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Shikoku Rail Tales #3: Iyonada Monogatari and discovering special stations

Shikoku Rail Tales #3: Iyonada Monogatari and discovering special stations

We’ve now reached the final part of Shikoku Rail Tales, a series where we explore travelling around Shikoku via rail, specifically taking a look their three Monogatari sightseeing trains:

 

The train with a tale of Iyo

"Monogatari" (物語) means "tale", and each train tells the tale of the region it travels through. We covered the Shikoku Mannaka Sennen Monogatari in Part 1, the Shikoku Tosa Toki No Yoake No Monogatari in Part 2, and in the third and final part of this series, we move on to the iconic Iyonada Monogatari, which runs along the coast of Ehime Prefecture (愛媛県), between Matsuyama Station (松山駅) and Iyo-Ōzu Station (伊予大洲駅) / Yawatahama Station (八幡浜駅). 

 

Iyo (伊予) is an old name for Ehime Prefecture, which has a rich history and is filled with well-preserved castles and old towns. The region is also well-known for producing mikan (みかん)―small, sweet oranges―as well as a plethora of other citrus fruits. “Nada” (灘) is an area of seawater where currents are fast, and “Iyonada” refers to the to a beautiful stretch of coastline alone the Seto Inland Sea that the train passes by. This stretch offers some of Japan’s most gorgeous sea views, and seaside stations along this line are often used in train ticket promotion posters.

 

The newly refurbished Iyonada Monogatari. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

One of Shikoku’s most beloved sightseeing trains, the Iyonada Monogatari debuted in 2014. A one-way trip on the train takes about 2 hours, and it makes two round trips per day of operations, on four services in the order below:

  • Ozu-bound (大洲編) (08:26–10:28): Matsuyama Station to Iyo-Ōzu Station
  • Futami-bound (双海編) (10:57–13:01): Iyo-Ōzu Station to Matsuyama Station
  • Yawatahama-bound (八幡浜編) (13:31–15:50): Matsuyama Station to Yawatahama Station
  • Dogo-bound (道後編) (16:14–18:17): Yawatahama Station to Matsuyama Station

 

Castles aplenty

Sakura blooming at Uwajima Castle. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

I was taking the Futami-bound service which departed Iyo-Ōzu Station at 10:57, so I had some time to explore Uwajima (宇和島) before setting off. I took a quick trip to Uwajima Castle (宇和島城), one of Japan’s 12 remaining original castles (現存天守 genson tenshu): castles which have a main keep that has remained intact since its original construction in the Edo Period or earlier. Uwajima Castle is located on top of a small hill, with steep stone steps and large walls, and after climbing up I was rewarded with a beautiful view and tranquil atmosphere. Cherry blossoms (桜 sakura) were blooming, and because of the rain, there were few people.

 

Colourful trains to start the day. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

After exploring Uwajima Castle and enjoying the cherry blossoms, I took a train to Iyo-Ōzu Station, where I would be boarding the Iyonada Monogatari. Lucky for me, I got to ride another Anpanman train, and also spotted another cutely wrapped train with cats and other colourful characters on the opposite platform.

 

Iyonada Monogatari passing by Ozu Castle. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Ōzu (大洲) is known as the “Little Kyoto of Iyo” (伊予の小京都). Formerly a castle town, now you can visit the old town to see well-preserved samurai residences, old merchant buildings, nostalgic alleys, and stone-paved streets. Ozu Castle is also a landmark of the city, and many say that the best view is the one of the castle with the Iyonada Monogatari passing by. The train passes by Ozu Castle between Iyo-Ōzu Station and Yawatahama Station, so only the Yawatahama-bound and Dogo-bound services pass by.

 

Lunchtime on board the Iyonada Monogatari

A warm send-off at Iyo-Ōzu Station. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

I made it to Iyo-Ōzu Station with time to spare, and there were some activities to send off passengers, such as a staff dressed in samurai gear, with whom you could pose for pictures with.

 

First glimpse of the Iyonada Monogatari. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

The Iyonada Monogatari has three carriages. Car 1―Akane (茜)―has a bright red akane-coloured exterior, with akane being the colour of a deep red sunrise or sunset. Car 3―Haruka (陽華)―has a cheery sunflower yellow exterior, and Car 2 in the middle―Kogane (黄金)― has a mix of the two, with a name that means “gold”. The colours are meant to represent the gorgeous sunsets you can witness along the coast of the Seto Inland Sea, which are some of the most beautiful in Japan. 

 

Inside Car 2 Kogane. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

The Iyonada Monogatari was recently refurbished in spring 2022, and now features a retro-modern design, with wooden interiors and large windows to enjoy the passing sea views. I was seated in Car 2, Kogane, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was a window-facing seat on the side of the sea.

 

Excited to start the train ride with my new friend, Mican (Mikyan). (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

There were a few empty seats, which the staff filled with adorable Mican (みきゃん Mikyan) plushies. Mican is the mascot of Ehime Prefecture, and is a combination of a mikan orange and a dog. This Mican would be my companion for the train ride. Waiting for me at my table was a cherry-blossom themed place mat, the menu, cutlery, and a citrus fruit, along with a pamphlet introducing just a few of the many varieties of citrus fruits that grow in Ehime.

 

My lunch on the Iyonada Monogatari. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Each of the four Iyonada Monogatari services offer a different type of meal, and my meal on the Futami-bound service was a lunch made with seasonal ingredients locally-produced in Ehime, served in a box made with Uchiko cedar wood (内子杉). The train partners with different restaurants to produce the food, and the support restaurant for the Futami-bound service was Restaurant Karari (レストランからり).

 

Some of the dishes. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

The theme of the lunch dishes was spring, coinciding with the cherry blossom season when I rode the train. Opening the wooden lunch box revealed over 10 mini dishes such as:

  • grilled cherry trout (桜鱒 sakuramasu)
  • locally caught red sea bream (真鯛 madai) sushi
  • seared pufferfish (河豚のタタキ fugu no tataki) with ponzu sauce
  • cockles (とり貝 torigai) and surf clams (ホッキ貝 hokkigai)
  • grilled shrimp with beef roll
  • sardines pickled in Nanban sauce
  • simmered duck loin

 

These were served together with soup, a steamed local red sea bream dish, and coffee.

 

Devoured all the dishes and ended with a cocktail. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

As the train made its way along the coast, I basked in the seaside views while leisurely eating my meal, and when I finished, I ordered the Iyonada Monogatari’s original must-try “Tasogare” (黄昏) cocktail. “Tasogare” means “dusk”, and the colours of the drink are meant to represent a stunning sunset over the Seto Inland Sea.

 

Station destinations onboard the Iyonada Monogatari

Shimonada Station: Stunning sunsets

The Iyonada Monogatari stopping at Shimonada Station. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Time whizzed by, and at around 12:00, we reached the highlight stop of the train: Shimonada Station (下灘駅). Shimonada Station is a scenic seaside station just a stone’s throw away from the water, boasting unbelievably picturesque views. This small unmanned station has wormed its way into the hearts of train travel lovers, with many people coming just to take photos.

 

Sunset at Shimonada Station. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

I was one of those people, and had been to Shimonada Station 3 years prior just to look at the station and witness the sunset. Perhaps it was the time of year or the weather conditions, but I was treated with a pretty pastel pink and purple sunset during my visit.

 

Red sunsets over Shimonada Station. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

The type of sunsets that the Iyonada Monogatari gets its colour palette and imagery from are the stunning red dusks, where the sky and the sea are dyed a deep akane-coloured red from the sun sinking into the horizon. I know I’ll be back in Shimonada Station again someday to catch it!

 

Iyo-Kaminada Station: Friendly and furry assistant station masters

Kanna, Tora, and Marron of Iyo-Kaminada Station. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

After a short 10-minute stop at Shimonada Station, the train set off again, and made another short stop at Iyo-Kaminada Station (伊予上灘駅), where three surprises awaited us. Iyo-Kaminada Station is home to Kanna, Tora, and Marron, the adorable assistant station masters. We had another short 10-minute stop here, and got to take photos of and with the trio, who were decked out in their assistant station master caps.

 

Bidding farewell to Iyo-Kaminada Station. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

When it was time to leave, despite the rainy weather we were given a hearty and enthusiastic farewell by not just the assistant station masters, but also all the station staff and volunteers who had come to see the train. Farewell Iyo-Kaminada Station, hope to see you again!

 

Matsuyama Station: The final destination

Exploring Matsuyama and Dogo Onsen. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

At around 13:01, we reached Matsuyama Station, the final stop for the Iyonada Monogatari. I spent two nights here, trying a variety of citrus fruits, exploring Dogo Onsen (道後温泉)―one of the oldest hot springs in Japan―and Matsuyama Castle (松山城), another one of Japan’s 12 remaining original castles. Did you know that out of the 12 original castles, a whopping 33% (4 castles) are in Shikoku, of which 2 are in Ehime Prefecture? I hope this series has inspired you to visit Shikoku and go on a railway adventure to discover all the exciting tales it has to offer!

 

How to book?

ShikokuRail1_1.jpg (357 KB)

Thank you, Shikoku Monogatari trains—that was “rail” fun! (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

After three consecutive days riding all three Monogatari trains, I can say that it was definitely a memorable journey, and I highly recommend riding them if you can. The trains mostly operate on weekdays and public holidays, but during spring, when I went, they operated almost every day during the peak cherry blossom blooming period. For overseas visitors, they have a booking site here, available in English and Traditional Chinese. Since it can get pretty full, I recommend booking as early as possible, about one month before departure. The tickets were mailed to my hotel in Shikoku, which I retrieved at the hotel counter upon check-in. 

 

Header image credit: Carissa Loh

 

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