The Iyonada Monogatari is a sightseeing train, a luxury travel genre that’s currently enjoying something of a boom in Japan. This classic train, fitted out in ‘retro-modern’ style at considerable expense, takes you on a stylish journey through the coastal and mountain region of western Shikoku known as Iyonada. As you travel through this picturesque scenery, you can enjoy delicious meals prepared using the specialities of the region.
The train has two carriages, coloured red and yellow on the outside, with the colours blending artfully in the middle. It would be a very stony and unpoetic heart that doesn’t beat a little faster just seeing it waiting for you at the platform.
I won’t deny it, the charming rail hostesses (like air hostesses but for trains) also made my heart beat a little faster too with their warm welcome.
Iyonada, from which the train takes its name, is part of the Seto Inland Sea between Matsuyama and Yawatahama, and the Iyonada Monogatari runs between these towns on an old section of track beside the sea.
The city produced several generations of haiku poets.
At the other end of the line, Yawatahama has a completely different atmosphere. It feels much more rural, with the air of a slow-paced southern island. Here you can relax while watching ospreys diving for fish in the river that runs through the town and out to sea.
The train also stops at Ōzu, a beautiful little town on a bend in the Hijikawa river, with an authentically restored castle and streets with buildings dating back to the Edo period.
From the windows of the train, you can see the modernistic sports complex in the southern suburbs of Matsuyama, the rice fields of the Dōgo Plain bordered by remarkably steep, wooded mountains, sleepy towns with the chimneys of sake breweries, and vistas of the Inland Sea dotted with islands. The train stops at several stations on the way, and local people offer products for sale and gifts of fruit.
The meals served on the Iyonada Monogatari are prepared by the top chefs of the region. You can enjoy breakfast on the Matsuyama to Ōzu run, a full lunch on the Ōzu to Matsuyama leg, a light lunch between Matsuyama and Yawatahama, and afternoon tea on the sunset journey between Yawatahama and Matsuyama.
You don’t have to eat on the train. You’re free to book a seat at a similar price to a first class JR ‘Green Car’, then order tea, coffee, local beer and sake, and original cocktails from the bar.
Since the train visits some wonderful towns and offers meals at convenient times, it makes sense to include it in your Shikoku itinerary.
Frequent visitors to Japan, David Inagawa and his wife Ines from San Francisco took the Iyonada Monogatari from Matsuyama to Yawatahama on their first trip to Shikoku.
“We had no idea that Shikoku had this kind of thing. We wanted to see the southern part of Ehime and it was really exciting to take this special train to get there,” says David who was also happy with the attentive train staff. Ines was particularly taken with the interior decoration of the carriages.
The Iyonada Monogatari runs on weekends and national holidays. At other times, the whole train is available for charter at a reasonable price. It has seating for fifty people, so if you’re planning a unique tour or event, this is an option worth considering.
The Shikoku Pilgrimage – where pilgrims travel a course between eighty-eight temples around Japan’s fourth biggest island – has habituated the people of Shikoku to visitors from afar. The tradition of hospitality to pilgrims extends to passengers on the Iyonada Monogatari. Wherever the train passes houses or villages, the residents can be seen giving a friendly wave to the train. Even children playing soccer will stop their game to wave. Be sure to wave back!
Address：Trains leave from JR Matsuyama station
Tickets can be purchased at most JR Green Ticket Windows. Food vouchers for the train ride have to be purchased from a ticket window at least 4 days prior to the departure date. Please check the website or call for more details.
Open hours：The train runs on weekends and national holidays. Please check their schedule for more details: http://iyonadamonogatari.com/timetable/index.html
Tel：087 – 825 – 1662 for reservations
Phone lines are open 10:00 – 18:00 on weekdays, 10:00 – 17:00 on Saturdays and public holidays
Website URL： http://iyonadamonogatari.com
Words and Photography by Rod Walters
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