Hiroshima has two of the most admired tourist attractions in all of Japan and is a very popular place for international travellers each year. It is four hours away from Tokyo via Shinkansen (bullet train) or just 90 minutes by plane. Given you have to get to the airport and check in an hour before they basically end up taking the same time. They are the most common ways to get between the two cities but there is another way of doing it and I don’t mean by car or bus!
The Seishun 18 is a ticket available to use on any five days within a valid period (December 10th to January 10th in this case) for ¥11, 850 (£85/$109) which means that it’s just ¥2,370 per day. Also, you can share the ticket with friends (one stamp per friend) so it’s a great deal given that for the same price you could usually only go to the eastern side of Shizuoka prefecture or central Tochigi if you want to go north. Both of those are pretty lengthy journeys but I had my eyes set on a much further away place.
With five days to myself (my wife was working) I knew I had to return to Tokyo too so didn’t want to venture down in to Kyushu (the most southerly of Japan’s main four islands) which is why I chose Hiroshima. Another reason was that some of the connections are very tight so a slight delay could potentially mess things up. Travelling over 800 kilometres away to Hiroshima was far enough I think and would allow a bit of room for error. Furthermore, I knew I’d have a free place to stay there as my in-laws have an apartment there.
Admittedly, I had no real reason to go Hiroshima as none of my family were there and I’ve travelled around much of the prefecture already. This was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time now and was purely about the challenge and then being over that side of the country for the travel opportunities that were to follow my short time in Hiroshima. I got up at 4:30 am ready to leave the Tokyo Fox Global Operations Centre in Itabashi ward at 5am in order to be at Ikebukuro for the 5:29 train.
From Ikebukuro I’d usually take the Yamanote Line anti-clockwise to Shinagawa but the route app on my phone said it would be quicker to go the other way round to Tokyo and continue from there. I’m still sceptical of that as I could easily have got a train to Shinagawa just before my one came. Still, it did mean that I’d get to properly start my longest ever train journey from Tokyo Station itself which is a better book-end than Shinagawa. It may have only been 5:30 am but the Yamanote Line was still quite busy!
A 15 minute wait at Tokyo Station was much longer than I needed as I was keen to get going on the near-two hour ride through Kanagawa prefecture to Atami where the urban landscape eventually made way for a more mountainous and countryside backdrop. Mount Fuji could be seen in the far distance in all its snowy peaked glory.
My derriere was already starting to hurt a bit on that Tokaido Line part of the journey but thankfully the seats were a bit more comfortable on the next train from Atami to Hamamatsu via a quick change in Shizuoka.
Soon after boarding the train at Atami I fell into a quite deep sleep but it was rudely interrupted less than a couple of minutes later by my bottle of water falling on me from the side pocket of my bag on the shelf overhead. In true comic fashion, it rolled along the floor and eventually ended up under someones seat. With great embarrassment I stood up in my dozed state to retrieve it as the train rattled along the rails towards Shizuoka past the iconic Mount Fuji which was looking even more glorious on closer inspection.
A toilet break was much needed by the time I got to Hamamatsu just after 10:30. There was time to finally get some supplies but I decided to not bother adding to the ample supply of bananas, oranges and crisps I’d brought along with me as I wanted to be hungry by the time I arrived in Hiroshima. Thankfully, regular water fasting last year (including one mammoth 75 hour one!) has me well trained for building up hunger!
The ride from Hamamatsu to Toyohashi in Aichi prefecture was one of the shortest of the day (33 minutes) but sadly the frosted glass windows meant my view of the surroundings were impaired. I decided to stand up for all of these shorter 30-40 minute journeys as I really didn’t want to spend the whole day sat on my backside.
The next train pushed on north through Nagoya to Ogaki in Gifu prefecture where there was a 35 minute pause before the next train. This was the longest transit of the day not that I could really do anything more with it than just go to the toilet and join the lines for the two-car train to Maibara.
The Maibara-bound leg was perhaps the most beautiful one scenery-wise with some stunning mountain scenery to view out of the windows as my journey ventured on into Shiga prefecture to the east of Japan’s largest freshwater lake; Biwa-ko. Sadly I was stood on the wrong side of a busy train to be able to capture any of the snow-capped mountains and this (below) was one of the better views on my side.
An important transfer lay ahead at Maibara as that was to be the longest leg of the trek and it was also a tight one as there were only three minutes to get up and down the required stairs whilst fighting my way through the crowds of passengers. This two and a half hour afternoon train to Himeji passed through big hitters like Kyoto and Osaka. As the train pulled out of the latter I could see the architectural wonder (below) that is the Umeda Sky Building.
Akashi castle (below) could be seen just before four o’clock but Japan’s best castle was just around the corner. Not literally though.
Himeji offered an 18 minute break so I actually left the station on arrival at 16:35 to basically just snap the castle in the distance. Even from 500 metres away it looked very impressive and is of course my favourite castle in Japan as it featured in the James Bond film ‘You Only Live Twice‘ (1967) starring Sean Connery as 007. It also appeared in the Akira Kurosawa movie ‘Kagemusha‘ (1980).
Having passed through the urban sprawls of Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe it felt like a major milestone had been reached (and it had I suppose!) but the truth was there were still three more trains and four and a half hours until my destination! The sunset just before hopping off at Aioi Station in Hyogo prefecture was very nice. Not so great was seeing the Shinkansen flying past having no doubt left many, many hours after I did!
The penultimate train from Aioi to Itozaki was pretty much devoid of any passengers and just crying out for another selfie.
It would have been tempting to stock up on all kinds of snacks and drinks for the journey but the reality is that you don’t want to be in desperate need of the bathroom as they often only have the Japanese squat style toilet. Of course I’ve used such toilets over the years but it is never a comfortable experience and really is the last choice situation if you know what I’m saying!
Like many of the transfers, the one at Itozaki was just crossing the platform to a waiting Sanyo Line train before departing a minute later. The final train for me before Hiroshima and on the home straight but sadly it was nearly an hour and a half long! Before embarking on this challenge I imagined that I’d have been at breaking point by this time but I was actually buzzing as the train finally crawled its way ever closer to Hiroshima city.
Shortly after 9:00 pm the train finally pulled into Hiroshima Station. I stepped off the train to a huge round of applause, cheering and a ticker-tape reception from the waiting crowds. What a moment!! Of course none of that happened! I was on my own as I’d been for the whole 16 hours! Time for a smile of satisfaction though!
It needs to be pointed out that it is possible to actually go 200+ kilometres further than Hiroshima but that means being at Tokyo Station for the 4:55 am train which can only really be done by staying at a hotel or taxing a taxi there. Not ideal for such a budget deal! The train I’d finished on returned in the direction it had just come from and I could finally go and get something to eat from the uniquely wonderful pizza vending machine.
As for this particular train travel trip it was mission accomplished! However, I still had a couple of very short rides to do before retiring for the night. Other than bragging rights and the chance to bore people for a long time to come, there probably isn’t much point in doing this challenge unless you have the time and the desire to save a lot of money. Armed with a good book, a smartphone (and portable charger!), a bottle of water, some light snacks and the right frame of mind though and it’s sure to be an experience that will love long in the memory. That’s the end of this train expedition but it shouldn’t be too long before I do my next equally ambitious train challenge…
Click here to read ‘TF Top 10……Things To Do In Hiroshima City Once You’ve Done The Big Two!’
Click here to read ‘TF Top 10……Day Trips In Hiroshima Prefecture’
Here are the exact arrival and departure times for a weekday departure (at the time of writing) should anyone want to do such a trip.
Tokyo 06:07 Atami 07:59
Atami 08:02 Shizuoka 09:20
Shizuoka 09:21 Hamamatsu 10:32
Hamamatsu 10:44 Toyohashi 11:17
Toyohashi 11:20 Ogaki 12:47
Ogaki 13:12 Maibara 13:47
Maibara 13:50 Himeji 16:17
Himeji 16:35 Aioi 16:54
Aioi 16:59 Itozaki 19:38
Itozaki 19:39 Hiroshima 21:05