Anpanman is Japan’s national superhero. His head is made of bread, specifically anpan, a bean-paste bun. He spends his time protecting people from the evil wiles of a character called Baikinman, a wicked, narcissistic bacterium, and his naughty, self-centred female sidekick, Dokin-chan.
This unlikely hero was created by Takashi Yanase (1919 to 2013), a soldier, poet, designer, cartoonist, and writer, whose family was from Kami in Kochi prefecture. After studying design at polytechnic, Yanase was drafted to be a soldier in the Sino-Japanese War as a cryptologist and propagandist. Towards the end of the war, he and his unit faced starvation, and Yanase constantly dreamed of eating anpan. In 1969, he drew Anpanman for the first time, and in 1988, the TV animation Soreike! Anpanman was first broadcast on Nippon Television. It soon became a nationwide hit, which was followed by a tsunami of merchandise. Anpanman became Japan’s biggest selling character.
To celebrate Anpanman’s origins in Shikoku, JR Shikoku started operating Anpanman-themed trains on the island’s main routes. The outside of these trains features the huge variety of characters that appear in the series – from the major characters like Anpanman, Uncle Jam, Currypanman, Baikinman, and Dokin-chan, down to the nameless little hairy bacteria that waste their time on Baikinman’s wicked projects. Inside, everything from floor to the ceiling, the seats to the curtains, features characters from the series. It’s a very immersive Anpanman experience, and of course it’s very Instagram-worthy.
If you make your entry to Shikoku by train, you can ride an Anpanman train across the Great Seto Bridge from Okayama. To Matsuyama in Shikoku on the Yosan Line. Another Anpanman train runs on the Dosan Line from Okayama to Kubokawa via Kochi and then on the Tosa Kuroshio Railway Nakamura Line to Nakamura in Shimanto. This route passes through the scenic Oboke Gorge in Iya. Yet another Anpanman train links Takamatsu and Tokushima on the Kotoku Line. If you like, you can stand by the railway line and when the train comes into view squeal, “It’s the Anpanman Train!”, just like the local children do.