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The Last Clear Stream of Japan

The Last Clear Stream of Japan

Old Dec 9, 2021, 7:41 am
  #1  
bpe
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The Last Clear Stream of Japan

Very brief background: I've been living in Kansai now for a few years, and have been sort of stuck here since March 2020. So I've been traveling domestically when it's been safe and acceptable to do so, mainly away from large cities. I've posted pictures a few times in the Japan and general photography threads, but this is my first time trying to write a proper trip report, since I figured I'd try something a bit different for post #1000. This was a 4 day trip over a long weekend-ish in September so I'll write it up in 4 parts, filling in a few pictures from a previous trip to Kochi. Also, no flights, just a lot of trains.

The Shimanto river is known as "The last clear stream of Japan", located in the southwest corner of Kochi prefecture, far away from pretty much everything. There are actually three major rivers with no large dams in Japan, but the Shimanto is the largest by probably every measure and also the most natural and undisturbed. Having been to Shikoku several times now and passed nearby last year, this time I thought I'd visit this corner of the island I hadn't been to yet.


Train tickets. Most people would find the JR fare rules and ticketing incredibly boring, but I'm not most people, and if anyone else is interested I can translate and explain these. In addition, I also got the new Kochi premium transit pass, which covers virtually all public transportation in the western and central parts of the prefecture, 12,000 for 3 days. It's simply a website that you log into on your smartphone and show the station, train, or bus staff, and I'm not quite sure of the advantage over a paper ticket other than being able to buy it in advance. Total price 28,780 (~US$270).


Shin-Osaka -> Okayama, Hikari 531, 7:35 - 8:24
Okayama -> Kochi, Nampu 3, 8:52 - 11:30
Kochi -> Nakamura, Ashizuri 3, 11:40 - 13:24

First train is the shinkansen, unreserved seats, about 50% full. I didn't get a picture of it (this picture is an old one, but the same type of train at Shin-Osaka). After a brief stopover at Okayama, the second train is the Nampu limited express, this one being the very new JR Shikoku 8700 series train. It's a tilting diesel train, but is relatively quiet and has very good speed and acceleration so it feels almost like an electric one. The interior is very nice too, with outlets and large windows (and pilgrim in this case).




Crossing the Seto Ohashi bridge to Shikoku


Passing through the center of Shikoku. The mixed farms/solar panel usage seems to be appearing a lot in Japan.




Kochi station, built fairly recently in a unique wood/steel mix. Local train on the left, Ashizuri in the middle, then the Nampu on the right.


Lunch bought on the platform. This is inaka-zushi, from Kochi prefecture (haven't seen it sold anywhere else), and it's really good. Rather than vinegar, the rice has yuzu juice instead, and the toppings are mostly, or in this case, all vegetables.


Passing Susaki. On the poster is Shinjo-kun, the official mascot, although its similar-looking unofficial mascot, Chiitan, was much more famous, largely thanks to John Oliver's bit a couple years ago (find it on Youtube).


After arriving at Nakamura station, the main station of Shimanto city, I walked 5 minutes to the Hotel Sun River and checked in around 2 pm; there was no official check in time I could find anywhere but I just asked and it was fine. There's a large souvenir shop/farmer's market as well as two restaurants on the premises, owned by the hotel. The exterior is unremarkable and this the only photo I took of the room. Fairly small and nothing fancy, but newly renovated, very comfortable, and not expensive (8800 / $85 for two nights).


After spending a while walking through the souvenir store (which is massive and surprisingly good) and then the area around the hotel, I went back to the station to take the train to the end of the line at Sukumo, since I had the transit pass and not a whole lot else to do. I was hoping to rent a bike there for an hour to go see the other coast, but apparently you need to make a reservation, which I only found out after arriving. The center of Sukumo and the museums are one stop further east, but I'd get back there later anyway. More interesting was seeing all the local trains of the Tosa Kuroshio Railway, which are painted (or wrapped?) uniquely based on the all the cities and towns in the area.





Crossing the Shimanto river (more pictures of the river in part 2 below)

Last edited by bpe; Dec 10, 2021 at 7:32 am
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Old Dec 9, 2021, 10:56 pm
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Thanks! I've been to Japan a fair number of times, but if there's one thing I've always missed was the "small town" feel, and the rural parts of the country. I'm following on Instagram a group of bikepackers and now this TR is going to be a great addition.
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Old Dec 10, 2021, 1:53 am
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Great trip report! Thanks so much for sharing this portion of Japan with us. Living in the Tokyo area this year, one of the few positives of the pandemic (and all the States of Emergencies in most major Japanese cities throughout the year) has been the ability to explore more remote areas of Japan that I wouldn't ordinarily visit. I've yet to travel to this corner of Shikoku, but I definitely want to visit there in 2022. I recently had a great trip to Matsuyama and hiked Mt. Ishizushi (Shikoku's highest peak) in September.

-FlyerBeek
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Old Dec 10, 2021, 3:05 am
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Japan is quite a train enthusiast's paradise. Some of these smaller trains are quite cute and immaculately maintained despite looking quite old.
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Old Dec 10, 2021, 7:08 am
  #5  
bpe
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The next morning, after a donut at a food truck outside the hotel, a quick walk back to the station brought me to the tourist information with rental bikes when they opened at 8:30. I had planned on going to Ekawasaki (40 km/25 miles), but I only made it about 2/3 of the way, near the "Nishitosakuchiyanai" point on the map. The power company was doing construction which closed the road for 50 minutes per hour for most of the day and there really is no way around it. By the time I arrived at 11:25 it would have been a 35 minute wait until the road opened again. That would have been alright by itself, except that I was worried that I'd be stuck with a long wait on the return too and might not make it back in time to return the bike.


Rental bike. It's red, quite robust and heavy like most rentals, but well-maintained with good suspension and gears. 1000 for 4 hours, then +100 per hour (I had it for 6). Electric assist bikes, road bikes, and tandem bikes were also options but some needed a reservation. Throughout the day I saw a few others on these bikes and several more serious cyclists with fancy bikes, but most tourists had their own or a rental car instead.


The Shimanto river itself is about 200 km long, most of which is accessible by bike, some on tiny local and forest roads but mainly on the 'highway' which had very little traffic in most sections. The first five minutes was biking through town, then across that red bridge that is visible from the train, then pretty soon into farms and then a forest path by the river. The Shimanto river has many low-level submersible bridges ('chinkabashi') which are very small and narrow with no railings. When the river floods, they simply flood too, staying underwater but unharmed. This also means almost no large boat traffic, only a few small tourist cruises as well as recreational boating and kayak rentals. The photos of the river basically speak for themselves. As long as the weather is good, it's probably impossible to not get a good picture:










The early return (back to the city just before 2) meant that I had time to go to the dragonfly park and city museum which I wasn't sure I'd get to. The dragonfly park is a large park with plants that dragonflies like, plus a small museum. Inside is (obviously) information and specimens of local dragonflies, but also nationwide and worldwide, as well as other bugs and a small aquarium with local fish.




And after crossing the red bridge again, the local history museum is in the rebuilt castle keep on a hill. It's quite small but very recently renovated with exhibits on local history, geography, and the river, as well as views of the city, which seem to be the main attraction of almost every castle anyway. In the picture, the train station and hotel are a bit right of the center, in front of the isolated round hill, and the red bridge and Shimanto river are off to the right.



After returning the bike, it was a bit earlier than I expected, so I decided to go to the nearby beach at Tosa-Irino for the simple reason that the area looked pretty from the train on the previous day. Here's the 2700 series train in normal colors. Also, I'm pretty sure the hoses between the tracks are for refueling the trains which are not normally seen in stations.


Tosa-Irino station, 10-ish minutes away. The beach is a site for temporary art exhibits, although there weren't any when I visited.


There's a good-sized forest of pine trees between the town and the beach, and this is how they keep you safe. Being right on the ocean, Kochi prefecture gets hit with a lot of typhoons as well as storms and rain in general. Kochi city itself gets something like 2500 mm / 100 inches of rain per year.


Irino beach. Nobody swimming but several surfers. The beach is on the wrong side to see the sunset, but it's still quite dramatic behind the forest.




Back in Shimanto, dinner at one of the restaurants by the hotel. The local specialty, katsuo tataki don set (seared bonito over rice), with udon, soup, and pickles, about 1300/$12 but with a 10% discount since I was staying in the hotel. Plus an explanation of the different sauces available: toothpicks, shichimi/red pepper mix, sansho pepper, salt, "sauce" which was some variation of ponzu, and soy sauce.

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Last edited by bpe; Dec 13, 2021 at 9:10 am
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Old Dec 10, 2021, 7:31 am
  #6  
bpe
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Originally Posted by 13901
Thanks! I've been to Japan a fair number of times, but if there's one thing I've always missed was the "small town" feel, and the rural parts of the country. I'm following on Instagram a group of bikepackers and now this TR is going to be a great addition.
(When you can make it back) definitely go visit some of the smaller towns and rural areas! And despite its reputation, the majority of the country area-wise is forest and smaller towns rather than big cities.
As far as biking goes, there's the famous Shimanami Kaido between Shikoku and Honshu, but also a 1000-ish km circuit around the island that's pretty popular. Doing it all in 11 days seems like it would be pretty brutal for most people though, especially with all the hills.

Originally Posted by FlyerBeek
Great trip report! Thanks so much for sharing this portion of Japan with us. Living in the Tokyo area this year, one of the few positives of the pandemic (and all the States of Emergencies in most major Japanese cities throughout the year) has been the ability to explore more remote areas of Japan that I wouldn't ordinarily visit. I've yet to travel to this corner of Shikoku, but I definitely want to visit there in 2022. I recently had a great trip to Matsuyama and hiked Mt. Ishizushi (Shikoku's highest peak) in September.

-FlyerBeek
Thanks!
Last year I went to Shikoku twice, in July (Ehime/Kochi) and then again in September (Kagawa/Tokushima), and it's far enough away even from Osaka that you need more than a weekend to get to most of the interesting places. At one of the guesthouses I stayed at last year, the owner (mostly) jokingly said that people from Tokyo forget that Shikoku even exists, and the majority of visitors are from Kansai or further west.
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Old Dec 10, 2021, 1:56 pm
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Looks beautiful, thank you
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Old Dec 10, 2021, 4:41 pm
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Great report - love to see the local trains. I spent a few weeks in Hokkaido a few years ago taking all the small trains through little villages. That katsuo tataki don set looks amazing. I miss good cheap Japanese food in little local restaurants.
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Old Dec 10, 2021, 8:59 pm
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Originally Posted by hkskyline
Japan is quite a train enthusiast's paradise...
I'm both train and mountain enthusiast, so will have to recreate OP's trip someday!
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Old Dec 13, 2021, 8:56 am
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bpe
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In addition to the Shimanto river, the other main attractions are around Cape Ashizuri, the southernmost point of Shikoku island. I took a bus tour which I normally don't have the patience for, but it turned out to be very good. Plus the only other option to get around if you don't have a car would be the local buses, which slow and infrequent (but still impressive that they exist). The normal price is 3800 ($35) but it's included in the premium transit pass, the 'premium' part I suppose. When I boarded the driver seemed quite concerned that I didn't have a reservation, despite only having 3 other passengers, and the brochure and staff at the tourist information both insisting that I didn't need one. Rather than a map, here's the brochure, plus an older version in English that I found online, although almost everything was only in Japanese.

Cape Ashizuri. There was a very enthusiastic tour guide who showed us around the area, pointing out many of the less-obvious features of the landscape and area. You can see the ocean has areas of different colors; it's not the lighting, it actually is that way due to the Kuroshio (Pacific) current mixing with water in the Tosa bay and Seto Inland sea where they meet right here. The lighthouse itself was intentionally built to look futuristic like a rocket ship, and the empty space right in front of it used to be a telegraph and later a radio station.



Kongofukuji, #38 on the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage.


Another stop was at the John Mung Museum. I hadn't heard of him before the introduction by our tour guide at cape Ashizuri, but John Mung, or John Manjiro, was one of the first Japanese to visit and live in America in the 1840s when people were forbidden to leave. He got shipwrecked and stranded on a small island with a few friends when he was 14, but was picked up by a passing American ship and went to Honolulu then later Fairhaven MA, where he learned English and shipbuilding and trade skills. After living in America for a couple more years he made it back to Japan and used those skills in translation, shipbuilding, and navigation at a crucial time when Japan was starting to open up later in the 1800s. (That's a two sentence summary; you can find much more online or eventually visit the museum yourself).




The longest stop was at the Tatsukushi coast for about 2 hours, but you could easily spend a whole day here alone. There's a very new aquarium, an 'underwater aquarium' which is actually a tower down to the ocean floor just off the coast, two companies offering boat tours with see-through boats, and the expected handful of restaurants and souvenir shops. I thought the most interesting part was the coast itself, with almost alien-looking rock formations, and spent about half an hour walking around.






Excellent lunch, katsuo tataki with abura soba (ramen noodles with an oil-based sauce), 850. Perhaps a variation on the usual rice bowl, which I would never have expected and may well be unique to that restuarant.


An abandoned something. This whole area has suffered depopulation and a decrease in tourism since the 1970s so there are a lot of closed business and abandoned houses, although there are recent efforts to bring it back such as the new aquarium.


I only made it to the underwater tower, which is exactly as it sounds. Down a bunch of stairs, perhaps 10 meters underwater, is a round room with thick windows that you watch fish through and vice versa. Probably pretty similar to the glass-bottomed boat.




The next stop was a bit of a drive, to the far southwest corner, Otsuki. Right before the town you can get good views of the coast but there's not a whole lot else to see. It appears to notable as a place for water sports, as well as figuring out how to farm tuna, but you can't really do either in the 20 minute stop there.



The bus itself, a pretty standard tour bus.


The last item on the tour was the history museum in Sukumo. The museum itself was small and the exhibits well done but not really interesting or notable, but I realized during the tour that it's simply because not a whole lot has happened in Sukumo. Of course there were a bunch of artifacts, stories of local leaders and heroes and fights between neighboring clans over the centuries as well as a few people who went on to be somewhat famous, but Sukumo and really the whole area are just so isolated and far away that there is very little that matters on a national level. There's also a chance that I missed something because my Japanese isn't so good and we were sort of rushed through.

After returning to Shimanto, there was just enough time to get my bag from the coin locker, get a few snacks, then catch the train.

Nakamura -> Kochi, Ashizuri 16, 17:45 - 19:28

An older N2000 series train but still quite clean and comfortable.



The last day in Kochi in part 4 below...

Last edited by bpe; Dec 16, 2021 at 5:36 pm
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Old Dec 14, 2021, 8:22 am
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Originally Posted by bpe
I took a bus tour which I normally don't have the patience for, but it turned out to be very good. Plus the only other option to get around if you don't have a car would be the local buses, which slow and infrequent (but still impressive that they exist).
I did a similar thing when I was in Malta, doing a hop-on-hop-off open-top bus tour for much the same reason - too hard to get around using the local transportation, and didn't want to rent a car for the day. Allowed me a good lay of the island, and figure out a few places to go back and visit in more detail later in the trip.

Enjoying the report so far and looking forward to the next installment. Thanks for writing it up.
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Old Dec 14, 2021, 9:22 am
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Very cool TR - thanks.
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Old Dec 16, 2021, 9:02 am
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bpe
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After arriving in Kochi, I walked 10 minutes to EN Hostel and checked in (one night, 3140/$30). Normally I'm happy staying at hostels, guesthouses, or capsule hotels since all I really insist on is a place that's clean and safe, and I've yet to find one that isn't in Japan. Again, this isn't a great picture, but it is the only picture I got of the room. There's really nothing remarkable or unique compared to other ones, but it's quite comfortable and has plenty of space. One other person was in the 8-bed room, a long-distance cyclist.

Normal Western-ish breakfast at the hotel the next morning.


The Sunday market in Kochi is one of the best in Japan (in my opinion, but it's a popular opinion among those who have been there). Every Sunday half of one of the large streets downtown is closed off and turns into a market, probably half local produce and the rest a mixture of food stalls, handicrafts, antiques, plants and more.




Very good but unlike any taco I'd ever seen or eaten before.


Fun fact: 3333'33"N, 13333'33"E is in a river in downtown Kochi (older photo)


Kochi is a prefectural capital, albeit a small one, so it has the expected selection of attractions like an art museum, local history museum, zoo, botanical garden (very good), castle (one of the 12 original ones in Japan), and so on. Some of these were temporarily closed and I'd been to some others on previous trips, so after a quick walk back to the tourist information at the station for ideas, I decided to go to the Shikoku automobile museum, which is also near the zoo in case it was closed or small or uninteresting.

Local train to Noichi, a couple stops east. The eastern part of the Tosa Kuroshio railway has different characters for every station, and some of the trains have all of them together.



Pokemon manhole cover which have been appearing in many smaller cities all over Japan.


Automobile museum. It was open, and was not small, and certainly not uninteresting. I didn't get a picture of the outside but it's basically a single very large room with probably 50 cars and 20 old bikes. I'm not that into cars (almost all my knowledge is from watching Top Gear) so I can't say which is most impressive or significant, but I do appreciate the design and engineering. Most of the collection was Italian sports and rally cars, a few F1 cars, and some other European and American cars, and then a section of historical Japanese cars. It's a private collection but I didn't get any more details on who assembled this collection and how. It wasn't crowded when I was there, but a group of about a dozen bikers arrived right as I was leaving.






Since I didn't have a huge amount more time to spend there, instead of going to the zoo I headed back to Kochi, bought a few souveniers for coworkers, and took some pictures of the trams. It's the second longest tram network in Japan after Hiroshima, and most of the trams date from the 1970s-1980s and are still clean and well-maintained, but noisy. There are some new trams as well but very few.



(I'm an airplane, not a tram!)


Kochi station (older picture). Goodbye for now...


The smiling station and train characters on the left are the JR Shikoku's mascots. To the right are Anpanman characters, one of the most popular children's book/TV series in Japan. There are a lot of Anpanman-themed things (such as the train earlier) because Anpanman's writer was from Kochi.


The return route was the same, to Okayama then the shinkansen back to Shin-Osaka.

Kochi -> Okayama, Nampu 20, 15:13 - 17:41
Okayama -> Shin-Osaka, Hikari 522, 18:26 - 19:46

More inaka-zushi from the market


This looks like a boring picture of the countryside. But the red cranes here are the Marugame shipyard of the Imabari Shipbuilding company... which is where the Ever Given was built, the one that got stuck in the Suez Canal earlier this year.


And to finish, crossing the Seto-Ohashi bridge again. It got dark before leaving Okayama so I didn't take any pictures of the shinkansen this time.



That's it for this trip report - thanks for reading through to the end!
It attracted a bit more attention that I anticipated, so any feedback is welcome, or feel free to ask anything if you want to visit Kochi sometime (eventually, unless you live in Japan already).

Last edited by bpe; Dec 22, 2021 at 4:29 pm
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Old Dec 16, 2021, 11:42 am
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Japan is quite a train enthusiast's paradise. Some of these smaller trains are quite cute and immaculately maintained despite looking quite old.
I agree. Trains in Japan are on the another level, starting from servicing to general speed. Correct me if I'm wrong but the fastest train ever is made in Japan
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Old Dec 23, 2021, 3:04 pm
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This one hit the spot! Thanks a lot for sharing your report. I love the river and coastline vistas.

I really miss riding the rails in Japan. . .and most other things about visiting Japan. I've been through a lot of the country, but Shikoku and Hokkaido are the two major unknowns for me. The moment Japan re-opens I will parachute in with a JR Green Pass and a big appetite.
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