The “Mikansen” Part 1: JR’s Shiokaze / Ishizuchi Limited Express Train

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Carl Sotomil

SOCIAL MEDIA COORDINATOR, ALSO A RAILFAN

Carl Sotomil is the 2023 AJET Social Media Coordinator. He is an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Iyo-shi, Ehime Prefecture. He likes photography, Japanese history, cycling, discussing about city planning and trains. He has ridden on many different kinds of trains in Japan.

This is the first part of a multi-part series about the Limited Express Shiokaze and Ishizuchi, an express train that runs between Matsuyama and Okayama (Shiokaze) or between Matsuyama and Takamatsu (Ishizuchi).

From Matsuyama to Okayama or Takamatsu, this is the flagship limited express train of JR Shikoku.
The Limited Express Shiokaze at Matsuyama Station.

Hey there Mikans! It’s me, Carl Sotomil, the guy that likes trains and the one that carries really heavy camera equipment to take pictures of anything. If my name still does not ring a bell, I am the ALT for Iyo-Nakayama. Nice to see you again!

Ever wondered when you come to a major JR Station between Matsuyama and Okayama (or Takamatsu) the limited express train seems to be called something else and not just “limited express”? Look no further. In this article, we’re going to discuss the history of the Limited Express Shiokaze / Ishizuchi and the kinds of trains it uses. 

What is the “Mikansen”? The History of the Limited Express Shiokaze / Ishizuchi

JR Shikoku is the last JR company to not have a true Shinkansen (“bullet train”) service. Even though there are plans to eventually build a Shinkansen network to connect Shikoku’s 4 major cities to Okayama and even Osaka and Tokyo, that dream is still very far away. However, the limited express trains that currently serve Shikoku are more than sufficient to support the population of the island. Over the years, the service pattern had changed and some routes were added or deleted. 

The basis of what is now the Shiokaze / Ishizuchi was originally conceived in 1956 as the Iyo. This train was a non-scheduled service that ran from Takamatsu all the way to Uwajima, stopping at all stations of the line. In 1960, the service to Uwajima was spun off as the Uwajima (which would later be known as the Uwakai, more about the Uwakai on a future article) and the Iyo was limited to the Takamatsu-Matsuyama service. In 1972, the Iyo was upgraded to a limited stop express service and was renamed as the Shiokaze, and along with the Nanpu that ran from Takamatsu to Kochi, they are the first Limited Express trains to serve the Shikoku area. 

Former Kokutetsu (Japanese National Railways) Iyo / Shiokaze cars in Otaki, Chiba in July 2022.

In 1988, the Honshibisan Line (now commonly called the Seto Ohashi Line) from Utazu/Sakaide to Okayama opened, connecting Honshu and Shikoku for the first time. The Limited Express Shiokaze was adjusted to become a new service between Matsuyama and Okayama while the original route from Takamatsu to Matsuyama became the Ishizuchi. Both trains continue to operate to this day.

Trains of the Limited Express Shiokaze / Ishizuchi

Let’s look at the two trains that serve the Limited Express Shiokaze and Ishizuchi and check out the amenities inside the trains. Both trains offer a different kind of ride with different seating arrangements and different kinds of amenities.

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8600 Series (“Orange Crush”/“Mr. Rocky”)

This series is the newest train that serves the Limited Express Route. Introduced in 2014, it replaced the last remaining diesel trains in the service. Those diesel units were transferred to the Matsuyama – Uwajima service.  The catch phrase or the design reference of this train, according to JR Shikoku, is “Setouchi Stream Express”. However, I disagree with this catch phrase. I always refer to the train as the “Orange Crush” since it looks like a gigantic can of Orange Crush outside and has the colors of the said drink, specifically that exact hue of orange with green accents inside. A friend of mine from San Francisco referred to these trains as “Mr. Rocky”, due to its rocky nature that made it quite an uncomfortable ride. 

The amenities on the train include a free space for phone calls, a vending machine, a space to put in your bicycles and toilets, with a barrier-free toilet available on some trains. There is a lot of space for wheelchair users as well. Check out the train facilities below:

Seating on the Train

The 8600 Series has 3 different seating configurations: The non-reserved seating, the reserved seating and the Green Car. Both the non-reserved and the reserved seating have the same seating format so they are consolidated into one section; the Green Car will be on another section. Let’s look at the two different seating configurations of this train.

Regular Seating

The regular seats of the 8600 series are very comfortable, which compensates for the motion sickness you experience while travelling on this train. They are arranged in a 2×2 configuration. All the regular seats are provided with a fold out table, a foot rest, a small pocket for your belongings, a fold-out drink container, an electrical outlet to charge your devices and an adjustable headrest. You are able to recline your seat well (as long as it doesn’t disturb the passenger behind you) and you can eat what you brought to the train. 

The Green Car

If the regular seats of the 8600 Series are comfortable, then the Green Car is equivalent to a luxury escape or an airline’s business class seat. The 8600 series is equipped with 12 Green Car Seats arranged in a 1×2 seat configuration. The seat is equipped with a reading light, adjustable headrests, a power outlet to charge your equipment, an electronic recliner that transforms your seat into a bed, a reversible footrest, a fold-out tray table from the chair ahead of you, a fold-out coffee table from your chair, a drink holder and a front pouch where you can store your small items. You can eat what you brought to the train. If you are traveling alone, I highly recommend sitting on the right side as it has single aisle seats. If you want to see the beautiful sea, I recommend sitting on the left window seat, where the double aisle seats are. The seats are nicely padded and it feels like you are seating in a compartment of a private jet.

When to Ride the 8600 Series

Unfortunately, the 8600 Series did not completely replace all the trains that run as the Shiokaze/Ishizuchi. There’s still a high chance that people would end up riding the older 8000 Series train. If you want to try these trains, check the schedule below.

*These schedules were current as of September 15, 2023.

From Matsuyama
Matsuyama Imabari Niihama Utazu Okayama Takamatsu
Shiokaze 8
Ishizuchi 8
7:20
7:57
8:26
9:25 (Ishizuchi 8)
9:26 (Shiokaze 8)
10:00 (Shiokaze 8)
9:47 (Ishizuchi 8)
Shiokaze 12
Ishizuchi 12
9:15
9:57
10:27
11:33 (Ishizuchi 12)
11:34 (Shiokaze 12)
12:10 (Shiokaze 12)
11:54 (Ishizuchi 12)
Shiokaze 20
Ishizuchi 20
13:26
14:05
14:34
15:33 (Ishizuchi 20)
15:34 (Shiokaze 20)
16:11 (Shiokaze 20)
15:55 (Ishizuchi 20)
Shiokaze 24
Ishizuchi 24
15:28
16:06
16:36
17:35 (Ishizuchi 24)
17:36 (Shiokaze 24)
18:11 (Shiokaze 24)
17:57 (Ishizuchi 24)
Ishizuchi 102
19:32
20:09
20:40
21:55
Ishizuchi 106
21:50
22:29
23:01

* This train does not stop at Utazu. It is however possible to transfer to Okayama at Sakaide Station via the Marine Liner. 

From Okayama/Takamatsu
Takamatsu Okayama Utazu Niihama Imabari Matsuyama
Ishizuchi 103
6:00
6:18
7:24
7:57
8:36
Shiokaze 7
Ishizuchi 7
10:47 (Ishizuchi 7)
10:35 (Shiokaze 7)
11:13
12:09
12:41
13:15
Shiokaze 11
Ishizuchi 11
12:50 (Ishizuchi 11)
12:35 (Shiokaze 11)
13:23
14:10
14:43
15:17
Shiokaze 19
Ishizuchi 19
16:50 (Ishizuchi 19)
16:35(Shiokaze 19)
17:15
18:13
18:47
19:23
Shiokaze 23
Ishizuchi 23
18:59 (Ishizuchi 23)
18:35 (Shiokaze 23)
19:17
20:24
20:54
21:33

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