Crossing Japan by Train

I spent the second day of my recent research trip to Japan traveling from Tokyo (the Japanese capital, which sits on the eastern coast of the island of Honshu) to Tokushima, a city on the coast of Shikoku (the third major island in the Japanese island chain).  The journey of 650 kilometers (more or less, depending on route) can take as little as a couple of hours if you fly, but I preferred a more scenic trip, so I traveled by train.


As a lover of trains (and schedules) I find it easy to travel in Japan – and since most signs are printed in English as well as Japanese (at least in the larger cities), it’s fairly easy to travel by train in Japan even if your language skills are limited. The English-language HyperDia website has accurate timetables for route planning purposes, and a Japan Rail Pass makes traveling inexpensive, even on the high-speed shinkansen (bullet trains).

I wanted to reach Tokushima in time to visit some historical sites that afternoon, so I left my hotel in Tokyo in time to catch the first shinkansen for Shin-Osaka, which left at 6:26 am.

Shinkansen ticket, reserved seat.

(Travel tip: when traveling with a JR Pass, you can travel without a pre-reserved ticket in any non-reserved cars on the shinkansen that accept the pass, but you can also stop at a ticket office in the station on the day of travel and get a ticket in the reserved car at no additional cost.)

After grabbing breakfast from one of the many convenience stores in Tokyo station:


I waited to board the train (and ate) in the glass-enclosed “quiet/nonsmoking waiting room” on the platform.



The train in the photo is mine – but since it was the first to depart that morning, it didn’t board immediately upon arriving at the station.

The train sped south from Tokyo, and passed through several cities (including Kyoto) on its way to Shin-Osaka. I spent most of the journey enjoying the scenery, which included lots of misty mountains and recently-harvested rice fields.


In Shin-Osaka, I changed to another shinkansen bound for Okayama, where I transferred to the JR “Marine Liner,” a coastal train that crosses the Seto Ohashi (Great Seto Bridge), the world’s longest two-tiered bridge, which joins the islands of Honshu and Shikoku.


The bridge takes almost 15 minutes to cross by train; the train lines run on the bridge’s lower tier, while the upper level is reserved for automobiles and buses.

I could have reached Tokushima more quickly by taking a highway bus, but the buses take a different bridge across the strait, and I wanted the experience of crossing the Seto Ohashi.

The Marine Liner’s final stop is at Takamatsu, where I transferred to another local train for the hour-long ride along the northeastern coast of Shikoku to my destination, Tokushima — but not before grabbing a tasty snack from a vendor in Takamatsu station:


This little pastry tasted like a sweet croissant, and was topped with roasted pine nuts. Japanese train stations are excellent places to sample local delicacies – keep your eyes and your stomach on alert when traveling!

The countryside between Takamatsu and Tokushima was rural and mostly dedicated to farms. As on Honshu, many of the rice fields were recently harvested:

Between Sanbonmatsu and Tokushima, Shikoku

Tokushima is the capital city of Tokushima Prefecture. It has a population of just over 260,000 people, and was historically famous for its indigo dyes and the Awa Odori, the largest dance festival in Japan, which occurs each summer.

Tokushima Eki (Station) is the city’s central train station.


Like many other places in Japan, Tokushima Eki is surrounded by a number of hotels, including the one I stayed in: the Daiwa Roynet Tokushima Ekimae. (Travel tip: “Eki-mae” means “in front of/facing the train station” – a helpful phrase to know when booking lodgings.)


Like most Japanese hotels, this one was spotlessly clean, well-appointed, and snug, and my room had a view of the square in front of the station. I’ll definitely stay there again the next time I’m in Tokushima.

I arrived in plenty of time to see the sights that afternoon . . . about which I’ll say more in another post.