I promised Alex a ride in the Anpanman train. Anpanman is a Japanese children's cartoon character and, just as wood was the big thing for Kyushu trains, he's the focus of Shikoku Island trains.
I've never seen more than a short YouTube grab of Anpanman, but we did ride in an Anpanman train all the way to Matsuyama back in 2008. Then we bought an Anpanman train book for Alex with buttons that play soundgrabs from the ride, and an Anpanman train toy. So I thought it would be good if he could relate the experience to the real thing.
When we left late from the hotel I was in two minds: explore Kyoto or Anpanman train today? Oh let's just get it over with so B can do more shopping. We caught another Sakura Shinkansen to the rail junction of Okayama, from where trains to Shikoku leave.
My understanding was that the Anpanman trains ran on the route to Uwajima, very far away. So my plan was to take it as far as Marugame, then change for another train back to Takamatsu on the other side of Shikoku, and view the beautiful garden Ritsuren-en again.
When I asked the JR ticket seller about catching an Anpanman train he gave me a late time and said "Only one." and pointed to the katakana characters for Anpanman in the train ticket description. It's destination was direct to Takamatsu. Okay, I thought, we've come all this way, might as well go through with it.
That gave us about 3 hours to go shopping around the station and surrounds. B found some clothes and shoes in some of the smaller shops, then we crossed to the Takashimaya department store, known for its branded clothing. Straight up to the children's section. Alex played for a long while on some toys, while I watched him and B found clothes. I think he misses toys. I then bought him another Anpanman toy train, with doors he can open. No batteries handy, so the noise will have to wait until tomorrow.
I grabbed a couple of bento boxes from the station, then we descended to the Shikoku trains platforms. My first impression of our train was one of disappointment. Yes, it had an Anpanman train logo on the rear of the old looking carriage, but there were no decorations. This was definitely not the Anpanman train featured in the book and our previous trip.
Then I saw the front carriage. It was brightly decorated with Anpanman characters and it had open sides. This was the Anpanman Torokko, a special "tourist" train. At the very least this should be an experience.
We were all stuck in the rear carriage until Kojima, just before we left the main island of Honshu. There was a bar that seemed to be selling Anpanman themed bento, but the old lady said it was closed, and it remained that way.
Once at Kojima we all piled into the wooden front carriage. It was cold with the window streaming in from the open windows, but it was very fun. There were Anpanman heads attached to the end of every seat, there were windows down on the floor to see the tracks and others along the side with little Anpanman dioramas in between the glass. Anpanman music played over the speakers.
Fortunately, Alex and B could stay warm by keeping to the windowed, but enclosed, front of the train.
The huge double-deckered Seto-Ohashi Bridge connects Shikoku and Honshu, crossing over many smaller islands along the way. There are amazing views of the inland sea as you ride across, followed by big smelters and shipping terminals at the other end.
Many passengers got off at the other end of the bridge, but we weren't fast thinking enough. Every other train had priority on the tracks over the Torokko, so we stopped at quiet stations along the way for long periods of time. Alex amused himself by watching for signal changes. Only a single squat toilet was available so he couldn't play around with it. He actually fell asleep on all fours while looking out the front window.
The trip to Takamatsu wasn't that long. When we arrived we quickly booked tickets straight back to Shin-Osaka as it was too late to view the park. A pity that we hadn't stayed there the previous night.
There was another, regular, Anpanman train at the platform, having arrived from Matsuyama or Uwajima and destined to return. We caught the Marineliner back. Maybe we should have sat in the unreserved section, because the sole reserved car is a double decker carriage with "Green Class" passengers on top and us down the bottom. At least there were no sliding doors for Alex to play with, but it meant that we had worse views crossing the Seto-Ohashi bridge on the return trip.
What views we had were magnificent. Sunset over the Inland Sea, the red sun shimmering off the water as ships streamed past. If nothing else, these views made the day's trip worthwhile.
Then it was yet another Sakura Shinkansen ride home. These Sakura Shinkansens are great because they stop at few stations like a Nozomi, but JR Pass holders can catch them. I have a love-hate relationship with the Shinkansens. On one hand they are fast and comfortable, but on the other they are fast and comfortable. They lack the great views and the sense of adventure that you get from catching a slower train on one of Japans many scenic routes.