze wasn’t over yet – all told, it took nearly three hours from start to finish – so I settled back and relaxed, my thoughts gently turning towards the historic and cultural treasures I was about to see.