By Carl Sotomil
Hello there Mikans! My name is Carl, and I like trains. I am the ALT for Iyo-Nakayama, so if it still does not ring any bells until now, nice to meet you.
I live in the middle of the mountains (that’s where “Nakayama” got its name) in Iyo City, so much so that I can not even call it a city anymore. My daily life is almost entirely dependent on taking the train from the mountains to the city below. I love being on trains here in Ehime because it is almost guaranteed that you will have a seat every morning; though I am sometimes a little frustrated with the lack of scheduled trains, sometimes going hours without one!
A lot of you are probably afraid of going south because the Yosan Line splits into 2 lines, though I can reassure you that you will enjoy where both lines go through. Allow me to guide you through the mountains and the coastline by rail!
Limited Express Train “Uwakai”
Before we explore what things look like in the “split”, I know many of you would want to get to your destinations in Nanyo quickly; so let’s talk about how to pass through the split the quickest. People who don’t drive would usually pass through the split because they wanted to go to Uwajima, Ozu, or Yawatahama (where the ferry to Beppu is); the easiest way to get to those cities is to take the Limited Express Train from Matsuyama. The service is quite frequent and you would be at your destination in no time.
The Limited Express train is called the “Uwakai” (宇和海). This train was named after the Ehime side of the Bungo Channel south of the Sadamisaki Peninsula (the long peninsula of Ikata). These trains are operated by JR Shikoku; they run between JR Matsuyama and Uwajima through the Uchiko Line. These trains run almost every hour (with 3 per hour around the morning and late afternoon) and JR Shikoku usually uses the 2000 Series Tilting Trains, which makes the train run faster in curves and makes sure that your food or drink won’t spill when it is running.
The seats in the trains are pretty comfortable too, with a 2+2 configuration and a reclining function; just make sure that you aren’t reclining too much when there’s someone behind you. There is a fold out tray table, a fold out drink holder, an overhead luggage rack for your bags and a net to put your small belongings in.
Between Matsuyama and Yawatahama, the train stops at the following stations: (fare price from Matsuyama included)
- Iyo-shi (¥590)
- Iyo-Nakayama (¥790)
- Uchiko (¥1300)
- Iyo-Ozu (¥1500)
- Yawatahama (¥2500)
The Uchiko Route (内子経由)
Since we’re already talking about the limited express which uses this route, let’s talk about the Uchiko Route. The Uchiko Route is the newer line of the two; it was only completed in 1986. The route takes you through the mountains of Iyo-shi, then follows the flow of the Nakayama River downstream to Ozu through Uchiko. The route also takes you to the longest tunnel in Shikoku: The Inuyose Tunnel. Passing through the tunnel takes about three (on the limited express) to ten minutes (on some local trains). After the tunnel, it comes out at Iyo-Nakayama (a.k.a. my station!), which then leads you to more tunnels through the mountains to take you to Uchiko. After Uchiko, it will take you through one more tunnel in Ikazaki before the lines meet at Ozu.
To give you a general idea of what you’d expect to see on this route, here are 5 images.
The following are the highlights of this route. At this time we will only focus on the stations, and the areas immediate to them.
Described by Ehime’s only Sports Exchange Ambassador (SEA) as the “most beautiful station transfer ever”, Mukaibara is where the Yosan Line splits between the Uchiko Route (to the left of the train) and the Aiaru Iyonada Line (to the right of the train). Most people transfer at Iyoshi (I highly recommend transferring at this station too), but if you want to look at one heck of a view from a station, you can transfer at Mukaibara.
After you exit the Inuyose tunnel, you will find yourself approaching Iyo-Nakayama Station (my station)! This is actually one of the last stations completed in 1986 before fully opening the Uchiko Route. There’s nothing really much to do inside the station but outside the station, you will see another building. This building is the Nakayama Kuri Center. Iyo-Nakayama is well known for its huge chestnuts (kuri) and is sought after all over Japan. At the Nakayama Kuri Center, you can buy chestnut-related omiyage and goods. From October until around February, they also sell roasted chestnuts. They are roasted just right and have a sweet, aromatic taste.
This major town is the reason why the Uchiko route was built in the first place. Uchiko was already connected to the JR Line before they opened the Uchiko Route as a shortcut to Matsuyama in 1986. After the direct line to Matsuyama was built, Uchiko station got a major upgrade to elevated tracks complete with step-free access. Outside the station, you will see a steam locomotive that they formerly used to haul passengers from Uchiko to Matsuyama.
Though it is beyond the scope of this article, I highly recommend actually getting off at Uchiko and exploring the Uchiko-za Theater (about 10-15 minutes from the station) or the Machinami area (about 20 minutes from the station), where surviving Edo period houses are preserved.
Iyo-Ozu is where the two lines meet again. Ozu is a bigger town with a very rich history; I highly recommend going to its attractions such as the castle and Garyu Sanso. Returning to the station, you can transfer to another train bound for Yawatahama, Seiyo or Uwajima if you decide to continue further into Nanyo. This station was renovated as recently as 2021. The station boasts modern toilets, lockers and a tourist information center in case you decide to go around Ozu during the day.
Like Uchiko, I also highly recommend getting off at Iyo-Ozu. I highly recommend visiting the Garyu-sanso cottage (about 30 minutes from the station), the old town (about 25 minutes from the station) and Ozu Castle (about 20 minutes from the station).
Aiaru Iyonada Route (愛ある伊予灘経由)
When the Uchiko Route opened in 1986 as a faster shortcut to Matsuyama, the former mainline that ran through the coast of the Seto Inland Sea became the Aiaru Iyonada Line, a semi-independent third sector company that is funded by the local governments of Ozu and Iyo. “Aiaru ” is a play on the acronym “IR”, which means “Independent Railway ”. Of the two routes in the split, this line takes about an additional hour to reach Ozu, but it has stunning views of the Seto Inland Sea from Iyo-Nagahama until Kounokawa. From Iyo Nagahama up until Ozu, you also get stunning views of the Hijikawa River. I highly recommend sitting on the right side of the train from Matsuyama (left side from Ozu).
To give you a general idea of what you’d expect to see on this route, here are 5 images.
The following are the highlights of this route. At this time, we will only focus on the stations and the areas immediate to them, as we’re not really leaving the trains when we are travelling through these areas. There will be a few opportunities to get off the train temporarily and take some photos.
Iyo-Kaminada is the second biggest station in the Aiaru Iyonada Route after Nagahama. Before the station, the trains cross a bridge over the town, offering views of Kaminada from the railway. Inside the station, you can see posters about the area and maybe even read a story about the station’s cat. This station used to be manned, where you can get your tickets; but after the shortcut to Uchiko was opened, it was closed.
Outside the station, you can find the Futami Food Center, where you can get local Futami specialties such as Hamo (a long fish). Walk north along the road and you will find yourself at Futami Seaside Park. Here, you can find the sunset monument where many people take photos during sunset and a host of businesses that sell anything from local products to Jakoten.
Ah, yes; the station. If there is one station in the split where I’d go, it’ll be Shimonada Station. This station definitely needs an article of its own in the future so keep an eye out. Shimonada’s main attraction is its view of the Seto Inland Sea. It reminds me of the famous Zen Garden at Ryoan-ji in Kyoto. A lot of tourists visit this place, so it can get a little bit crowded; but keep an eye out for the station masters, where they’ll happily tell the story of Shimonada Station or just ask you about the most random things you can think of. Don’t forget to get a picture of you sitting down at the famous covered bench of the station.
Outside the station you will find Shimonada Coffee. If you happen to miss your train or decide to explore the rest of the town, I highly recommend grabbing a drink from them. Other attractions in the town include the abandoned Shimonada Junior High School (15 minute walk), the center of Shimonada (about 10 minutes from Shimonada station) or the Shimonada Sports Park, where you can see the townsfolk fish.
Kushi is a small station after Shimonada. It is an unmanned station located a little bit higher on the line. The main attraction of the station is not the station itself but the bridge that crosses the Honmuragawa River. I highly recommend checking the view out either from the station steps or from the road bridge.
Finally, we find ourselves at Iyo Nagahama, which is the largest station of this section. Iyo Nagahama is fairly close to town, unlike Shimonada and Kushi, so you can grab some local specialties while you wait for the next train. The station has complete facilities such as a toilet, lockers, and vending machines. If you do decide to explore the town, I highly recommend checking out the old bridge at Nagahama. Its renovation was just recently completed.
Which one of the routes is faster? From Matsuyama, the Uchiko Route is faster and there is a wider range of options than the Nagahama Route. On the other hand, the Nagahama Route is more scenic than the Uchiko Route; so if you have a lot of free time on hand, I highly recommend this route.
I highly recommend doing a loop from Iyo-shi Station, then taking the Uchiko Route to Nakayama, and getting breakfast at the Kuri Center just outside of the station. Next, take the train to Uchiko and visit the old town and the theatre. After visiting Uchiko, take the train to Ozu and get lunch. Take the train to Nagahama to visit the bridge, before moving on to Shimonada and catching sunset from there.
I hope to see you guys around here!
Carl Sotomil is a second year JET from Winnipeg, Canada. He has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Design. His interests include photography and visiting unique, off-the-beaten-path places.