I was originally booked to fly the inaugural Jetstar Japan flight in June from Narita to Matsuyama on the island of Shikoku. However, I had to postpone the trip, which was possible due to purchasing a "Starter Plus" class of fare. Somehow in the rebooking I managed to lose the Starter Plus, but Jetstar kindly waived the fees when I needed to rebook a second time.
I have never flown domestically in Japan, always relying on trains, so this was going to be a first for me. I have flown Jetstar short-haul both within Australia and in South East Asia, so it would be interesting to note any differences.
After one false start which saw me end up at Kasumi (look, just take the Keisei line over JR) I made it back to Narita Airport's Terminal 2. I had already checked in online and had time to waste, so after hiring a 4G portable wifi router I wandered out to one of the two observation decks.
International check in desks
Observation deck has seating and is a good spot to eat food from the convenience store.
There are rectangles cut out of the wire mesh for photographers.
JAL 787-8. Not the world's most inspiring livery.
Jetstar's check in area is rather spartan with automated kiosks and some desks. The one staff member I interacted with spoke excellent English. Then I passed through security and down to a waiting area located at the base of the terminal. It was obvious that we would be boarding via a remote stand.
Jetstar check in to the left.
The waiting area
There were two Jetstar flights departing from the area, one I believe to Kagoshima and our own. Both seemed crowded with passengers. Announcements were only made in Japanese and I think passengers were asked to queue based on the row numbers ranges, starting with the rear half. After waiting for some while and although I was towards the front, eventually I stood up and was motioned to proceed when my boarding pass was checked.
We then boarded an orange bus stationed outside.
The definition of a limousine differs in Japan from that in Australia.
I was delighted to see that the aircraft we were about board was a brand new A320 with sharklets whose first flight was a mere 3 months before.
First glimpse of our aircraft.
Thankfully the rain held off as we crossed from the bus (sorry, limousine) to the the aircraft stairs, where we were welcomed by the smiling crew.
The interior was fresh, clean and new and I found the seats comfortable and the legroom decent. Naturally there was no entertainment of any sort, but this was no different to any other Jetstar flight I've flown. In the seat pocket was the safety card, the somewhat bilingual Jetstar Japan magazine and a menu list of items for purchase.
Snacks and gifts on offer.
One of the young male flight attendants came over for a short friendly chat, then they all prepared for the manual safety demonstration which was prerecorded in Japanese and English. However, all spoken cabin announcements from the flight attendants were in Japanese only. I counted only one other non-Japanese on our flight. The pilot, though Japanese by accent, only spoke English to the crew ("Arm doors" etc).
Soon after beginning our long taxi to the runway I fell asleep. There is something lulling about taxiing and I was exhausted by the near sleepless overnight flight.
I awoke moments before we were about to takeoff.
Seated for takeoff
Ready to line up on the runway.
Takeoff under cloudy skies
Narita Airport below
Through the cloud
Seatbelt lights on
Sorry Palmjet, no sexy legs for you today!
It was nice to see some blue sky when we eventually emerged from the cloud, though there was still plenty of high cloud around. The cabin crew came through with food stuffs for sale. I thought the prices quite reasonable considering the captive environment. With a little bit of a headache coming on I purchased a bottle of Mets Cola, which was warm but supplied with ice.
Soaring above the clouds
Remnant of a contrail
Fortunately the cloud thinned out as we crossed over Shikoku, one of Japan's four major islands. I really missed a flight map to tell me where exactly I was. Most of the countryside was green and mountainous, but cities snaked long into valleys and suspension bridges connected islands along the craggy coastline.
Unfortunately, as we began our descent one of the female flight attendants requested (politely) that I cease using my camera. Unlike in the Jetstar Australia safety cards, there is no mention of cameras being permitted at all times, so I had to comply (except for a few surreptitious shots when she was seated for landing). The westerner in front of me continued to snap away. The scenery was quite spectacular, with the many islands scattered through the Seto Inland Sea.
Bridges and islands
Beautiful island scenery
The landing was a little hard, but we were soon taxing into our gate.
Runway at Matsuyama
At the gate
Jetstar Japan felt pretty much like Jetstar Australia. It was just a pleasant short scenic flight and I'd be happy to fly with them again. Considering their international branding and links to inbound services from Australia and Singapore I think they should have announcements in English as well as Japanese.
Matsuyama's Airport is of a reasonable size and it does, according to Wikipedia, service international flights as well as a few domestic destinations. Unfortunately, land transport is restricted to buses and these seemed to be timed to connect to ANA and JAL flights rather than Jetstar, so there was a bit of a wait in the heat outside, along with quite a few other confused looking passengers. I bought a ticket from the vending machine and hoped that it covered both the "Express Limousine" and standard city buses, depending which turned up first. (It did).
Another terminal shot
My stop was the easy to locate JR Matsuyama station, with my hotel, the New Kajiwara, across the road.
Now, if you will indulge me, the remainder of this instalment will be about trains and Japan and not aircraft!
allrite From Australia, joined Aug 2007, 1689 posts, RR: 4 Reply 1, posted (4 months 1 week 3 days 4 hours ago) and read 6790 times:
This was my second visit to Matsuyama. My first was on our "last trip of freedom" (we didn't know better then) when Alex was in his second trimester in B's belly. I had fallen in love with the city (she didn't) and it has been the yardstick that I measured Japanese provincial cities by. Maybe it's the light, definitely it's the old trams that trundle along the streets. There are plenty of sights. That last time we had caught a chair lift up to Matsuyama's castle, which is not only both large and one of the few wooden originals left, but also has excellent English documentation which gives you a real overview of what the castle is about.
I ended up not having the time to visit the castle on this trip, but I did quite a lot else. A lot of it was unplanned. I just went with the flow and if I took a wrong turn or the wrong tram then I used it as an opportunity to explore somewhere new. That was the advantage of travelling by myself. After all, there's no point complaining to yourself when something goes awry.
The city celebrates its association with Natsume Soseki's book "Botchan" which is read by most Japanese school students. Set at the beginning of the 20th Century, Botchan, from Edo (Tokyo) is sent to Matsuyama as his first teaching assignment. There he comes into conflict with other teachers and members of the community. The book is not particularly complimentary about Matusyama and as a whole is a big gripefest, but obviously I'm missing something!
In addition to the old trams with the wooden floors (look I'm from Melbourne, trams are in my blood) I succeeded in catching a Botchan Ressha, a mini steam train converted to run on diesel. It happened to be ready to depart from the Dogo Onsen tram stop just as I arrived. I had a bathe in that most famous and ancient of onsens. I wandered around the covered arcades, enjoying quirky shops, had delicious maze soba and ended up taking the long way back to the hotel.
Old style trams
The conductor was very friendly
Dogo Onsen trams station
Pops up on the hour to display scenes from the book
Laforet is now closed, but there are other department stores.
Takashimaya Department Store
The next day I planned to have a quiet breakfast at the train station, recalling our earlier trip, followed by a visit to Uwajima and eventually circle of the island by rail. Then I saw an Anpanman train at Matsuyama station bound for Uwajima, jumped straight on board and had no breakfast! Alex has lots of Anpanman train paraphernalia at home.
Anpanman, a Japanese cartoon character
The hills of orange groves, hazy light and blue sea reminded me of Spain
Baikinman, Anpanman's foe, at Uwajima
Uwajima also has an original castle and a fertility shrine that is listed in the guidebooks for its, err, sacred objects. I was going to spend a couple of hours wandering around before my next train. But all that went out the window when I saw Hobby Train Number 2 waiting at the station.
Hobby Train Number 2
Thunderbirds are go!
Hobby Train interior
The Hobby Train runs along the rural Yodo Line. I love these bumpy slow trains through nowhere.
Tunnels of green
Verdant hills of forest and bamboo
Hobby Train Number 2
Beautiful scenery along the way.
The Yodo line finishes in Kubokawa. From there I caught an express service to the city of Kochi. Like Matsuyama, Kochi has trams and an original castle. I caught the first and climbed the other in the summer heat.
Seared bonito served with raw garlic and ponzu sauce. I don't usually eat sashimi but this was delicious.
View from the top
Going down from the castle
Castle walls, designed to cope with tropical downpours.
There was no time now to do the coastal loop around through Tokushima and Takamatsu, so from Kochi I headed straight up to Okayama in Honshu via the rugged Iya Valley and spectacular Seto Bridge. Using my phone and 4G connection I booked the night's hotel online and worked out the timetable to get there.
Utazu and the Seto Inland Sea
Under the Seto Bridge
Contrails in an evening sky
Okayama is another provincial city with trams, a famous strolling garden and a reconstructed castle. No time to see them (been there before), for I had another train to catch - a Sakura Shinkansen to Kokura in Kyushu, the southernmost of the big four islands.
Sakura N700 Shinkansen
Interior - very comfortable
Even that wasn't the end of the journey. From there I caught a local train back under the straight to Shimonoseki at the southern tip of Honshu. Then I went to the Washington Hotel and bed. Six trains and three islands. Not bad for a day's travel.
allrite From Australia, joined Aug 2007, 1689 posts, RR: 4 Reply 2, posted (4 months 1 week 3 days 4 hours ago) and read 6786 times:
I have long had a dream to travel the length of the Sanin line along the south-west coast of Japan from Shimonoseki to Kyoto. It can be done in a day, but I wanted to stop off and enjoy some of the stops along the way.
I had already booked accommodation in Matsue, but hadn't planned the timetable in between so I decided to wing it. A local train first took me along the coast to the town of Nagatoshi, where I found I had three hours to wait until the next service.
Train to Nagatoshi
It started off wet
Nagatoshi Station, junction of the Sanin Line, Mine Line and Senzaki Branch Line
It was really hot and Nagatoshi was really quiet. Nothing much was open and nowhere to eat. I hadn't had breakfast. I wandered over to the sea wall, took a look at the fishing fleet, just walked. I wasn't upset - I don't mind exploring very local, untouristy places.
Up the coast
Eventually I found myself walking up towards Senzaki. I worked out that I could catch the train back from Senzaki, quickly change platforms and continue on my way as well as completing a tiny branch of the Sanin line. Cool!
Despite the building's state it was still occupied
Senzaki, which is a tourist stop, was more lively than Nagatoshi. There were all sorts of small shops along the main street away from the station. Not particularly interesting shops, but something. There was even a museum, devoted to local poet Kaneko Misuzu, who committed suicide when faced with losing custody of her children to her philandering ex-husband. With the content all in Japanese I didn't visit the museum.
A quirky shop
I was the only customer in the cafe, but the food was good and the airconditioner better. When the train arrived at Senzaki most of the passengers were out taking photos. Train fans are not lonely in Japan.
One stop ride back to Nagatoshi
The next leg from Nagatoshi took me to Higashi-Hagi, where I disembarked. Hagi is a castle town that played a big role in the Meiji Restoration and the modernisation of Japan. The castle is gone, but the surrounding samurai residences are well preserved. Their pottery is also famous.
Lots of beautiful coastal scenery along the way.
School for the elite
Muzak and closed shops
Old shops and residences
Garden at the Kikuyu Residence
Higashi-Hagi station is roughly a 3 kilometre walk away from the Samurai district and it was really hot. By the time I made it back to the station I felt like I was suffering heat exhaustion. But I had to go onwards, this time on my favourite little KiHa 120 diesel to Masuda, and then onwards on the Super Oki to my prebooked stop of Matsue. By the end of the ride I was utterly exhausted and my feet were blistered.
Along the coast
Past stony beaches
Super Oki Express at Masuda
The relatively cheap Dormy Inn Express had a tv in the bathroom and nice Bluetooth dock in the bedroom
Matsue is another of my favourite Japanese provincial cities. No trams unfortunately, but there is an original castle and beautiful Lake Shinji. I had explored the city with B back when Alex was but 4 months old. This time it was only an overnight stop. The next day I backtracked around Lake Shinji on the private Ichibata Dentetsu line, before rejoining the Sanin Line at Izumoshi.
At last I sat down and had my Japanese version of a western breakfast - for Y500
Hot foot bath outside Matsue Onsen station
For Palmjet... my feet needed this.
At Ichibata Matsue station
Another Ichibata Dentetsu train
From Izumoshi I caught the Yakumo Express to Yonago, where I had a stop of a bit over an hour. There was a festival going on with drumming and dancing, which made the brief stop worthwhile.
A colourful Conan the Detective manga train then carried me to Tottori. It was probably the least interesting stretch of the Sanin Line.
Conan Train and the Iwami Kagura Train
I had a couple of hours to waste in Tottori, a city best known for it's big sand dunes. We had walked these last year and they are a bit far out. Despite the summer heat I decided to have a hot bath, there being a few onsens right in the middle of the city.
I also bought Niseki pear flavoured chocolate at the souvenir stalls - another pleasure of Tottori. Then it was off on another train to Hamasaka, through the mountains and past beache towns filled with Japanese holidaymakers.
Rice growing in the mountains
Train heading in the opposite direction
I had to be woken up by the train driver at Hamasaka - I was quite exhausted by this stage. Fortunately, there was enough time to quickly cross over to the next train bound for Toyooka.
Towns were squeezed around small bays
I was winging it again and much of the time without internet access. I couldn't find any reasonably priced/decent accommodation along the Sanin line all the way to Kyoto - this being Saturday night. Eventually I found something cheap and well located at Nagoya. Osaka wasn't on the Sanin line, so that was out. Using a printed timetable I worked out that I had to quickly jump trains at Kinosaki Onsen, then switch again at Wakayama, then once more at Kyoto. Pity no real stop at Kinosaki Onsen as it's a lovely little town, but we'd all been there earlier in the year.
Scenery en route to Toyooka
Mountains in the evening
Limited Express Hashidate
Shinkansen to Nagoya.
I arrived at Nagoya almost twelve hours to the dot since catching the Ichibata train from Matsue. Despite the long times spent on the train I felt like I had actually spent some time appreciating some of the stops along the way, though I would love to have spent longer at many. It's an area of Japan not so well known by westerners, but I think there's much to enjoy and a lot of beautiful scenery.
The final instalment returns to an aircraft-centric theme and will cover the leg from Nagoya to Narita and back to Sydney with Qantas.
palmjet From United Kingdom, joined Nov 2001, 1116 posts, RR: 17 Reply 3, posted (4 months 1 week 3 days 1 hour ago) and read 6433 times:
Super super report- you and Ricardo are like a tag team for Japanese tourism.
I almost switched off after the "non" leg shot aboard your A320....
Seriously fascinating stuff. I was definitely more engrossed in the second part of your report, not just because there were flashes of leg and feet, but the scenery and trains were amazing!!
Matsuyama looked great. I've added it to my list of places to see when I am next back in Japan. I don't know much about this region of Japan but it looks so interesting. Thank you for such a great report. Having been in Japan in mid September - it was so incredibly hot even then, and I can almost imagine the heat and humidity you must have faced while travelling around.
Jetstar looked fine as well - those sharklets definitely make the A320 look a lot sleeker in some way.
Japan is such a fascinating place - and very diverse in its landscapes. I really enjoyed this. What's next on the Japan front? Is there another region you're going to explore next?
gabrielchew From United Kingdom, joined Aug 2005, 2811 posts, RR: 13 Reply 4, posted (4 months 1 week 3 days ago) and read 6352 times:
Cool report - really motivated me to finish planning my Japan trip...i'l be there in 2 weeks, and almost norhtin is organsied save for my flights (HND-CTS-KIX). Those smaller Japanese towns just look so idyllic.
allrite From Australia, joined Aug 2007, 1689 posts, RR: 4 Reply 5, posted (4 months 1 week 2 days 22 hours ago) and read 6106 times:
Quoting palmjet (Reply 3): Matsuyama looked great. I've added it to my list of places to see when I am next back in Japan. I don't know much about this region of Japan but it looks so interesting. Thank you for such a great report. Having been in Japan in mid September - it was so incredibly hot even then, and I can almost imagine the heat and humidity you must have faced while travelling around.
My very first visit to Japan was in September and it put me off the country - despite having visited Malaysia and Singapore before then. My preference is always the cooler months. I also recommend Matsue - there are a plethora of scenic routes that can take you there - I think almost all have been featured in previous trip reports.
Quoting palmjet (Reply 3): What's next on the Japan front? Is there another region you're going to explore next?
I've got the coastal stretch between Kinosaki Onsen (great place) and Niigata via Kanazawa (another great place) and Amano Hashidate to complete and then I've about done the entire western coastline of Honshu. There's more of Kyushu and I want to go up to Wakkanai in Hokkaido - basically travel the extent of the railway system. Also the Kuomi Line in Gunma. And...
Also have to take Alex back to Matsuyama as he'd love the place and has had his special Anpanman train book since a baby.
I've got one way tickets for Singapore - KIX in October, but I don't see how I'm going to fit it into our upcoming Asian trip so maybe I'll have to swap them for somewhere else.
Let's be fair. They can be quite boring if you are a normal person. But I love their solitude and decay even if there's nothing much to see or do. I thoroughly recommend the sadly no longer updated Spike Japan blog for getting an understanding of these forgotten places. So long as you get a JR Pass there is so much you can see on a whim.
imray From Australia, joined Oct 2008, 5 posts, RR: 0 Reply 6, posted (4 months 1 week 2 days 20 hours ago) and read 5769 times:
great report mate! I lived in Japan when I was a kid and was obsessed with trains... those photos brought back a lot of fond memories! Especially since you covered the Sanin line and Shimonoseki where I lived!
As for Jetstar Japan, are the prices relatively comparable to JQ flights in Australia? I was in Japan last year for work and looked at flights from Naha to Osaka or Tokyo and was pleasantly surprised at the cost (again compared to prices in Australia). Maybe with Jetstar and Peach adding to the competition the prices may drop?
cytz_pilot From United States of America, joined Dec 1999, 565 posts, RR: 1 Reply 7, posted (4 months 1 week 2 days 11 hours ago) and read 5187 times:
Hi there, thank you for putting together this awesome trip report and leaving in photos from Japan. It looks wonderful, peaceful and picturesque! I also never assumed that Japan was that big of a train nut's destination, but the more I see, the more I want to go. Tell me, from traveling off the beaten path, did you run into any major language barriers?
allrite From Australia, joined Aug 2007, 1689 posts, RR: 4 Reply 8, posted (4 months 1 week 2 days 10 hours ago) and read 5108 times:
Quoting imray (Reply 6): great report mate! I lived in Japan when I was a kid and was obsessed with trains... those photos brought back a lot of fond memories!
Quoting imray (Reply 6): As for Jetstar Japan, are the prices relatively comparable to JQ flights in Australia? I was in Japan last year for work and looked at flights from Naha to Osaka or Tokyo and was pleasantly surprised at the cost (again compared to prices in Australia). Maybe with Jetstar and Peach adding to the competition the prices may drop?
The inaugural prices were something like A$35 to Matsuyama, then about A$45 with A$90 for peak flights. Of course, now the exchange rate is getting worse... Anyway, they were highly competitive with the standard rail prices and comparable I think with Australian Jetstar fares. But considering that I want to maximise my Japanese rail travel I don't really pay much attention to Japanese domestic fares.
Quoting cytz_pilot (Reply 7): I also never assumed that Japan was that big of a train nut's destination, but the more I see, the more I want to go. Tell me, from traveling off the beaten path, did you run into any major language barriers?
I was rarely alone with a camera on the trains. Old ladies, young kids and plenty of middle aged men were taking photos at one time or another. I doubt if there can be a better train lover's paradise, especially with a rail pass. I hope they never yield limit them like in Europe.
I had very few language issues, but then I didn't really have a chance to interact with too many people and those that I did talk to often spoke some English. I also speak some basic Japanese, but it's familiarity with the processes that is of the most assistance (purchasing tickets, handing over your passport at hotels for photocopying etc). There is quite a bit of English signage across Japan. If you start out in a big city where tourists are common and then move outwards to more rural areas then it is probably easier. Just remember, even if you haven't been before, to get out of the cities to somewhere a bit more rural and pretty, and to take a train other than a Shinkansen, at least once. It was when we did that that I learned to love Japan.
CaliAtenza From United States of America, joined Dec 2006, 1252 posts, RR: 0 Reply 9, posted (4 months 1 week 1 day 13 hours ago) and read 4186 times:
amazing report here; i love trains too (whenever i am or was in India, always tried to take the train as much as possible) . I have never been to Japan, other than a few transits at NRT. This report really makes me want to go and explore Japan. The only thing that scares me is that i dont know any Japanese; would it be a big problem for western tourists to do the kind of itinerary that you did?
allrite From Australia, joined Aug 2007, 1689 posts, RR: 4 Reply 10, posted (4 months 1 week 1 day 9 hours ago) and read 4109 times:
Quoting CaliAtenza (Reply 9): The only thing that scares me is that i dont know any Japanese; would it be a big problem for western tourists to do the kind of itinerary that you did?
As I mentioned in an earlier reply I think it's not difficult for a westerner without Japanese to get around much of Japan. However, I would suggest starting out in one of the major cities and getting a feel for the process before hitting the really rural areas, though it's a good idea to actually get out to local/rural areas during your trip.
allrite From Australia, joined Aug 2007, 1689 posts, RR: 4 Reply 13, posted (3 months 2 weeks 6 days 21 hours ago) and read 2401 times:
Quoting britjap (Reply 12): Really nice to see some pictures of Matsuyama. Got a boat there after staying in Yanai just across the strait, but that was years ago.
Been to Yanai too, though most of the town was closed for a public holiday. Still got to paint a goldfish lantern though.
Quoting britjap (Reply 12): Kinosaki is indeed nice. Shame you couldn't stop by again, but no need to go twice in one year I guess.
Hehe, my son has asked to return there again as he loved the place as much as we did (the ryokan had a toy room). Unfortunately, I don't think we can afford to stay there twice in a year. Have to find another onsen town around Kansai in October when we make a brief return.
Quoting britjap (Reply 12): You went via Wakayama?!?!?!? Is that perhaps another small Wakayama somewhere? Otherwise that is one hell of a detour!?
I wondered if anyone would pick up that mistake! I meant Fukuchiyama. Don't know why I typed Wakayama, never even passed through there (maybe I'll go to Shirahama onsen and pass through...)
I'm hopping to do the last little untravelled stretch of the Sanin line in October - the Sagano scenic railway.
britjap From Japan, joined Aug 2006, 279 posts, RR: 2 Reply 14, posted (3 months 2 weeks 6 days 20 hours ago) and read 2357 times:
Quoting allrite (Reply 13): Been to Yanai too, though most of the town was closed for a public holiday.
No, I think it's just like that most of the time!! hehe
I am surprised that you have been there though. I wouldn't have thought many people go there for any reason at all.
If you have stayed around that area, then perhaps you might also have visted the really interesting eatery place deep in the forest about midway between Yanai and Iwakuni?? Its called Sanzoku (Mountain pirates). It is like a bunch of open air/outdoor restaurants right in the midst of the trees in the forest. You can only really get there by car though.
Quoting allrite (Reply 13): I wondered if anyone would pick up that mistake! I meant Fukuchiyama.
allrite From Australia, joined Aug 2007, 1689 posts, RR: 4 Reply 15, posted (3 months 2 weeks 5 days 21 hours ago) and read 2064 times:
Quoting britjap (Reply 14): I am surprised that you have been there though. I wouldn't have thought many people go there for any reason at all.
A few years ago I picked up a free booklet about Chugoku (Japan, not China!) from the Sydney JNTO. It was produced by Lonely Planet and features a number of locations both along the Sanin and Sanyo coasts and in between. That's what started me with the whole Sanin Line idea, as well as Yanai. How could I resist the combination of goldfish and paper lanterns, along with a soy sauce factory? Although I've now done the Sanin line, I still want to catch all the other inland lines that criss-cross Chugoku. Done a few already. I really love that region of Japan.
Quoting britjap (Reply 14): If you have stayed around that area, then perhaps you might also have visted the really interesting eatery place deep in the forest about midway between Yanai and Iwakuni?? Its called Sanzoku (Mountain pirates).
Nope, though I just looked it up. Our no rail travels in Japan have been very limited.