The Botchan Train is a popular attraction within Matsuyama. It travels the route between JR Matsuyama, Shieki Station and Dōgo. It’s a diesel-powered replica of the original Iyotetsu steam locomotives, known from Natsume Soseki’s 1906 novel, Botchan.
In the novel, Botchan shares his impressions of Matsuyama and Shikoku. He says,
“I found the train station soon enough and bought myself a ticket. When I got on the train, it looked as dinky as a matchbox. It had hardly started to get rolling when it was already time to get off; the whole ride couldn’t have taken more than five minutes. No wonder the ticket was so cheap, I thought – only three sen!”
The tiny locomotives and carriages are a picturesque sight as they chug around Matsuyama Castle moat and into the Meiji period station at Dōgo. The trains favour authenticity over comfort, so the carriages are poorly sprung, and have hard wooden seats. There’s no air conditioning either, so they’re hot in summer and cold in winter. So if you’re looking for a comfortable ride, take a tram. But if you want to experience how the people of Matsuyama used to live, you’ll enjoy the Botchan Train. Children especially love it.
Not to be missed is seeing the Botchan Train engine uncoupled, cranked up on a pivot, and spun around by hand by the drivers. Conveniently, the drivers often tell bystanders when they’re going to perform this manoeuvre, so you won’t miss it. This operation is performed at the Shieki and Dōgo stations.
Iyotetsu is Japan’s oldest light railway. The company imported the trains from Krauss & Co. of Munich, Germany, in 1891. They were used for 67 years until 1958. The name Botchan Train started to be used around 1945.
Several initiatives were tried to restore this unique mode of transport – the project finally came to fruition in 2001. Although the originals were steam, for environmental reasons the replicas use diesel. Also the originals had no pivoting mechanism. The sound of the whistle and the clothes of the driver and conductors are faithfully reproduced based on contemporary documents and people’s memories.
An original train and carriage are on display in Baishinji Park, and there’s an original carriage at the Shikido. Near the Shieki is the Botchan Train Museum with a full-size replica and related exhibits, and there’s also a replica in the Ehime Prefectural Science Museum in Niihama.
Name in Japanese: 坊っちゃん列車
Pronunciation: botchan ressha
Address: 1 Chome 10-12 Dogomachi, Matsuyama, Ehime 790-0843